Brookside's Bella Napoli started as a deli, grocery and coffee shop back in 2001.
But it became so popular, owner Jake Imperiale soon expanded, taking over the former Breadsmith space for an Italian restaurant. Now he plans to shut down the coffee shop on Sunday, April 15, and expand his market, deli and small-vineyard wine program into the space at 6229 Brookside Blvd.
It will still have coffee service — brewed, espresso, latte and cappuccino — but no to-go orders, and only after 10 a.m.
"This was not something that was easy for me to do," Imperiale said. "It's become a community and everyone who comes in is part of my heart."
At some other area coffee shops, customers tend to stare at their computers, not making eye contact with others, Bella Napoli regulars said. But their Bella Napoli is the "Cheers" of Brookside.
"We have developed friendships even though we come from different backgrounds, different vocations," said Jane White Brown. "Angie behind the bar is Snow White and we are the Seven Dwarfs."
White Brown, who is retired, comes five days a week. If the weather is bad, another regular will pick her up and take her back home. At one time the regulars would go on field trips to Stroud's, Arthur Bryant's, even the opening of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, when they dressed in their finest. And up until last year they gathered for an annual holiday dinner.
"We value and thank Jake for being there for such a long time," said White Brown, who lives in Brookside. "We've had something very special in a world that can sometime seem very callous."
Even barista Angie Davila, who has worked at Bella Napoli "off and on" for 17 years, is "highly attached" to the group.
"I started when I was 21 and I'm 37. I've grown with these people," she said.
Bella Napoli has the Roasterie Cafe to the north and will soon have a Starbucks about a block away. But Imperiale said the new competition didn't affect his decision to close his coffee shop.
"I promise you it's not about Starbucks. That's a guarantee," he said.
Daniel Bonderer, a customer for six or seven years, said it was never about the Bella Napoli coffee anyway.
"We don't come for the coffee. We come for the community," he said. "This is a little bit of what made Brookside, Brookside."