From the moment customers enter the front door, The Conservative Cafe is serving up caffeinated doctrine.
Ann Coulter books sit stacked by the fireplace, and a picture of Ronald Reagan hangs on the wall. Fox News plays on all the televisions, and stock market quotes scroll along an electronic ticker above the cash register.
Behind the counter, owner Dave Beckham smiles proudly in a khaki T-shirt that reads “Zip It, Hippie.” The shirt is for sale at the Crown Point, Ind., cafe, along with ones that say “Peace through Superior Firepower.”
“It's a change from the traditional liberal bastion coffeehouses,” Beckham says. “No one is going to bad-mouth America in here.”
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Friends warned Beckham to stay away from the conservative theme before the cafe opened in October 2007. The former art teacher says he came up with the idea about five years ago after souring on Starbucks and the other higher-end coffee chains.
He didn't like piped-in folk music, specialty drinks with faux-Italian names or patrons who frittered the hours away on laptops or listening to iPods. The atmosphere, he said, seemed an affront to Midwestern values he learned growing up in Northwest Indiana.
“Coffee shouldn't be about sitting in a cafe for 12 hours,” Beckham says. “Coffee gets us through our workday. It's what we drink before we make steel for the rest of the country or head out into the fields.”
As his disdain for the coffee chains coincided with his fear of an erosion in national pride, Beckham made plans for The Conservative Cafe, an old-fashioned java joint near the Crown Point town square. There were two Starbucks within three miles of the shop's location, but Beckham and his wife, Jill, were convinced his pro-United States decor and Indiana roasted coffee would strike a chord with the community.
“We're trying to push back against the media and those in Europe who are anti-America,” he said. “And it feels good to do it.”
In the six months since the opening, Starbucks announced plans to close one of its Crown Point locations and Beckham has begun pondering franchise opportunities for his cafe. He acknowledges Starbucks' downturn stems from a sagging economy and the company's massive growth, but he believes his success proves that some people are turned off by traditional coffeehouse culture.
Crown Point resident Matthew McPhee is one of them. He doesn't feel comfortable in trendier coffeehouses, where he sometimes doesn't recognize the music and often doesn't agree with the political conversations.
He prefers The Conservative Cafe, where red-white-and-blue bunting hangs outside the brick building and patrons can buy T-shirts that read, “Silly liberal … Paychecks are for Workers.”
“I like it here,” he says. “I don't have to worry about listening to beatnik poetry or some political ideology that makes me want to vomit.”
During his weekly visits, McPhee usually orders a “Radical Right” coffee, the cafe's strongest roast. His other options are conservative, moderate and liberal – the latter of which Beckham describes as a “Colombian decaf with no substance.”
Beckham and his business partner, Bill McCall, say they still aren't drawing paychecks from the cafe. But Bob Metz, Center Township's supervisor of commercial assessments, says the shop has passed the six-month mark by which many fledgling eateries in the area falter.
“It has a unique theme,” Metz says. “But that's what keeps people coming back.”