October 30, 2009

Stylish Circa Celeste cafe focuses on community

Racine's newest coffee shop is all about recycling, but don't think blue bins and aluminum (though no doubt owners Ben and Dan Lehner are environmentally conscious).

Their recycling concerns the local economy. The Lehners are building their "Circa Celeste" cafe at 619 Wisconsin Ave. around supporting area farmers and businesses. Their hope is to start a movement where local businesses buy from local businesses and keep money circulating in the city.

"If we can capture money and keep it in the city, we can help a lot of people," Ben explained.

The Lehners hope to contribute to the local economy with a European-style cafe that emphasizes healthy, handcrafted food in an open, social environment. The first thing you'll notice walking into Circa Celeste is the gorgeous, inviting interior design.

The Lehners worked with designer Kathryn Bencriscutto to create a 19th Century Parisian feel using vintage elements found at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore and local antique shops. The tone is set by the painted tin ceiling - done by Dan - in metallic pastels.

The menu is a mix of healthy bakery, coffee, teas and a juicer, all at reasonable prices (muffins and cookies are $1) For lunch the cafe offers a homemade soup (it was pumpkin the day we were there), seasonal salads and lunch specials. On weekends they serve pancakes, waffles and crepes.

There's a full coffee bar serving Alterra. A large coffee goes for $2 and a large latte is $3.65. The juices, squeezed fresh on site, have a carrot-apple base with additional flavors, such as blueberries or raspberries. They also offer shots of wheatgrass.

As many products as possible that are sold at Circa Celeste are bought within driving distance of Racine, Ben said. They shop at local farmer's markets and and buy additional produce from Milwaukee's Growing Power. (They're looking for someone locally who grinds flour. If you know someone, stop by the cafe.)

Lehner said economists have shown that money that circulates within a community has a "multiplier" effect that supports several businesses. The alternative is sending money out of a community, which loses the local multiplier effect.

"We're really trying to promote community," Lehner said.

Circa Celeste is located next door to Shilling's Pub in the home of the former "Daily Grind."

The cafe is open Tuesday through Sunday at 8 a.m. It's open until 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednedsay and until midnight Thursday through Sunday. For performers out there, Thursday night is a Poetry/Open Mike Night at the cafe.

Free wi-fi access is also available.

Here are photos inside Racine's newest cafe:

Ben Lehner serves a customer at Cafe Celeste.

This antique bell is one of many flourishes throughout the cafe.

The backroom


  1. Why does this place look like a tattoo parlor?

  2. Lehner not Lehrner

  3. THanks so much for bringing these business into the public eye. We will try it next week. We appreciate this feature in the Racine Post. Now, fix the paypal link for subscriptions so we can donate on a monthly basis.

  4. Anon 10:27, because apparently nothing makes you happy. Go away.

    Nice article boys. I too appreciate knowing about new businesses that open in town, particularly if they're not bars. We need more coffee shops, restaurants and shops in the downtown area to revitalize it. I am generally not one to frequent this type of place because I'm not a big coffee drinker. But, I just may give this one a try. Thanks again.

  5. There is also tea, hot chocolate and juice. On Friday, I enjoyed a wonderful hot bowl of lentil soup, just right for a rainy day. Web site is http://www.circaceleste.net.

  6. Very pretty and very good food. The food is made with the utmost care. I will go back again.

  7. I have had many wonderful soups and salads at Circa Celeste. I feel good after eating there. Thanks for being here in Racine!

  8. They have the best blueberry pancakes I've ever had in my life!

  9. Yeah, but who can afford them?

  10. pancakes are three for three bucks ?! get real.

  11. I volunteer at Sixth Street theatre frequently. So glad to be able to grab a coffee before rehearsal/shows. Eager to give Circa a try this weekend!

  12. I have been to this cafe' and back again. It's so fun What I like is many Christians hang out there, they don't preach, but if you say Praise the Lord, all kinds of people say it back. It's so fun to go in and watch the musicians practicing guitars and such, just sitting at a table sipping coffee. Everybody says hello when anybody walks in. You just immediately feel like you belong there. Love it.

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