A fairy tale café
Coffee and smoothies and cheesecake, oh my!; photos by Tomas Flint
Old Farm Cafe
3450 Winton Place, Rochester
Just as Dorothy was transported to the land of Oz, you’ll feel like you’ve entered another world when you walk through the doors of the Old Farm Cafe. Stepping inside out of the bitter Rochester winter, I am instantly transported to a sunny summer day on the farm. “That’s the idea,” says owner Eric Vaughn Johnson.
Johnson is also executive director of OFC Creations Theatre Center next door in Winton Plaza. After watching parents sitting in their cars, waiting for their children to finish rehearsal, he wanted to provide a place for them with strong coffee and a welcome respite in the middle of a busy day.
I walk up to a beautiful barn complete with the look of frosted glass windows and distressed wood. Baristas wear cowboy hats, flannel shirts, and overalls. A sprawling menu stretches across the barn, and a glass case is full of treats from nearby bakery Cheesy Eddie’s.
I ask what the most popular item on the menu is. One of the staff members thinks it’s the crowaffles: two croissant waffles with toppings like banana and Nutella or strawberries and chocolate sauce. “No, it’s got to be the avocado sandwich,” another server chimes in. “Or maybe the power bowl,” he adds.
I decide on a turkey wrap and turn around to choose a table. I sit down to write with a delicious mango raspberry smoothie as sounds of nature fill the room. Groups of friends laugh over brunch and coffee. Children munch on decadent French toast bricks and creamy mac ’n’ cheese while pointing out hidden decorative birds.
Local artist John Haldoupis is renowned for his big sets and costumes. When Johnson commissioned him to design the café, Haldoupis had a vision that included everything from plant life that jumps off the walls to hand-painted murals and floor. Every table and chair was handcrafted to look like a forest, and animatronic animals were installed to delight customers.
An owl perched on the wall tells a joke, and I hear a young patron whisper,“It’s like a fairy tale.”
My food arrives, and the roasted red pepper aioli is a great addition to the smoky turkey and cheese with crisp lettuce, sweet tomato, and zucchini. My server, Jack Mountain, tells me he loves waking up and “going to work on the farm” every day. “It’s great to be able to work in an environment that’s not your typical one. It’s nice to have dinner and a show and get to know all the performers.” I asked him if he was an actor, too. He told me he joined a musical here in ninth grade and six years later hasn’t left. “I didn’t know it would be my thing until I did it.”
Johnson founded OFC Creations in 2005 as a student club. It grew to a full-fledged company in 2014, producing musicals at local venues all around Rochester. The team began to realize how high the demand was for students to participate in live musical theater when schools sought them out and OFC grew to include summer camps, voice lessons, a dance studio, and much more.
Johnson speaks fondly of his staff, telling me that everyone here is really a family. His husband, Hunter Ekberg, designed the colored lighting adorning the high ceilings of the café and directs and acts in many of the shows next door. Chef and general manager Sarah Trine, previously chef at Geva Theatre, designed the whole menu.
There is always something happening in both spaces. The café was built with a dinner theater experience in mind. One might find a sold-out production of Newsies is on stage at OFC while it’s “Charcuterie and Chardonnay” night with live music at the café.
The café offers a mix of free events like jazz or Broadway nights and ticketed events like “Brunch with the Golden Girls” or cabaret concerts. It’s also host to gatherings such as birthday parties, reunions, and fashion shows.
What’s next for the Old Farm Cafe? Johnson says, “the goal is to perform full musicals in the café, where the audience could see the show like never before. Imagine a yellow brick road in between tables as you become completely immersed in the Wizard of Oz.”
There’s definitely no place in Rochester like the Old Farm Cafe.