2018-07-01 / Dishing

Café Culture

New Jersey transplant Dennis Alan is brewing up community in Penns Valley
Michele Marchetti | Photos by Matt Fern

Dennis Alan just wanted to grow a beard and some chemical-free tomatoes. So he quit his sales management job overseeing Verizon Wireless stores in Manhattan and moved from Jersey City, New Jersey, to Woodward, Pennsylvania. Along the way, he picked up a coffee shop.

Alan, the new owner of the IngleBean Coffee House in Millheim, seems as surprised as anyone by his new career and home. “If it wasn’t here, it would probably have been there,” he says, pointing to a tattoo of Culebra, Puerto Rico, on his left arm.

With the exception of driving through the area on his way to California, Alan knew nothing about Central PA. After looking for a temporary residence, he found a homestead for rent on Airbnb. His hosts happened to be the then-owners of IngleBean. And they also happened to know of a nearby local farmer who was looking to sell 29 acres. “I had a big checklist of things I wanted in the property,” he said. “It had it all.”

That was three years ago. In the time since purchasing that land, Alan began chronicling his homesteading adventures doing dishes in “nature’s sink” and cooking his homegrown food on a YouTube channel called “Dennis Alan City Boy Homesteader.”

But something was missing. In his former Jersey City neighborhood, Alan says, he hosted cookouts and turned his quiet street into a tightknit group. Missing that vibe, he found himself spending more time at IngleBean. When the former owners announced their plans to sell, Alan’s next move seemed preordained.

In January 2018, he started his new job, alerting customers with a playful Instagram video that squashed a few rumors: “From what I hear the Amish are saying, I’m a millionaire.” Who owns a helicopter. “None of that is true.”

Changes to the café came quickly. Alan created a suggestion board that brought forth expanded hours (the cafe doubled its weekly hours to about 70), kombucha, game night and open mic night. He added paninis and all-day breakfast items, including the popular Valley Hash and Cuban espresso. And, a boon for many in the Valley, he introduced Sunday brunch; for the first eight years of its existence, the café had been closed on Sundays.

The valley is making good use of those 70 hours. On a recent weekday morning, an entire family of five ate lunch on the packed back patio, while a pet Labradoodle stretched in a shady spot under the table. Inside there’s plenty of reasons to linger, including a library, a seed swap and a ukulele and guitar, courtesy of Karl Leitzel. A sign on the wall reads: “Yes, you are welcome to pick up and play the instruments!”

This past June, Alan took the party to his homestead, turning an old quarry on site into an amphitheater for 11 bands. The music festival, called Quarry Fest, culminated in a thoughtfully calculated $1,017 donation for the local community-supported radio station WSOV 101.7 FM — Sound of the Valleys.

Alan is already making plans for a repeat event in the fall.

As he cultivates his new community, Alan is ensuring his neighbors eat well. From homemade ice cream (see sidebar) to pizzas cooked in the new wood-fired oven being built by his landlord, the owner of the upstairs Triple Creek Lodge, the food is one of the sweet rewards of trading in a concrete existence for one rooted in farmland.

Stay tuned for a Thursday night dinner series featuring local chefs with a fondness for seasonal ingredients. Alan may even step in as chef for a Northern New Jersey Italian-inspired dinner. He’s just waiting for his tomatoes to ripen. •SCM

We All Scream for IngleBean

Mya Good is spending her summer on call.

The brand-new Penns Valley High School graduate makes the IngleBean Coffee House’s ice cream, which gets its heavenly texture from fresh, local cream. After the media-shy dairy farmer, who wishes to remain anonymous, delivers the cream, IngleBean owner Dennis Alan hands off the ball jars to Good.

If Good, 18, isn’t in that day, Alan sends a text: “I have cream today. Want to make ice cream?”

The answer is almost always yes.

Not long after Good accepted her job at the café, she took note of the coffee kombucha on tap and said the café needed Ingleblend Ice Cream. Alan grabbed his ice cream maker and together they made an attempt. After that first batch yielded a dessert that was more ice than cream, Alan tasked his new hire with getting it right. Good tried again, adding more cream — and nailed it.

While a culinary newbie to the summertime staple, she has long enjoyed cooking and baking, treasured skills in her “very large” family. “My grandmother makes all the wedding cakes for my cousins when they get married.”

From ice cream with IngleBean espresso, Good moved on to mint ice cream made with strongly brewed spearmint tea and without the chocolate chips, which Good and Alan both agree detract from the final product. Two flavors she hopes to roll out soon: berry and orange blossom.

Hopefully for all of us, Good will have Alan schooled in her newfound skills by summer’s end — she’s off to Gettysburg College in the fall. Top on her list of college life to-dos: start an ice-cream club.

Ingleblend Espresso Ice Cream

4 c. local cream
2 c. milk
2 c. sugar
4 tsp. vanilla
8 shots of
IngleBean espresso

In a chilled metal bowl, add cream then milk, using cup you used for the cream to make sure you make use of every drop of cream. Add sugar, vanilla and espresso. Mix together. Chill for 30 to 45 minutes.
Churn cream mixture according to ice cream maker manufacturers’ instructions. Freeze overnight before serving.

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