TEMPLE TERRACE —Felicitous Coffee and Tea serves customers in a bungalow painted purple and shaded by a grove of oak trees, just about a coffee bean’s throw from Fowler Avenue and a world apart from the strip mall nature of North Tampa commerce.
Owner Rani Chehal, 36, says her motivation was to create a local business that would offer a distinct option for people who like to step out for a cup of coffee, tea or light dining.
“It’s really a place about community and I think that’s the difference between a chain coffee shop,” she said.
The community at Felicitous includes local artists with something to show and performers with something to say as well as customers who appreciate a fine chai. Much of the artwork decorating Felicitous is for sale and open mic events are held the last Wednesday of each month.
The all-wood building housing her business stands out in a neighborhood dominated by the University of South Florida campus, concrete and steel shopping centers and ranch-style homes. Originally constructed as a house, it also served as a hair salon before falling into disuse and disrepair. Chehal rediscovered the building when she was looking for a place to relocate Felicitous from its original spot in Lutz.
“I was here for college and I actually went to get a haircut at that salon but it was closed,” she said.
Her first challenge was to repair the building, which dates from the first half of the 20th century and had been neglected for a few years, even lacking shingles on the roof. Chehal, who has a bachelor’s degree in interior design from USF and worked as an architect, was not deterred. Besides her professional credentials, she had first-hand experience gained from her parents’ business of refurbishing homes and then selling them.
“It was just them. They did little homes from top to bottom,” she said. “Seeing the house in the condition it was in didn’t scare me. I’m so thankful for the knowledge they provided.”
Chehal spent three months fixing up the place and a surprise visit gave her some insight into the building’s history.
“This adorable couple walked in, hand in hand, and said they lived there and it was their honeymoon house back when it was first built. Then, when USF opened, they rented it out to USF students as a dorm,” she said. “Wherever they are, I would love for them to come back.”
Coffee, tea, hot chocolate and chai are served just about any way you prefer and in tastes you might not have imagined. Perhaps taking a cue from the Jim Jarmusch film “Coffee and Cigarettes,” the iced coffee is served with coffee ice cubes. Food options include sandwiches and salads — vegan options are available — as well as desserts.
The decor emphasizes home furniture, reflecting resourcefulness, a tight budget and applying the principle of reuse, which has been a characteristic of Felicitous from the beginning. Its first incarnation on U.S. 41 was a combination of second-hand thrift store and coffee shop.
Amenities go beyond wireless Internet access for customers, such as dedicated parking for bicycles with a service stand that includes attached tools and a compressed air pump. Seating on the patio provides an opportunity to discover that those otherwise toasty Florida afternoons can be relatively comfortable if spent under the shade of oak trees. The walk-up window makes outdoor ordering convenient and also means accompanying canines don’t have to be left unattended. There’s also one free refill of a cup of coffee consumed on premises, something that has become a rarity in the coffee trade.
There’s a library of books and a selection of board games for customers, but with a large concentration of students in the neighborhood, the place sometimes takes on the atmosphere of a study hall.
“It’s where I go to work when I’m on a deadline,” said USF graduate student Krystal Bresnahan, who proudly displays her support for Felicitous by wearing one of the shop’s T-shirts, available for purchase.
Chehal also measures the success of Felicitous in ways beyond the steady stream of customers. She considers herself an advocate of supporting local commerce and says that attitude is becoming widespread around the Tampa Bay area.
“I think that’s something that has propelled me to create Felicitous,” she said.
“We’re starting to have an upswing in local businesses, and it’s starting to make a local Tampa.”
Felicitous is located at 11706 N. 51st. St. (north side of Fowler Avenue) and is open seven days a week. You can check out its menu and find out about special events by visiting its website at www .felicitouscoffee.com.