| Wicked Local
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A Salem resident and restaurant owner has breathed new life into the Derby Street spot that Derby Joe formerly called home.
Owner Diane Wolf opened the Wolf Next Door Coffee, one could say, softly in December, extending the life of 142 Derby St. as a neighborhood coffee shop.
“The neighborhood is stoked about the coffee shop,” said Wolf as she worked the levers and presses of a fancy espresso machine. “It hasn’t been super duper busy, but I’m gonna blame that on multiple factors: We haven’t had a grand opening and we’re currently in a global pandemic.”
On a recent Friday morning, Wolf and employee, Rob Payne (his first day on the job), served up breakfast sandwiches, pastries and caffeinated beverages behind a barista counter to a steady stream of coming-and-going patrons.
The whole outfit is a work in progress from menu development to adding tables and chairs to “make it nice and cozy” in the 600-square-foot space.
“We’re going to start with the basics as we get to know you,” the website reads, “so please consider this a work in progress and let us know what you’d like to see more of in the neighborhood.”
Due to COVID, Wolf said the coffee shop will be for now take-away only: Espresso, tea, A & J Bakery pastries, cold brew, soups and drip coffee among other offerings. Like Derby Joe, Wolf serves Jim’s Organic Coffee.
“I always loved the coffee here it’s just such good coffee and it’s even better knowing how it’s sourced and organically grown,” said Wolf.
She joked she bought the coffee shop because of qualify of Derby Joe’s cold brew.
“It’s excellent,” she said.
And her assessment should not be taken with a grain of salt, because Wolf knows what she is talking about.
A communal space
On the recent Friday morning, the Wolf Next Door was pretty hopping. As time passed, one thing was clear: Like its predecessor, this coffee shop will not be merely a transactional space but rather a communal one.
A collection of donated books on a metal rack comprise a Little Free Library. And on the bottom rack, there exists a little food pantry, too, continuing good deed that Salem resident Ashley Skeffington started inside Derby Joe after COVID’s mid-March arrival.
Expect future art exhibitions, poetry and open-mic nights, too, said Wolf. The coffee shop’s interior and exterior aesthetic and design also reflect owners who value art.
Wolf studied and practiced photography for a period, and Lee Wolf is a talented cartoonist/artist whose illustrations have appeared in top-tier publications like The New Yorker. The storefront windows, in fact, now sport a circular logo that he designed; it depicts a wolf breathing in whiffs of coffee emanating from a hot cup of java.
The Wolfs commissioned local artist Grimdrops to create a wall mural, illustrating a wolf and coffee plants, and the finished product received much praise on Facebook.
The mural plays off not just the couple’s last name but also the coffee plants that are stenciled and painted throughout the shop in subtle and overt ways.
‘Since like forever’
Wolf holds an associate’s degree in culinary arts degree from Johnson & Wales University. Alongside her formal education, her practical experience showcases someone who has done it all: A dish washer, a sous chef, a night chef, a coffee-shop barista and manager, a bar owner, a restaurant owner.
Since 2007, the Wolfs have owned and operated the Lobster Shanty, a dive bar dead smack in the very heart of downtown Salem along Artists’ Row. The couple’s culinary and social acumen in Salem may prove beneficial.
“One of the challenges of opening a new place is winning over new people, and we’ve kind of done that legwork because people already know us,” said
From 2014-18, she was a managing partner of The Ugly Mug, a hip, popular brunch place/diner on Washington Street.
“I’ve always wanted to own a coffee shop since like forever,” said Wolf, 52, adding that she worked in big and small coffee shops for some 15 years. “Now that I’m getting older, I’m realizing that owning a dive bar isn’t something for a 60-year-old. The younger generation will have to take over the Lobster Shanty at some point, and this will have to be ‘my retirement job.’”
For a couple years, Wolf said she had been eyeing the Derby Joe spot. Before taking over the space,he Wolfs frequented Derby Joe because the pair resides in the historic Derby Street Neighborhood.
“After I left the Mug, this place, this place became available in 2018. I looked into it and did all my diligence and then the deal just fell through,” she said. “I told the landlord: ‘If the lease ever becomes available again or stuff falls through, call me.’”
In August, that phone call arrived.
“Like, the timing couldn’t have been worse,” she said. “Like my dad just died. We’re in a pandemic – like absolute worse time in your life to start a business. But it was now or never.”
With the Lobster Shanty shuttered for the winter season, Wolf can devote nearly all her energy toward helping the coffee shop gain its sea legs.
“I’ll have to learn how to balance between this and the Lobster Shanty,” she said.
In that regard, she has some time on her side.