We met with Sandra Comstock, owner of Glyph in April, 2014.
Tell us the story behind your business becoming what it is today.
We chose the name Glyph because it expresses our interest serving as a crossroads for makers and lovers of the visual and written arts. The idea for the café hatched sometime after we moved here from Cambridge MA three years ago. A tenure track job at Reed College was the reason we moved initially. But we soon fell in love with much more – mainly the vibrant arts, writing, and local foods scenes in Portland. The special ethos and vocation that Portlanders bring to their various endeavors captured our hearts. Soon we were wondering how we might plug into the enthusiasm and dedication that so many of Portland’s resident artists, writers, and craftspeople exude.
My work writing and teaching on the politics of material culture and Hugo’s work teaching literature and poetry propelled us to create a space where people could gather, eat, and work while simultaneously enjoying and engaging with a changing kaleidoscope of thought provoking art, literature, and music projects as well as community conversations on the same. Our own interests and working/writing habits inspired us to create our arts-oriented venue with attention to design and comfort. Basically Glyph is a venue meant to stimulate the imagination and spark thought and creativity. Mostly we hoped to create the kind of place we always wished we had had for writing, meeting, and relaxing with friends and our kids as well. Our monthly featured artist, writer, and music programs keep Glyph fresh and I think maintain it as a thought provoking environment for both regulars and newcomers. In addition – our ideas for Glyph come from the coffee and tea cultures we have experienced living overseas – in Mexico, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, and Japan. Café culture in Latin America is all about cozy places worth lingering. places that make you want stay and write, hold meetings or converse with colleagues or friends.
Coffee at Glyph isn’t just about rushing through your espresso in a paper cup as you run to work. Comfortable chairs, attention to design, music at a decibel you can hear comfortably over, and enough room to stay a while all create the atmosphere conducive to enjoying an extended visit. At the same time our loose leaf tea bar features traditional brewing techniques where visitors are encouraged to watch and take in the aroma of the leaf as the tea is prepared. Conversation and ceremony between server and guest are the hallmarks of the tea experience in Bangladesh and Japan. Our “tea theater” is meant to evoke this sensibility. Bottom line – we think a café should be a home away from home – a refreshing change of venue that can kick start a stalled sentence or get going on solving a problem you’ve been stuck in the office trying to solve for hours. I have always found a little wandering or change of scenery conducive to getting my train of thought back on a constructive track.
We’d love to hear about the passions that drive you from day to day.
Our passions are writing, reading, and seeking out opportunities to chat with interesting people and learn about the many fascinating projects that seem to percolate in this city. Making sure that Glyph is a genuinely warm and sincerely welcoming place with excellent food and drink is how we attract the kinds of people that bring us joy. It also ensures a place we find delightful for pursuing our passions for writing, reading and working with people.
Another passion is welcoming people of all ages in our place – kids are a passion of ours too. Too often restaurants and patrons do not welcome kids and have nothing to offer them to keep them interested and engaged. Hugo and I have worked hard in selecting a carefully curated variety of books and imagination-centered toys and board games that our seven and eight year old find totally engrossing. We also have items on our menu we know kids like. That way, adults can combine adult food, wine, beer, conversation, and work with enjoyable, low-stress quality kid time. Our experience is that when kids have interesting and novel activities to entertain them they can be model guests. Kids with things to do are often happy to let their parents have a pleasant conversation or get things done while also enjoying the pleasure of their kids’ company. Kids with novelties to engage their imaginations brighten our place up. It gives us great joy to provide a place where little and big people enjoy hanging out.
What aspects of your business make you the most happy each day?
Our staff make us happy – we are very very grateful to have such a lovely team of people working with us. Being around people who work well together, like one another’s company, and truly value interacting with people/guests is a genuine privilege. Having worked in many different work context, we think fostering a fun work, harmonious and appreciative environment is critical to our own work satisfaction and happiness. Our guests also give us a great deal of joy. Observing people enjoying the space, asking about our tea, our poetry display tables, and our poetry wall – these small details are often the highpoint of many of my days. I – in particular – also have a ton of fun mining our poetry wall for funny thoughts, drawings or cartoons and making up with ludicrous little stories about what is going on in or outside the café – I typically post these on instagram and twitter. Sometimes it’s a story about our resident felt-mice (TOYS!!! Not real) – Wanda and Wilheim – recently Wilheim broke his tail and felt the sting of rodential exclusion from our new national health care program. Other times things are happening outside in the park – one day I went and took lots of pictures of Anonymous in their Guy Fawkes masks. Another day a “Therapy Llama” in a headband with antennae and a flower necklace showed up across the street in front of the Emerson School. I had a great deal of fun reporting to the twitter and instagram-verse. These are all fodder for the stories I like to share with Glyph people via social media.
What makes Glyph Café & Arts Space a great spot to get work done?
I would say:
- Delicious coffee, tea, breakfast, sandwiches, soups, tapas, wine & beer with continually changing specials to keep it interesting.
- An extraordinarily friendly staff.
- Comfortable seating, and lots of it.
- Tons of natural light and a great view of the park.
- Great music at a carefully calibrated volume that facilitates one’s ability to focus, think, converse, and write.
- A specially curated, aesthetically pleasing atmosphere with changing art and literary displays – All conducive to creative thinking etc.
- Lots of electrical outlets – particularly at our bar seating.
- Ristretto Roasters Coffee, bakeshop goodies, 30 + small estate wines, and a careful selection of beers.
- Our wonderful clientele – we think those attracted to our place tend to be especially courteous, thoughtful, and enjoyable people.
- And fun. Our staff and place are really and truly a fun bunch.
Why do you feel it’s important to support nomadic workers like us?
I think getting out and about keeps the mind from getting stuck – improves one’s ability to work and problem solve effectively. Walking and periodically changing up one’s surroundings in the day – are conducive to being constructive and to keeping creative thought flowing. Hugo and I have always been people who have found working in cafes an integral part of our own work processes. We wanted to create a space that would have all the elements we always wished we could combine. As nomadic workers ourselves understand the need particularly in the downtown and pearl it doesn’t seem like there are any places that have the nomadic worker and working meeting type in mind. We think our spot offers just what has been missing for these kinds of workers. Plus – now we have a place to work ourselves.
Name a couple things we should consider when we work at Glyph?
Our convenience relative to offices, businesses homes in the Pearl and the Burnside side of Downtown makes us an ideal spot to come to if you need to stretch your legs and change up your surroundings if you find yourself in a bit of a rut. If you need multiple electrical outlets try our window bar seating – the chairs are actually super comfortable even for short legged people like me. All the outlets are on the back of the underside of the table. There is one outlet every 6 inches or so.
What are some of the best ways for us all to support your business?
Consider having a meal with us as well as a beverage – we think our prices and food are excellent – better than anywhere else with our quality in the Pearl. Consider coming in for Happy Hour – where beer and wine are a dollar off, tapas range from $1.00 – $5.00 and a cheese – Olympic Provisions charcuterie – house pickled veg-almonds board is as little as $6.00. Consider hosting an after-hours meet-up, 12 person or more gathering, or cultural event at our place. Getting new people in to appreciate Glyph and sample our excellent wine list will help us grow our evening clientele.