Salt City Coffee finally gets a storefront in Syracuse’s West Side

Aaron Metthe, a former youth pastor, had always dreamed of owning a coffee shop. Now, it has become a reality.

Just like FedEx and Amazon, Salt City Coffee goes to its customers, delivering fresh beans to doorsteps every Thursday morning. But owner Aaron Metthe has always wanted to do more than put coffee in his customers’ hands and stomachs. He’s longed for a space where coffee and community can come together — and that is finally about to happen. 

"Out of all the different coffee shops and names I wanted a place to honor the place that is hosting us." – Aaron Metthe

Salt City Coffee will officially open a café at 509 W. Onondaga St., an old white house that formerly served as the Ryan/McMahon Child Advocacy Center, in Syracuse’s West Side neighborhood on Monday. The shop will not only serve locally-roasted and sustainably-sourced coffee, but also offer low-rent spaces to local non-profit organizations. 

Originally a youth pastor, Aaron and his wife Maria moved to Syracuse's Northside after growing weary of church politics. They teamed up with Maria’s brother, Dan White, to launch a nontraditional church called Axiom

Axiom focuses on discussing the inner workings of faith, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood. And although service locations change throughout the month, their gatherings remain the same, centered around song and prayer. But as much as God is a part of the Metthes’ lives, coffee has always been their real dream. 

“We really value relationships and care about helping people,” Maria said. “We do a lot with refugees in the city and so, to get to know someone, I would pick up people and take them out for a cup of coffee. Coffee is that medium to bridge that gap, to meet new people.”

Upon entering Salt City Coffee, customers will be greeted by soft green walls, a cozy entryway and an ancient staircase. Old ladders hand-picked by Aaron’s friend, who owns an antique store, will host a throng of salt paraphernalia: salt shakers, salt rocks, salt drawings and more. Almost all of the decór is like that — reused, salvaged or self-made — making the café feel like a home away from home. 

“When I was picking the name of the coffee I think place is very important to people and I wanted to pay homage to what built the city, and that was salt,” he said. “It felt right. Out of all the different coffee shops and names I wanted a place to honor the place that is hosting us.”

And on the first and third Sunday of each month, the storefront will host Axiom. All of this is because Aaron is determined to make Salt City Coffee a part of the neighborhood. 

“Aaron has been faithfully persevering for this coffee shop for maybe four years, but the tenacity to persevere and get this place open, there’s quite a few people who probably would have bailed on it by now,” said White, who helped Aaron purchase the building in order to also give Axiom a home. 

Learn Aaron's technique for pour-over coffee in six steps. (Photo: Kartar Singh and Kassie Brabaw)

Salt City Coffee has been a long time coming and didn’t seem possible until the initiation of the Northside Urban Partnership — a program dedicated to providing the resources and finances for someone to start their own business — which provided Aaron with an opportunity of his own. 

Aaron was one of the first 13 entrepreneurs that Dan Cowen, a business mentor at CenterState CEO, guided when Northside UP got started.

“When businesses come to us they always think this is going to be the next million-dollar idea,” Cowen said. “But Aaron would literally go and sit in coffee shops for eight hours a day to listen to how people were taking orders, looking at prices. He was not only looking at the baristas and the people running the shop, but also looking at customer reactions.” 

Today, Cowen considers Aaron as one of “his babies and a family member” — just last year they were eating wings and drinking beer together while watching the Denver Broncos in the playoffs. 

“He’s a quiet guy,” he said. “But as soon as you bring up coffee he doesn’t shut up.”

All of Aaron’s coffee is organic and ethically sourced. He works closely with his importer to see where his coffee is coming from and to ensure that the farmers don’t just break even but make a profit that can be reinvested into their community as well. It’s what Aaron plans to do for his own community. 

“My dream would be to hire people from the neighborhood,” he said. “The Northside is much more refugee-centric, they had jobs, some of them owned their own businesses back in their home countries, and for reasons they can’t control, they’re here. So there’s a lot of talent, there’s a lot of skill sets, and we want to tap into that.”

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