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“I feel like a lot of kids going off to a four-year university look back and probably have a pretty negative view of their hometown, like ‘there was nothing to do there.’ I want them to have something they can look back on.
“Be like ‘there’s something going on there, I’m going to go back and check it out.’ Maybe when they come back, a little bit more’s going on and they decide to stay, and convince other people to stay.” Jeff James, co-owner of Labyrinth Press Co., wants to “contribute to the sort of renaissance going on downtown.”
James, 34, and his wife, Alexandria, now co-own the coffee house with Frank Besse, 30. Besse met James the day before Labyrinth’s initial opening in 2007.
James grew up in Panama, NY, and studied physics at JCC and Alfred University. He currently lives in Jamestown with Alexandria, who has worked as a manager at Southern Tier Brewing Company for more than 10 years. They have three daughters, aged six, three and newborn.
During the two years Labyrinth was closed for renovations, teachers would always ask his six-year-old daughter when the coffee house would reopen. “She’d tell me, ‘Dad, you need to open,”’ he said.
“They’re very excited we’re open again,” James said, referring to his daughters. “They like running around in here.”
Besse, who attended JCC and SUNY Empire State College, was part of the first group of Chautauqua Advancement Project interns. While in the CAP program, he interned at Suburban Blend, now known as Jamestown Skate Products. Since then, he says, “I’ve started my own businesses, worked in nonprofit, a bunch of different environments.” He currently owns Chautauqua Soap and Candles, which sells its natural products at Labyrinth and other local businesses.
James, a vegetarian, taught himself to cook so that he could eat the food he wanted to whenever he wanted to. Cooking became instinctive for James, and now he spends most of his time in the kitchen of Labyrinth. “I feel like it’s always a new recipe every time I make something … I’m always trying to tweak things, make it better or different,” he said.
Labyrinth offers hearty vegetarian food, strong coffee and a variety of smoothies. “We make everything from scratch and get the best ingredients we can. “We make our own veggie burger …We have people who visit from other big cities and can’t get enough of it,” James said.
“By the time you figured out you were a cook you were three years into this business” Besse teased.
Three years ago the co-owners opened Brazil, a craft beer and wine lounge, located directly above Labyrinth. “We really wanted to keep the nighttime coffee house vibe, and a spot opened up upstairs. So we thought ‘how about a craft beer bar?’” Besse said.
The NYS Liquor Authority’s 200 Foot Rule prevents establishments from serving liquor if the main entrance is less than 200 feet from a church or school. But this did not deter Besse and James. The bar has 18 rotating tap lines, offers over 100 types of bottled beer and 40 wines. Spritzers, sangrias and shandys round out the beverage menu.
James did much of the work on Labyrinth and Brazil himself. He constructed the bar, tables, walk-in cooler and much more using a combination of new and reclaimed materials. “He used to build guitars too,” Besse added.
James, a jazz guitar player, made sure to incorporate a vibrant music scene into his coffee house as well as his home. At Labyrinth this includes comedy acts, jazz, and experimental music. At home, he helps his daughter learn violin. Besse books big-name bands during tour gaps, and lines up local musicians to play opening sets.
“The heart of the Labyrinth is really in the music,” Besse said.
Both men are passionate about the revitalization of Jamestown. “At the end of the day, for Jeff and me, you can take away the coffee and the beer and everything else, but … One of the big things we care about is the community. We have a strong interest in having a sense of community here and in the downtown, and we want to build that even more,” Besse said.
“You better come eat our food sometime,” Besse laughed. Labyrinth is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brazil is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The Jamestown Gazette is proud to recognize our dealers, outstanding corporate citizens of our county. This week, the Gazette especially thanks Labyrinth Press Company for the faithfully carrying The Jamestown Gazette, The People’s Paper, for the benefit of their customers, our readers.