Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, September 1, 2004
Owner Janet Alareksoussi’s daughter Nadia Alareksoussi takes a comfy seat with some hot chocolate.
Cup O’ Joe
Chicken salad $5.25
Cream cheese veggie
sandwich $5.25
Chilled Oregon Chai $3.00
Into the Drink

Arlington’s Cup O’ Joe stays afloat in the storefront coffee biz.


Cup O’ Joe

1714 Randol Mill Rd, Arlington. 817-277-3800. Mon-Fri 6:30am-9pm, Sat 7:30am-9pm, Sun 8am-3pm. All major credit cards accepted.

A classic Steve Martin joke involved the comedian-author-rich-nice guy wondering aloud about the time he was bitten by a shark while swimming in waters that people had warned him were shark-infested. How could this have happened, he wanted to know, when he had donned his lucky ham before diving in?

Janet Alareksoussi, owner and operator of the Arlington coffeehouse Cup O’ Joe, was feeling lucky when she opened shop two years ago. Originality, freshness, and personality were her secret weapons as she waded into the treacherous currents of commercial coffee. She began to offer entrée and dessert items prepared on the spot — original concoctions like the Frozen Joe and the Cup O’ Snow — and a wide variety of international gourmet coffees, cappuccinos, mochas, espressos, and chais, available by the cup or the bean. She installed a drive-thru. She also believed she had location on her side.

“There weren’t any convenient coffeehouses in the neighborhood,” said Alareksoussi, who lives a couple of blocks from her establishment. “There was a place on Green Oaks, but that was a little far. There’s a spot in Lincoln Square, but it was a very popular teen-ager hangout that had loud music. That’s fine, but I wanted a place that was quieter, more relaxed, where people like me, in their mid-40s, could also be comfortable.”

A first-time business owner, she chose a location on West Randol Mill that had previously housed a dry cleaners and a hamburger joint. It looks like a wooden shack from a Tim Burton storyboard: impossibly narrow, tall, and with a gabled roof. Inside, brass fans attached to the high ceiling whirl over an internet-ready computer station, chess and checkerboards, overstuffed couches, rocking chairs, and books and newspapers. A non-intrusive satellite radio station pumps wispy synth puffs of ’80s Brit pop into the air. All in all, it’s a great little establishment. So where are the hordes of students and professionals in the 18-to-49 demographic, eager to discuss their broken hearts over a half-decaf soy latte and a scone?

Apparently, Alareksoussi’s luck began to sour as the shark-bait odor of “independent business” rose from Cup O’ Joe. Not one, but two of the Great Whites of brand coffee appeared in the vicinity after she opened. Alareksoussi was aware of Starbucks’ reputation for gobbling up competition and customers, but she admits that the reality didn’t hit her until ... well, until business started taking a hit. Hard.

Starbucks “has affected us tremendously,” she said. “I don’t really understand the brand-name mystique. I believe our coffee is better. I know our prices are better. I’ve worked hard to make sure all of our menu items are prepared in-house.”

Indeed, Cup O’ Joe’s simple but startlingly flavorful menu distinguishes it as much as its coffee. Hot baked potatoes have topping choices like pimiento cheese, red onion, jalapeño, and chili. The low-carb page features turkey, cheese, and egg roll-ups for breakfast and tuna and chicken salads in a bowl. Joe’s chicken salad, in particular, was a shredded-poultry victory over the grab-and-chew, Deli Central variety. A baseball-sized lump of the stuff — mixed with celery, currants, pecans, and a nicely restrained amount of mayo — rested atop a brightly colored bed of thick tomato slices, thin cucumber slivers, red onion, and spinach leaves. The bowl was fridge-cool. Sandwiches, served on wheat bread or croissant, include Peanut Butter Gourmet (with banana, honey, raisins, and sunflower seeds) as well as a marvelous combination of cream cheese, those same pristinely thin cucumber slices, considerably fatter avocado wedges, plus romaine lettuce and tomato. The shop also offers a nice alternative to chips on the side: carrot sticks with ranch dressing.

Cup O’ Joe’s is an excellent place to go for a light nosh, but coffee is the flagship product here, and the world of caffeine competition is ruthless. It’s easy and popular to bash a successful corporation like Starbucks. The fact that they are a model of marketing over coffee connoisseurship provides only a partial explanation of the phenomenon. They clearly offer a product that many people enjoy. But why can’t Arlington coffee drinkers share a few of their frappuccino dollars with Cup O’ Joe? Janet Alareksoussi isn’t asking for pity-sips at her establishment. She just wants her best shot at scratching the itch of area ’feine fiends.

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