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Claremont coffee, sandwich shop invites you to ‘Drop’ in

As the name implies, The Last Drop Cafe serves up java that is good to the last drop.

The shop uses products made by the Italian company Illy, the number-one coffee brand in the world outside of the United States because, as owner Mike Manning explains, “I love the taste and consistency of it.” He also appreciates Illy’s policies, which emphasize environmental sustainability as well as economic sustainability for growers.

He is proud to announce that on April 16, Last Drop received the rare and coveted title of Artisti del Gusto (Artists of Taste), Illy’s designation for the best-trained baristas. Mr. Manning and staff members traveled to San Clemente for training, and then Illy representatives provided onsite lessons in making flawless cappuccinos, lattes and espressos.

The store also scored a gleaming silver Illy espresso machine, which combines grinding, brewing and steaming power with a distinctly Art Deco aesthetic. “We closed down for two weeks just to focus on training,” Mr. Manning said. “That’s how important it is to us. We’re able to serve you a true Italian coffee for a good American price.”

But while guests can choose from all manner of coffee drinks, both hot and cold, there is much more to The Last Drop Cafe. It’s a fine eatery as well, with an emphasis on healthy and hearty sandwiches made to order.

You can get nine different standard sandwiches, either a classic like a BLT or egg salad or one of the shop’s signature selections. The most popular of the latter are  “Chicken Salad Delight,” Vegan’ Out” and “Mike’s Favorite” (roast beef, turkey and provolone plus lettuce and veggies piled on squaw bread). Or you can build your own sandwich. Breakfast sandwiches are also on tap.

A half-sandwich is plenty filling, particularly since each concoction comes with a cookie, with options ranging from guilty pleasures like chocolate chip cookies to gluten-free and vegan selections. During the summer when the college dining halls are closed, many of the students who stay in town order a whole sandwich, ensuring a tasty lunch with a half left over for dinner.

The place also serves oatmeal, handmade soups—one for each day of the week—three varieties of empanadas and a hot dog special that, for $5.95, includes a soda and chips. But Mr. Manning above all believes in the magic of two slices of bread filled with “the best produce and meat I can bring to customers.”

“I’ve always been a good cook,” he said. “When I was in college, I worked for a sandwich shop and it was the most fun I ever had.”

Mr. Manning went on to work for 28 years in the furniture industry. He was a manufacturing manager making a six-figure salary before he switched course. “I thought I could have a little fun and start playing for a living instead of working.”

Mr. Manning, an Upland resident, purchased The Last Drop in 2008 after spotting the shop for sale on Craigslist.

“I like to tease and say I was the longest and last bidder. I was the only one with cash in hand at the end of the day,” he said. While first trying to make a go of things, he spent 100 hours a week at the shop. Now he’s down to an average of 70-plus hours per week.

“I may not live in Claremont, but this is where I spend the majority of my waking hours,” he said.

Mr. Manning’s greatest enjoyment comes from making people happy through what he knows best: good food and good conversation.

“Whenever someone comes in, I ask them, ‘Is anything interesting happening in your life today? Do you have any big plans for the weekend?’ If you ask positive questions, you get a positive response,” he said.

Along with putting smiles on customers’ faces, he strives to give back to the community in more tangible ways. For instance, Mr. Manning participates in the eGood program, with three percent of proceeds going to the Claremont Educational Foundation.

For the last two years, Mr. Manning and his crew have also provided coffee—to the tune of some 2,000 cups—during the annual Rely for Life 24-hour cancer walk, set for May 9 and May 10 at the Claremont High School track. And Mr. Manning is in his second year as coordinator for Shoes That Fit’s Back-to-School and Spring campaigns, helping gather new athletic shoes, socks and goodies for financially disadvantaged kids.

“It comes partially from my religious background. It was how I was brought up,” Mr. Manning said of his philanthropic leanings. “But I also get a general good feeling out of helping people. I think most people do.”

Despite the tasty food and friendly vibes, it could be easy to miss The Last Drop Cafe. The shop, located at 119 Harvard Ave., is just 400 feet—augmented by two umbrella-shaded bistro tables out front—and is tucked between two salons, Tintura and Hands Down. But with word of mouth, the eatery’s popularity is increasing. 

“We try to feed you more than good food. We try to feed your soul with brotherly love, something all of us crave,” Mr. Manning said. “That’s why we’ve been so successful.”

For information, call (909) 482-1870, go to thelastdropcafe.com or visit The Last Drop Cafe on Facebook.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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