Singer-songwriter and guitarist Larry Tritel has found a second home at Orpha’s Coffee Shop in the Village Shopper Center, across from Montgomery Shopping Center. On Saturday, December 24, he will perform a blend of music that’s as eclectic as the variety of coffees and teas you can find there.
Tritel [pronounced try-tell], a Lambertville resident raised in northeast Philadelphia, was 10 when he began playing guitar with a passion, inspired by a TV appearance by Glen Campbell. He has played in a succession of bands through the years, except, he says, for a five-year period when he was married. "I’ve had more success since I’ve been on my solo kick in the last 10 years," Tritel says, "but in the last six years I’ve been busier than ever, putting everything into it." Other venues Tritel – an admitted coffee aficionado – frequents include Failte in Hopewell, the New Hope Winery, and Capa Pizza in Lambertville.
"I do a mix of originals and covers, so in the course of a show, you’ll hear me do Billie Holiday, the Kinks, the Beatles, and Great American songbook standards," Tritel says. "I take pride in being able to present a variety of music."
Tritel’s album, "Breakfast with Larry," released last year, was recorded live at Orpha’s. It includes standards, originals, and rock covers. The performer has been a mainstay at Orpha’s Coffee Shop since owner Linda Grimsley and her husband, Patricio Abarca, opened in the summer of 2003, seeking to make it into a gathering place for artistic types.
How did Tritel happen upon Grimsley? "My bosses at my 9 to 5 (in medical billing) came running to me because they knew that I’m a coffee lover," he says. "I started going there regularly. There was a two-week period before the grand opening when I convinced Linda to have me play at the grand opening. I’ve been there ever since. I love Orpha’s and their coffee truly is just great."
While there is never a cover charge for music at Orpha’s, Grimsley says they do expect that patrons buy a cup of coffee or a sandwich. Breakfast and a limited lunch menu is served. Menu items include pastries, baked on site, and a variety of breakfast sandwiches made with home-baked bread.
"Orpha’s is not a late night place," Grimsley says. "When we first started we were open every day and into the night, but people in this area don’t go out at night much." Orpha’s closes at 6:30 p.m. and at 1 p.m. on Sundays.
Other musicians who have performed at Orpha’s include Key of She, the all-female a cappella ensemble; John Sonntag; and the Upper Princeton Swing Collective. Grimsley and her husband have also hosted bands from Montgomery Township High School. "They always bring in a lot of people, so for anybody with a talent who wants to develop their craft, we want this to be known as a good place to do it. Right from the start, the idea was to incorporate the arts into the place," says Grimsley, who studied and taught dance for many years, then worked at Merrill Lynch for a number of years after getting a degree in computer science. "I’ve always wanted to help the community and help the starving artists, so every month we have a different artist exhibit their work, whether it’s photos, paintings, whatever.
‘We’re not just a retail coffee shop, we’re also a roaster," she says. "Our main business is wholesale coffee sales (www.orphas.com). But we’re in the retail side of the coffee business too, and we serve breakfast."
Tritel started coming to Orpha’s as a customer, because he works in a company nearby, off Route 206, Grimsley says. "He had been singing at private parties and in other coffee houses. Since he plays guitar and harmonica and also does some comedy, we said, ‘Why don’t you come over and play for breakfast on Saturdays?’ So, he is the official Saturday person here."
Aside from making Orpha’s into something of a center for the arts, Grimsley and Abarca are also doing their part to run a socially and environmentally conscious operation. Eighty percent of their coffees are organic, either Rainforest Alliance certified or Fair Trade certified. Grimsley says: "We have to pay a certain amount of money for each pound of coffee we sell, and that helps the environment as well as many of the farmers from South America, who are very poor. We try to help them as much as possible."
Grimsley named Orpha’s after her mother, who lives in Manhattan. She is co-owner with her husband, Patricio Abarca, a native of Chile and the master coffee roaster at Orpha’s. The couple, who live in Plainsboro, opened Orpha’s after Abarca was laid off from his job and Grimsley became disenchanted with the corporate life. "I needed to make a break and get away from that to do something that I really wanted to do, that would be my own business," she says, "so that I wouldn’t mind getting up at 4 a.m. When I quit my job, it was one of
the best days of my life!"
The couple’s daughter, Andrea, attends Tufts University and is enrolled in a fine arts program there, while their son, Patricio, goes to Northeastern University. Patricio handles much of the writing for the Orpha’s website, while Andrea created the logo for Orpha’s Coffee Shop and uses her design expertise in other ways to help the operation. "My husband is the master roaster," says Grimsley. "He knows every trick about roasting coffee from his time in Chile, and I handle the business part of the operation," she says.
Tritel plays guitar and harmonica, and says the audience can expect some humor and a very wide-ranging performance on Christmas Eve day. "It’s a real eclectic blend. Everything except heavy metal. I try to keep it loose. The lounge in there is so comfortable, people just relax and have a good time. It almost feels like you’re at your aunt’s house, it’s very homey."
Breakfast with Larry Tritel, Saturday, December 24, 9 a.m., Orpha’s Coffee Shop, 1330 Route 206, Skillman. 609-430-2828.