Bohemian Coffee House & Deli owner Peter Robbins (right) and longtime barista Vincent Wagg. Jason Claffey / The Times Record

Not long after Peter Robbins purchased the Bohemian Coffee House on Maine Street from founder Peter Hitz in 1998, Starbucks was considering opening a location nearby in downtown Brunswick.

Bad idea, the coffee chain’s real estate agent told executives.

“He said it was the first time he had ever told Starbucks, ‘No, you don’t want to be in this location because of the loyalty of the customers of the local coffee shop,’ ” Robbins said. “They looked at Brunswick and said ‘no’ to downtown and cited us as the reason.”

That customer loyalty has carried the coffee house for decades; this month marks its 30th year in business.

“We have the best customers in the world,” Robbins said.

Case in point: when the coronavirus pandemic hit, creating uncertainty for the coffee house’s future.


“There were no fewer than 10 people who came in with their first [COVID-19] stimulus check and spent the entire thing buying gift certificates then donating them to the food bank … helping us and them,” Robbins said.

As he was speaking, a woman who just bought an iced coffee accidentally dropped it on her way out the door. Robbins saw it and immediately made her a new one.

“It’s OK, gravity happens,” he told her.

“Peter is a good citizen here in Brunswick,” said customer Jim Bridge, who has been coming to the shop for the past 15 years.

Bridge cited Robbins’ long-running sponsorship of the Maine State Music Theatre, and said he offers his shop up as a cooling center during hot days and as a warming center on frigid days.

Longtime Bohemian customer Jim Bridge. Jason Claffey / The Times Record

“He’s the kind of person you want in your neighborhood,” Bridge said.


Barista Vincent Wagg has worked at the shop for 10 years.

“We have a good community here,” he said. “I feel like a good part of it. I know dang near everyone in town.”

The shop has had several major changes over the years, including a move to Railroad Avenue in 2003 when Robbins’ Maine Street landlord sold the space. There were many lean years when Robbins was barely able to keep up with the bills; he said things improved when he began following the advice of financial guru Dave Ramsey regarding money and leadership.

“I’ve been debt-free for a decade or more now,” Robbins said. “I’ve got an emergency fund. My staff is paid well. My bills are on time or early.”

Perhaps the biggest change was around 2016 when Robbins reduced the shop’s hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and reduced his staff from 10 to three.

“Revenue went up,” Robbins said. “Customers wanted to be around the people I hired.”


In late 2020, the shop started offering breakfast and lunch sandwiches, becoming Bohemian Coffee House & Deli. That helped further drive up revenue, and Robbins said business has been booming since the pandemic. He said sales are up nearly 50% this year compared to last year and have increased even more with the recent closure of the neighboring Little Dog Coffee Shop. He said there’s often a line of up to 20 people waiting for the Bohemian to open in the morning.

“We have new people coming in every day,” said Robbins, who credited it to word of mouth, as he spends nothing on advertising.

Robbins, 53, is at the shop six days a week, rising at 3 a.m. and getting home around 7 p.m. He said he has no plans to step away anytime soon.

“I was raised by a single mother, a strong New Englander, who failed to teach me one thing: how to quit,” he said. “I’m taking care of (the shop) until someone else comes along. I’ll stay as long as I can. The Bohemian is owned by the community. I just happen to be the caretaker right now.”

Comments are not available on this story.