— Veteran-themed café brings more than just flavor to Bolivar/Harpers Ferry.
Sarah Shafer once worked as a quality-control chemist in a flavor and extracts facility. “We had to taste everything before it left production,” she explained, “as well as learning the science behind what creates a flavor—natural versus artificial. Palate training is part of it and understanding the difference between a preference and ‘that’s bad.’”
Sarah and husband Dan Jimeno are proprietors of Rations Café in Boliver/Harpers Ferry (1102 Washington Street). “We use that skill set for all of our products—the different varieties of coffees that we have, all of our drinks behind the bar, like our favored nitro brew,” said Dan, with Sarah adding, “For example, I don’t personally like hazelnut, but I can tell you when something is a good hazelnut or a bad hazelnut. We also have a raspberry-vanilla cold brew, which I don’t believe exists anywhere else—because it’s my baby and I created it!”
Rations celebrated its first birthday in April. The café’s World War I/II theme stems from the fact that both Sarah and Dan are veterans. Sarah hails from a small Illinois town and taught science at Lindenwood University near St. Louis. Dan is from Rockville (MD) and commutes to his job as a systems analyst. They decided to make their home in Harpers Ferry because they love the outdoors, while still being close to the city. Most important, Sarah’s twin sons, Tre and Dedrik, 16, are on the autism spectrum and have special needs—and the area provides them a nurturing environment.
Serendipity best describes how Rations Café came about. Sarah recalled, “When the boys were fourteen, we had a long conversation about how we could start positioning for their future. They have to do meaningful work.”
The café’s previous owner, Chris Price, had established it as a community hub where hikers and bikers met up, but he was stepping away from the business. The building’s owner approached Sarah and Dan and asked them if they wanted to take over. The twins had helped Price as volunteers and enjoyed working in the coffee shop. Sarah and Dan considered what they could do with the space, and what was realistic from a financial perspective.
“We thought we could turn this into something the boys could grow into,” she said. “We were certain that it would be able to provide meaningful work and keep them involved in the community, which is paramount to their mental health. The boys could do this and still have time after business hours for their creative hobbies, such as computer animation and making videos.”
Sarah and Dan thought about the feeling they wanted to create for the café’s customers. It would be brightly lit, with a community table to encourage interaction. Music would be cheerful but not overpowering and create a nostalgic feeling. Sarah was raised by her grandparents, so she chose 1920s-1940s Swing, early Jazz, and Big Band music.
“This area is Civil War saturated, so I didn’t want to do Civil War,” she explained. “World Wars one and two are overlooked in this area, plus we are both prior service. People understand what rations are, if they understand World Wars one and two. My grandfather’s brother was a World War two pilot, so it was a way for me to give subtle nods to my uncle and to my great-grandfather, who served in World War one.”
One of Sarah’s projects is to salute local WWI and II veterans by displaying their photos and stories around the café. “People who lived in this community and then went off to war—some of them came back and some didn’t.”
Most of the town eateries are sit-down, full-service, but many folks want to get up and hit the trails early and don’t want to take time to sit down and eat a meal. Rations Café aims for the people who just want a quick bite—something they can pack if they want—breakfast items like bagel sandwiches and avocado toast, and lunch items like chicken salad on croissants. People can dash in, grab something, and go. Everything is a la carte.
And of course, there is the coffee. “We source our beans through three different suppliers and we roast them ourselves,” Dan indicated. “All but one are single-origin. The exception is our espresso, which is a blend.”
Rations doesn’t court commuter business because commuters (including Dan) are usually cutting it close. Most of their business is from locals, and everything is priced accordingly. “We get a lot of National Park Service and Harpers Ferry Family Medical Center people,” he confirmed.
Much of Harpers Ferry’s tourist lodging is not full B&B, so many visitors look for breakfast on weekends. “We needed to garner the support of locals first, then visitors would be icing on the cake, which I think we’ve accomplished,” said Sarah. “I feel that we’ve honored the community space that Chris Price created.”