Monkey Joe Roasting Company has been a coffee fancier’s paradise in Midtown Kingston since 2000, when Gabe Cicale and Kathy Nealis refurbished the wainscoting, tin ceiling, and fireplace back to their 1904 glory and brought in the intoxicating aroma of small-batch, single-origin, specialty grade beans a-roastin’.
Gabe and Kathy stepped aside in 2019 but—happily for Kingstonians—the tradition found new keepers in two longtime Monkey Joe employees, Melissa Brown and Brittany “Britt” Morton, who took over and are keeping things percolating deliciously along, “Gabe came from an Italian family where coffee had featured heavily in their lives and decided to learn to roast to ensure he always had a good cup of ‘joe,’” recalls Britt of her former employer.
“Kathy worked as a nurse at Benedictine Hospital (now part of Health Alliance) and joined Gabe at the shop when she retired, shortly after it opened.
Back then, midtown Kingston was not a hot spot for a new business—especially a coffee shop in the years before Starbucks revolutionized the scene. Through their dedication to coffee, their research of the area, and much hard work renovating the building, they built a business that has thrived and will hopefully continue to do so for years to come.”
Britt grew up in the Albany area, attended Siena College, and made her way to Kingston after a stop in Saugerties. Melissa, a Dutchess County native, left to pursue a few degrees in music and returned over a decade ago. Both found themselves working at Monkey Joe for a combined 17 years and loving it.
“We meet so many people....Just hearing their stories, their worries, their small joys, watching their lives grow and unfold, is what really creates the character of this space.” - Britt Morton, co-owner, Monkey Joe Roasting Co.
“Owning a coffee roasting business was not ever the plan,” says Britt. “But the options were to dust off our resumes and work for someone who didn’t understand, know, or love the business and its customers, or put on our big-girl pants and buy our jobs. It probably helped that we had been happy to show up to ‘work’ every morning—we still are!—and knew to an extent what we were getting into, having been managing the day-to-day operations of the shop for many years. And we both now live within two miles of the shop, which makes for a nice commute on those snowy winter mornings.”
Snowy winter mornings in Kingston and beyond are warmed by Monkey Joe’s roasts: The business supplies numerous restaurants and markets in the Hudson Valley. And there’s no such thing as the wrong kind of morning for a place like this, where the coffee’s hot and fragrant and the welcome’s warm. Britt and Melissa have watched and nurtured local coffee culture from its tender beginnings. “When the shop opened, the majority of sales were cups of coffee—actual drip coffee,” Melissa recalls. “Then the bigger coffee businesses created a market for espresso-based beverages—cue the caramel macchiato—and suddenly we were pulling shots like espresso was on sale. Even up to five years ago, cold brew coffee was a full-on explanation and conversation. Now people confidently walk in and order four. It’s been fun to watch the progression on that front and how it has been reflected in Kingston’s coffee culture.”
But no matter how fancy things get, Monkey Joe is rooted in the basic bean. “If you ask us, we always recommend a cup of coffee!” says Britt. “It’s a simple answer, but we roast every week, so you are getting a cup of coffee that is super fresh and our passion.
Personally, we’ve been on an Americano kick the past year—shots of our delicious, super-secret house espresso with water, hot or iced. It’s like magic in a cup—super smooth, but somehow with enough depth to hold up in our lattes and enough kick to get us through our days.”
The pandemic restrictions on indoor dining were dealt with in classic Monkey good humor. “We became a strictly walk-in business, using the tables piled with our stuffed monkey collection as a monkey barricade to cordon off most of the shop,” says Melissa.
“We are slowly staging a retreat of the monkeys, opening up the shop for self-serve bulk beans with a couple of tables in the windows, and the plan to open more fully as time goes on….Thankfully, our supply chain and costs have not been affected.
It may help that we try to shop locally and buy American-made products with the exception of our green coffee beans, which results in a smaller ecological footprint and keeps our neighbors in business.”
The business supplies numerous restaurants and markets in the Hudson Valley. And there’s no such thing as the wrong kind of morning for a place like this, where the coffee’s hot and fragrant and the welcome’s warm. Britt and Melissa have watched and nurtured local coffee culture from its tender beginnings.
Staffing through the pandemic has been tough, but Britt and Melissa—alone at the counter—and roaster Tom Delooza ensured that no Kingstonian or casual visitor need face quarantine un-caffeinated, determinedly showing up for their people—who, Britt says, are the best part of the brew. “We meet so many people: from down the street, from across the country, children of people who used to be regulars, people who have moved away and still order coffee off our website. Just hearing their stories, their worries, their small joys, watching their lives grow and unfold, is what really creates the character of this space. We’ve become almost an institution in Kingston, and there are now people who have never known this spot on Broadway to not have Monkey Joe Roasting Company, to not have that toasty smell of roasting coffee wafting each week...For us, to be part of that is just really wonderful.”
So stop in, meet the monkeys, and order up a cuppa whatever joe strikes your fancy. They’re there for you, sustainably delicious and sticking to a simple time-tested formula. “As for our business philosophy,” says Melissa, “we roast it, you buy it, and as always, ‘Taste No Evil.’”
Monkey Joe Roasting Company
478 Broadway, Kingston
6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Friday