You probably won’t see ex-ballplayer and TV character Sam Malone behind the counter at the Yountville Coffee Caboose, but proprietor Lindsey Altamura said she aims to provide Yountville with a spot for coffee and camaraderie to rival the Boston tavern of TV legend.
“We serve only the very best of every item we offer,” Altamura said. “We want our customers to experience that ‘Cheers’ kind of welcome when they come here, whether they’re a local who is in every day or a tourist who’s only in town a short time.”
The business, located in the center of Yountville along the main drag, Washington Street, is housed in a 100-year-old train caboose sitting on the first train tracks to be laid through the Napa Valley. Nine other adjacent refurbished railway train cars make up the Napa Valley Railway Inn, which is owned and operated by Altamura’s mother, Lori Jones.
As late as the 1970s, the rail cars in Yountville were set up as retail shops. They were converted to hotel rooms about 30 years ago.
“Three and a half years ago, I had already been operating the Napa Valley Railway Inn for about eight years,” Jones recalled. “I saw the need and the opportunity for a walk-up, grab-and-go shop in downtown Yountville.”
She and Altamura converted the smallest rail car into a coffee shop, which opened in 2009, Jones said.
The café offers coffee from Ritual Coffee Roasters, pastries from Sweetie Pies and assorted teas.
“We are primarily grab-and-go, with counter-style seating available outside under our awning along the street side of the rail car,” Jones said. “It’s a great spot to check out the town from.”
The newest addition to the menu is a selection of sweet and savory crepes, which have been well received, she said.
The real star of the show is the coffee. Ritual is a small Bay Area roaster with three shops in San Francisco and a fourth at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa.
“They are very consistent with their quality,” Altamura said. “We depend on them for advice, and they’ve never steered us wrong.
“Ritual is constantly coming out with new lines of beans, new roasts, interesting new things to try. With other suppliers, I have not always been happy with new products. But with Ritual, I have never once been disappointed. Every new variety is consistently up to their standards — always the best.”
“The owner of Ritual will actually do deliveries here herself sometimes,” Jones added. “She will ask the barista to pull a shot of espresso, and she will let us know if she thinks something could be better. We pay strict attention to selling only fresh coffee products.”
Pre-packed bags of whole beans are pulled from the shelf after 10 days’ time, Jones noted.
Altamura follows a schedule for her coffee orders.
“I order my beans from Ritual on Wednesdays. They roast on Thursdays, and I get the coffee here on Fridays,” she said. “You don’t want to use the coffee the next day, because it needs to rest. So we wait a few days to use the beans, and then they last us a week. Our whole-bean customers are assured that their beans were roasted no more than 10 days before the date of purchase.”
While Yountville remains a tourism-oriented town, locals have really sustained the business, Jones said.
“Tourists are great customers, and we love taking care of them,” she said, “but they’re in town only two or three days per week, mostly.”
The cafe has seven employees, Altamura said. “Our baristas take a lot of pride in the quality of service they deliver.”