In her 17 years working for corporate America, Clarks Summit native Jenn Saunders thought becoming proprietor of a small, downtown Scranton coffee shop would always be a pipe dream.
But when her longtime position as a senior leader in the contact center at Bank of America was unexpectedly eliminated, Saunders began to seek a life change. She took an extended vacation with family to Costa Rica, where she fell in love with coffee culture. She imagined returning home to Northeast Pennsylvania and starting her own cafe from the ground up, but she was shocked to find the well-established Spruce Street business Northern Light Espresso Bar & Cafe was on the market.
Saunders met with the previous owners, and everything just clicked into place, she said. In November 2018, she joined the league of small business owners in the Electric City.
“I learned so much in the corporate world in leadership roles that I can use here,” the Jessup resident said on a recent afternoon at the cafe.
The change of pace has been educational and offered a welcome shift in lifestyle, though, she added.
“I love people, and I love coffee. Our clientele is so diverse, and that’s my favorite thing,” Saunders said. “And my staff is so knowledgeable. I never knew the science of making coffee.”
For the first few months of her new ownership, Saunders simply observed and met as many customers as possible. Then she
closed shop for a week to paint and “create more of a ‘Jenn vibe,’” she explained, before reopening and making some big changes to Northern Light’s menu.
The biggest difference under her management, she pointed out, is that the majority of the food served is made in-house. From the extensive breakfast and lunch menus, only the muffins, bagels and danishes are outsourced through Rockland Bakery of New Jersey — for now. And each month, Saunders adds a new sandwich, salad and breakfast item.
“Everything else we do here,” she said. “We fill the case every day with cookies, scones and wraps.”
Signature items include the Ancient Grain Salad (featuring a mix of quinoa, red and brown rices, farro, millet and veggies), the Cuban and seasonal offerings such as the Summer Peach Salad. In the winter, Saunders plans to add house-made soups.
Beyond the tasty meals and treats, Northern Light serves an array of coffeehouse classics, from espresso to lattes to organic chais (made hot or cold). There are 17 varieties of loose-leaf teas to choose from, all served with traditional tea service and steeped properly, whether they’re enjoyed hot or cold. Northern Light also makes its own fresh-squeezed lemonade and recently added Northern Sparklers, which are custom-flavored soda waters.
The coffee comes from Damiani Coffee Roasters in Factoryville, and the cafe serves its own house blend called Aurora. Drinks can be lightened with milk alternatives, such as soy or oat milks.
Saunders now offers catering off-site for groups anywhere from 12 to 70 in number, though with monthly art exhibits, quarterly paint nights and weekly live music offered at the shop, the ambience can’t be beat.
“The comfy atmosphere was a big piece before, and I love that people feel comfortable enough to stay,” Saunders said. “Students camp out, lawyers come over from the courthouse, people want to have business meetings here.”
During La Festa Italiana this weekend, Northern Light will stay open for extended hours to accommodate extra foot traffic on the square. Visitors can stop in Friday, Saturday and Sunday until 9 p.m., though the shop will close early on Monday at 6 p.m.
It’ll be Saunders’ first experience as owner during the annual food and culture festival, but she looks forward to seeing some new faces and supporting the effort of drawing more people into the city.
“Being part of the downtown and seeing the changes of the city, it has been all very positive,” she said. “I think great things are to come, and I’m excited to be part of that.”
Northern Light Espresso Bar & Cafe
Patrice Wilding is a 13-year employee of the Lifestyles Dept. at The Times-Tribune, where she worked her way up from a clerk to a web video producer to a full-time reporter, writer and copy editor. An Olyphant native, she graduated from Mid Valley Secondary Center and earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with concentration in media arts, political science and communications from Wesley College, Dover, Delaware. She lives in Clarks Summit with her husband, Justin, and their son, Johnny. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5369; @pwildingTT