Coffee is the quintessential universal language. No matter where you go, no matter what country you are in, a coffee shop is the place you go to meet friends, study, and hang out. It can be the home to new beginnings and chance encounters and it was certainly by chance that I stumbled upon Fort Wayne’s newest local coffee shop, United Coffee.
Tucked away in a shopping plaza at 6447 W. Jefferson Blvd. that houses Buffalo Wings & Ribs, Pak Mail, and Chops Steak & Seafood, is the cutest coffee shop on the corner lot where a credit union used to stand.
Owners Tony and Marina Horani greet their customers by name as they enter the cozy shop with its cheerful yellow chairs and twinkling fairy lights. Their goal is for people to feel welcome – like they have invited them into their home for a cup of coffee. Marina, a native of Kaliningrad (which was German until the end of WWII and is now a part of Russia), laughed as she told me she feels like she knows more people in Fort Wayne than in her homeland. Tony, a native of Fort Wayne, had told her how welcoming his hometown was and that was one of the things that drew them back.
Tony is a graduate of IU’s Kelley School of Business and armed with a degree in accounting moved to the nation’s capital to work in real estate investment. Marina was studying at a university in Russia that had an exchange program for English immersion which she was taking in DC, which is how the two met and fell in love. The two loved traveling and had a love for coffee and local businesses. “I’ve always wanted to own a family business and we have such a great economic environment in Fort Wayne.” Tony explained. “Fort Wayne is the NYC of small businesses…but with training wheels. People want to see you succeed. The competition isn’t as stiff and the city is willing to let you figure things out.”
United Coffee is a culmination of products that the Horanis explored in their travels. “We wanted to build something we would enjoy,” Marina noted. One year ago while they were on a layover in Amsterdam, they tried their now signature waffles, the Liège waffle. These waffles come from a local baker in Brussels, Belgium. Waffles are one of Belgium’s most famous exports, yet they do not have what we consider a Belgian waffle. Instead they have two categories of waffles that have existed for hundreds of years: the Brussels waffle (which is similar to our American version of a Belgian waffle) and the Liège waffle, whose popularity eclipses that of the Brussels (Belgian) waffle. This Liège waffle is now the signature dish at United Coffee and can be eaten at all hours of the day. Ranging from naked to mixed berries, and my favorite, banana Nutella, there are seven varieties of Liège waffles to choose from. “Muffins and cookies can be a bit cliché at a coffee shop so when we tried the Liège waffle, we knew we had to have it.” Marina proclaimed.
I asked if the waffles were made in house, but Tony explained why they imported the dough from abroad. “We tried making the waffle ourselves, but the ingredient lists consists of things that you can’t get in America on an affordable scale. And the recipe we were trying to replicate is a family recipe so we decided to just get the best product where is it – the family baker in Belgium.”
The Liége waffle served at United Coffee is savory and not too sweet. The batter is thicker than the waffle mix we are used to and has uneven edges. Pearl sugar is mixed in with the dough resulting in a richer flavor. The denser Liège waffle needs no syrup to drown in – it is utter perfection as it stands!
Since United Coffee is of all things a coffee shop, a lot of thought and research went into the choosing of their house coffee, Danesi. This is where Tony’s love for numbers and research came to the forefront. He scoured company records to find the top selling Italian coffees. From there they researched company profiles. “If the brand, story, and taste lined up then we would consider it.” Tony explained. They reached out to the companies that matched their criteria and received samples of Italian dark coffee to consider.
“We tried hundreds of coffees!” Marina exclaimed. The ended up choosing a family owned business in Rome, Italy named Danesi who have been creating a perfect balance among taste, aroma, and body for over a century. United Coffee is the first company in Indiana to sell this esteemed coffee.
“The best way to judge a coffee place is by its espresso, because there is nothing to hide behind.” The espresso is actually my drink of choice at United Coffee. Its smooth, robust, and has a clean finish.
They use a traditional semi-automatic coffee machine that can make it with the least amount of water. Considered the Ferrari of coffee machines, it needs to be tuned three times a day to ensure the grinder is at peak performance. To get the most perfect flavor, they time their shots (25 seconds for an espresso). “You have to find the goldilocks of the espresso.” Tony explained. Too fine a grind creates a shot that tastes bitter and burnt, to coarse a grind results in a sour taste. United’s grind result in a golden brown foamy mixture that is perfection and pairs wonderfully with their Liège waffle.
United Coffee’s drink menu consists of traditional European drinks such as doppio con pana, cappuccinos, and one of my new favorites, the café miel, which is a French drink combining espresso, steamed milk, and a dash of honey. For non-coffee lovers (who even are you?!) they have hot chocolate, chai and matcha lattes as well as hot tea. They plan on adding a Turkish coffee as well as iced drinks in the summer. United Coffee makes sure to not compromise the integrity of their drinks by creating “supersize” drinks. This is not the place to come if you want to get a Trenta (the obnoxiously large 31 ounces of coffee found at Starbucks).
“If you change the size of the drink, you are diluting the coffee. If you put enough espresso in the drink to match the increase in size you will most likely go into cardiac arrest..I don’t want to do that to our customers. We have a lot of repeat customers.”
It is easy to see why United Coffee has such a fan base. Everyone is included and welcome and this shows even in the way that their kitchen is open so you can see how they make their drinks and waffles. “We are called United because the world is a beautiful place. There is so much art, language, food, and culture to be discovered. Everybody has a story,” Tony said. “We love getting to know our clients and learning their story and sharing ours”.
While United Coffee is cozy inside and offers free Wi-Fi and 36 seats including a cute bar area, if you are in a rush they can easily accommodate with a drive thru as well. Check out United Coffee’s hours here and be sure to pop in and introduce yourself to your new home away from home!