Local coffee shop shuts walk-up window to protect workers, sees drop in sales

Within weeks Zeke’s Coffee went from pick-up only to a walk-up window and finally, curbside pick up


Courtesy of Instagram

Local coffee shop Zeke’s Coffee is located on Harford Road.

Brianna Taylor, Managing Editor

On Saturday, Morgan State graduate Temi Jemi visited a Harford Road roastery, but was surprised to learn that the front door was locked. A sign directed him to order through their website, but he said it didn’t work.

“I had to go to their instagram page, which has the correct link to place an order—maybe it’s a phone compatibility issue,” he said.

About three minutes away from Morgan State University stands Zeke’s Coffee, a popular coffee and sandwich eatery. But when the coronavirus threatened American lives, the roastery, coined by its customers as family-friendly, transitioned to curbside pickup and delivery only. 

Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency in early March that prohibited eateries across the state, including Zeke’s, from hosting their guests inside. So, the 10-year-old roastery downsized their staff to their management team and the owner’s family offered extra hands.

The team stacked their furniture and only allowed customers inside to pick up their orders. 

“It’s been pretty wacky, but we’re trying to make the most out of it,” said Andrew Coughlin, assistant to the general manager.

But constantly greeting customers, handling money and credit cards threatened the staff’s health. On March 17, the owners created a walk-up window where customers were able to  pick up their orders without stepping foot in the shop. 

It was the only face-to-face communication between employees and customers, until approximately two weeks ago.

Coughlin said even though a window was in-between customers and workers, it didn’t comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines.

While Zeke’s website has played a key role in the coffee shop’s continued success, Coughlin said the transition has been a major adjustment for everyone involved. He noticed increased miscommunication with customers. 

Jemi, a 23-year-old private chef, said once he placed his online order, he noticed that a friendly female-employee regularly updated customers on their orders. In less than 15 minutes, his food was handed to him from his car.

 “Everyone is still getting used to things and it has its faults and it’s a lot of explaining to people,” Coughlin said. “It’s a whole learning experience, but thankfully everyone is pretty patient for the most part because of what’s going on.”

When Morgan shut down its campus and students were forced to complete their semester online, many of the shop’s regular patrons left Baltimore and traveled back home. And although Zeke’s has remained open, Coughlin said their flexibility didn’t curb the steep decline in the shop’s sales. 

David Williams, a senior computer science major, frequented the roastery during his 1-hour commute to class. But his weekly visits ceased when the university transitioned to remote learning.

“A dine-in experience at Zeke’s gives great aesthetic pleasure,” Williams said. “Great for a date, meeting, study time and even just chilling alone.”

Coughlin, who’s worked at Zeke’s for about one year, said he gravitated to the family-owned shop because of its atmosphere and appreciated his in-person interactions with customers. 

When compared to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Panera Bread, Williams said Zeke’s excellent customer service is what brought him back again and again.

“They remember you when you come back and always seem to have a great attitude,” Williams said.

For other customers, pandemic or not, the food’s quality is enough for them to spend their money at the local shop. 

“I really like their coffee, it’s local,” Jemi said. “I like their breakfast sandwiches and the convenience to my current location.”

Customers are directed to order online and note a request for curbside pickup. Orders placed for delivery after noon will be processed the following day, according to Zeke’s website. 

Zeke’s is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for pickup and delivery only. Delivery is free for customers within a three-mile radius.

“It is one of those things that you make the best out of it when you’re in the moment,” Coughlin said.