Popular Astoria coffee shop to change hands

·4 min read

May 19—From behind the counter at The Rusty Cup, Brian Medford greeted customers and their dogs by name and juggled coffee orders. He's still working on knowing what a regular will want as soon as they walk through the door.

When Medford takes over the beloved cafe on Commercial Street downtown, he will be inheriting much more than the business itself.

Kristy Cross, owner of the cafe and voted best barista by Coast Weekend's readers 10 years in a row, said she couldn't have sold the business to anyone with more enthusiasm.

Medford, originally from the Appalachians in North Carolina, learned baking professionally in Seattle. He moved to Astoria in 2019, where he owns Idlewild Biscuits and Bakes and works at Peter Pan Market & Deli.

"I have a pastry background, and I had wanted to have a spot here in town. Then the pandemic occurred, and this was always a place where I would come and get my coffee," Medford said. "So I just thought, maybe I should just ask her what she's thinking about with the shop and see if she's interested in maybe doing something together."

The two began meeting earlier this year to discuss his interest in the business. Cross realized she'd found the person with the right energy to own and operate The Rusty Cup.

"We just started talking and it was very natural, and I could tell that he was going to have that same care for it that I have. I just felt good about it," Cross said.

For the next month, Medford is working at the cafe three days a week to learn from Cross and get to know the business more before taking over at the end of June.

"I feel a little daunted about it. I mean, it's such a hub for folks and they love it here and they love Kristy. It's the coffee, it's the food. It's such a sense of fun here, and everybody's welcome," he said. "Kristy knows everyone, and they know her, and she knows their drink, and that's what's important. That's why I moved to Astoria, to build that community."

Cross first purchased The Rusty Cup in 2004, sight unseen, after coming across a newspaper advertisement.

When she finally got the keys, she opened the door to a gorgeous — but unexpected and overwhelming — floor-to-ceiling jungle mural that included a giraffe, elephant and leopard.

"I knew nothing. I knew how to make coffee, but I remember thinking, like, 'What the hell am I doing,'" she said, laughing.

Now, all that remains of the jungle mural is a small, framed butterfly above the cafe's little library.

While Cross and Medford talked about the business' transition, Jessie Weis and her grandchildren entered The Rusty Cup and a staff member got to work on their orders.

Weis has been a regular since Cross' first week on the job, 18 years ago.

With barely a word of greeting, the kids sat down and 9-year-old Alex Davidson dealt Cross and Medford into a round of Pokémon. Medford took the surprise card game, and Alex's on-the-fly rules, in stride.

Weis said that it was Cross' time to make an exit.

"I hate it, but I mean it has to happen. Time marches on," Weis said. "She's become my best friend and you don't want your best friend to work herself into the ground. I'm glad (Medford's) following, because he's really easy to work with for her."

Weis said she is glad Medford will allow regulars like herself to keep treating the cafe as a second home. She laughed, watching him get fully invested into the card game with her grandkids and debate about who had the strongest Pokémon.

Medford will officially take over the business on June 30. He said he wants to keep the cafe mostly as is, including its name and staff.

He plans to add in-house baking capability with a focus on breakfast pies.

"I think it will change a little bit, for my personality, but it works. What is the most important to me is I want people to feel as comfortable coming in here to me as they do with Kristy. And I don't want to change it into something that it's not," he said.

Cross will be focusing on relaxing. She has some house projects to catch up on and plans to spend time with her parents in Seattle.

She will continue to make appearances at The Rusty Cup, too.

"I told him that I'll come in and help out as long as he needs," she said. "We just want to make it the smoothest transition, where he comes in and I slowly fade out. And then come back to fill in whenever he needs it."