On the corner of Central Avenue and Third Street lies Flight Coffee shop in Dover. For almost three years, the owner and University of New Hampshire (UNH) alumnus, Kelly Bower, has been transforming the shop into a community hub.
Originally, Flight was owned by a woman who wanted to make their coffee an “exclusive experience,” as Bower puts it, but he had other ideas when he took over.
On any given day, you can see the line wrap around the register with people from all walks of life – from businessmen and parents to artists and students – relaxing and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea. Erin Sharp, an associate professor in the UNH human development and family studies program, said it’s the perfect place for her to work.
“The food and drinks are excellent, keeping me happily fueled for good work,” said Sharp. “And, I can always find the perfect space to set up my computer and spread out a bit. If I successfully get promoted to full professor, I will have to have my celebration at Flight.”
“[Flight’s goal is] to build a community hub that’s essential for Dover and the surrounding community; we just happen to sell award-winning coffee and bagels,” Bower said.
Bower has never worked in a restaurant before, and also works as a marketing tech executive. His wife, Kristy, is an energy healer, also known as a reiki master. The couple wanted to buy the business to show their kids what it’s like to work hard and make a difference in the community. Bower felt like his kids never got to see him working, as he often worked from home or had to travel. Bower and his wife thought that the coffee shop would be a great hands-on experience where the kids could learn by example.
According to the Bowers, Flight looked like it could have gone one of two ways: a success or spectacular failure. Two years later, their business is nearly quadrupled.
“There is a success on being a good person and helping others,” said Bower.
When first designing Flight, Bower knew he wanted to make it a cozy and welcoming atmosphere, especially since he found so many coffee shops sterile and impersonal. All of the tables and the flooring is made from repurposed wood from an old barn, and one of the first things you’ll notice when walking in is the chalk art, which Bower does on his own. The logo, menu, music schedule and promotional “posters” are all drawn on large chalkboards found throughout the shop. Other artists are able to showcase their work as well. Bower cycles through local artists to showcase on the walls, so no matter where you look there is always original art.
“Being in the community the way we are, we get a lot of requests for art or music or events,” Bower said. “We try to say yes to everything. We find a place for everybody.”
Bower wanted the feeling of inclusivity and being welcomed to seep into all aspects of Flight, including the dining experience. Most of the pastries, bagels, cakes and bread are made in-house every day, and anything that isn’t made at Flight comes from Barrington and Boston. All the food, sandwiches, salads, soups and toasts are made to order with fresh ingredients. Bower explained that at a typical restaurant, it can be easy to feel like you need to eat and immediately leave; he wanted Flight to be somewhere that people could dine at their own pace, without the nagging feeling of getting pushed out of one of the 76 seats.
Bower also loves to host local musicians for the community to come and enjoy for free, with the goal of giving children an opportunity to see real live music. Bower decided to make admission free because he doesn’t want to discourage anyone from walking in the door and discovering a new artist or song. Bower doesn’t want people to get distracted by other things going on in the cafe, the way they can in bars with pool tables, TVs and games all around. When live musicians play at Flight, the staff move most tables and chairs out of the way, put games away and stop brewing coffee, leaving a connection between the artist and their audience.
Bower says that most of his customers are “for life,” and it was easy to see what he meant. As he spoke to The New Hampshire about his business, he greeted many people walking by, all of which he knew by name. One such customer – Alex Fogg, whose son, Peter, recently got a job in the kitchen – said he was only comfortable in three places: his home, his work and Flight Coffee, where he comes in four times a week.
“That kid loves having a job here,” Fogg said of his son.
Bower’s love of making connections flows into his hiring and work philosophy. When hiring new workers, he doesn’t look at a resume, but rather figures out if the person is a “fountain or a drain.” In other words, is the person pleasant to be around or do they find a way out of the conversation?
When Bower met now-manager Ian, he was new in town and didn’t know anyone. He walked into Flight for a coffee and walked out with a job. Bower explained that he just pays the bills, builds culture, fixes problems and makes chalk art. Kristy Bower serves as the employee’s “emotional cheerleader,” always telling them how much they’re appreciated, valued and respected. Bower says that this isn’t something you’ll find in many restaurants, but believes it necessary for the business and his employees.
“In general, the employees run this business,” Bower said. “We empower them to do it, we challenge them to do it. All of the ideas come from the employees.”
Such ideas include their brainstorming process for their funky teas, coffees and lattes, including the Purple Haze and London Fog. The Bowers believe in helping their employees develop as people; Bower said that he can train an employee to do anything for Flight – like cleaning, cooking or brewing coffee – but he can’t force a connection over the interview table. Rather, it has to be natural and organic.
When it comes to the coffee itself, Bower believes in experiencing the flavor. He personally enjoys black, unflavored coffee. The coffee Flight offers is single-origin coffee sourced from farmers around the world. The coffee is then roasted at the Flight roasting lab in Bedford. The coffee consists of light to medium roasts. The reason they don’t have dark roast is so customers can taste the actual coffee bean.
“We want to brew it under exacting conditions so it’s the best representation of a super high-quality product,” said Bower. “We take the coffee part of it very seriously, but again, we want to make it accessible to everybody.”
The Bowers don’t take home any of the profits, but instead put it right back into the employees, cafe and community. Their intentions aren’t driven by money, but for a love for the Dover community and a desire to bring everyone together.
“It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done [to] give my time, money and resources to this cafe,” Bower said. “It would almost be silly to take a paycheck because we get paid in so many other ways by doing what we do.”
When it comes to the future, the Bowers have explored expanding in places like Portland, Durham and Portsmouth, but overall, are happy with the way business is going and believe that if they set up Flight anywhere else, it would be different.
“If I can’t recreate this vibe somewhere, then I don’t think we can be us,” Bower said.
Flight is located at 478 Central Ave., Dover. For those with dietary restrictions, there are vegan and flourless foods available. Flight does not have a website, so they encourage people to follow and get into contact with them via social media on Instagram (@flightcoffeedovernh) and Facebook (Flight Coffee of Dover NH).