How an Indie Coffee Shop Became the Soul of St. James

Co-owners Jeffery Petrocelli and Kristin Walsh outside their coffee shop and cafe Soul Brew in St. James.

What gets your soul brewing? This was the question Kristin Walsh asked herself back when she was still in college, double majoring in sociology and psych. The answer came quickly: coffee, food, music, art and people. And by “people” she didn’t mean Auguste Comte and Sigmund Freud. So she dropped out of college and began to reimagine her life.

“I had been in the food-and-drink industry my entire life,” says Walsh, 26. “My mom always worked in delis, and I started waitressing when I was 15. So a return to that world seemed natural—and right.”

She began managing a popular coffee shop in Miller Place, where she made a name for herself and developed relationships with customers that would prove invaluable in just a short period of time.

Soul Brew is famous for its lattes—both hot and cold, like their White Chocolate Strawberry iced latte (pictured above).

“The owners [of the shop] and I had an agreement that I was going to buy it and take it over,” says Walsh. “But to make a long story short, I made a rookie mistake and I didn’t get anything in writing. They backed out at the last minute and suddenly I lost everything I had been working for and imagined for myself.”

But one thing she didn’t lose? The loyalty and belief of her customers.

Over the course of her tenure at the shop in Miller Place, Walsh developed a relationship with Jeffrey and Nicole Petrocelli, a husband-and-wife team from St. James, whom Walsh had become friendly with, even watching them welcome their first son.

Soul brew manager Tori Toscanini multitasks in front of the shop’s chalkboard menu, handwritten by owner Kristin Walsh.

“When they found out what happened, they backed my concept of opening my own place,” says Walsh. “They really believed in me.”

And when Walsh and the Petrocellis opened their first coffee shop together—Soul Brew—in November 2016, they learned that a lot of people believed in them: namely, the entire community of St. James.

Visit their shop at 556 North Country Road and you’ll immediately understand why. The aroma will seduce you first, smelling (obviously) of coffee, yes, but also of all the best parts of breakfast and lunch: toasting bagels, frying eggs, simmering soup. Next, your eyes will feast on the decor, more Brooklyn than Long Island, with exposed brick, local art on the walls, and chairs upholstered with lush and beautiful fabric. And then finally, there are the people. If they seem happy to work there, it’s because they are. Walsh has stocked her team with friends and family and, as they’ve expanded, with employees who have since become friends and part of Walsh’s chosen-family.

From left to right: Soul Brew manager Tori Toscanini, co-owner Kristin Walsh, and chef Kelvin Rosales take a break on the shop’s raised platform stage that hosts musical guests, wingback chairs and board games.

“We picked the space we’re in now, because it’s in a shopping center that’s tucked back a bit, like a secret hiding place,” says Walsh. “And the space has a special meaning for me, too, because my mom used to work in a deli here. My dad was actually going to remortgage his house and buy it for her, but she was too afraid to take the leap.”

Now, years later, her daughter has taken the leap for her.

At Soul Brew, all of the tea and coffee is organic and Walsh prides herself on sourcing products and ingredients as locally as possible. The shop even has Sail Away Coffee on tap.

Soul Brew’s coffee-based drinks are just as creative as they are delicious.

And the drinks? As creative as they are delicious. Their lattes—ranging in flavor from Rainbow Cookie to Banana Split—enjoy a cult following, and their tea and smoothie offerings are equally impressive.

“But we’re not just coffee, smoothies and tea,” says Walsh. “We got our beer and wine license three months ago. All of our beer on tap is local, and we’re working on bringing in more local wines, too. Our customers really love our dining menu, too. We never repeat specials and our weekends are really bumping because of it.”

Recent specials have included Mozzarella Stick Grilled Cheese and Java Chip Frappuccino French Toast. Is there any wonder why there’s often a waiting list on the weekends?

A perennial favorite on Soul Brew’s menu is their take on Avocado Toast, made fresh-to-order with organic avocado, red pepper flakes and sea salt.

“A lot of customers come in and say thank you so much for bringing life to St. James,” says Walsh. “They really appreciate that we host Trivia Night on Tuesdays, Open Mic Nights on Thursdays and live music on Fridays and Saturdays. Before we came here, they say, there really wasn’t anywhere in the community for people to go. ‘Feed your soul’ has been our motto since day one—and it’s just awesome to see that we’re actually helping people to do that.”

And what does her mom think when she returns to the space in which she used to work herself?

“She is always so happy,” says Walsh. “And always so, so impressed.”