The acronym ‘ACOCA’ stands for is kept a secret for cafegoers to figure out what it means on their own. If I had to take a serious guess, it would probably be something like ‘A Café on College Avenue.’ But while I was in there last Thursday talking to Bill Wetzel, the owner, I came up with my own interpretation; ‘A Community-Oriented Café of Appleton.’
ACOCA began its journey in 2015 when Wetzel decided to follow his passion of working in the hospitality industry. He opened the store with only the section to the right of the entrance, but eventually, he would add the space to the left and much further back. During COVID, to keep business afloat, he would open an additional store on the flats of the Fox River in place of the one on the corner of College and Walnut. After the height of the pandemic passed, he would be able to return to the original location, closing the riverside shop as he did.
As for how this new space would be decorated, Wetzel made it his mission to weave “intimacy” and community into one. With a little interior design, he ended up setting up the front as a hub for the hustle-bustle of daily life, and a little “industrial” zone in the back sporting couches for quieter relaxation.
Skylights welcoming in natural lighting is one of the unique architectural characteristics of the shop. This, as well as the hall housing the bathrooms, where the wallpaper—and even doors to the restrooms—depict a bird’s eye view of Nineteenth Century Appleton.
In the heart of the “theater district,” ACOCA is surrounded by the arts on every side; below the shop hides Makaroff Youth Ballet, and directly to the east stands the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. To Wetzel, art is “critical” to the world, so on the west wall, he proudly displays local artists’ work, switching out what is featured monthly so everyone gets a chance to have their work featured for the public to enjoy. After the time comes for different pieces to be hung up, ACOCA always buys one of the pieces that was posted up to keep, supporting artists not only with more recognition but financially as well. The purchased pieces are hung in the “industrial” part of the shop by the makerspace whiteboard, where the community comes together in the creatively chaotic forms of poetry, drawings, and even inspirational quotes.
ACOCA is currently formally known as ‘ACOCA Coffee,’ but Wetzel said that he wants to eventually phase out the word ‘coffee’ from the name, since his shop has so much more to offer than just espresso-style drinks. While I was there, I was kindly treated to two of the many kinds of tea available to visitors, ranging all the way from gentle floral flavors to bold blacks and greens. Real fruit smoothies extend the menu as drink options, along with bottled drinks, as well.
Unrestricted to drinks alone, the shop also includes choices of sandwiches and salads, along with the soups currently offered, ushered in by the chilly season. A unique menu item that ACOCA sports is fries, which I believe breaks the mold on what a ‘normal coffeeshop’ offers.
Wisconsinites, rejoice! Convinced by his staff to add cheese curds to the menu, Wetzel’s store is home to one of our state’s favorite snacks. The choice is a pleasant taste of home, especially to Wisconsin locals, such as myself.
The ingredients used to craft ACOCA offerings are sourced both globally and in your own backyard; much of the coffee is imported from what Wetzel called the “coffee belt” of the world (roasted in-house in their trusty “little roaster that could”), but most of the wines, herbs and more are sourced locally or domestically.
One of the staff members (and former high school classmate of mine. It’s a small world, isn’t it?), Adam Darling, dropped by and told me that he and the rest of the staff are allowed to experiment with the aforementioned ingredients to produce their own confections. Currently working on a monster-shaped cookie just in time for Halloween, Darling pointed out that when he requested M&M’s for ‘eyes’ on the monster, his supervisors were more than willing to get him some so his creativity could flourish. The small team works hard to share the warmth they bring to the kitchen everyday with visitors, Wetzel mentioning how “fortunate” he is to have a staff able to emulate such compassion.
Lawrence is at the heart of one of Wetzel’s future plans for ACOCA; on the blank wall above the register and bakery display case, he mentioned creating a timeline of Appleton history from its founding, greatly attributed to by the university, to the very day you and I stand in.
By the end of the interview, I still could not get Wetzel to let me in on the secret about what ACOCA really stands for, but I thought that was okay; perhaps ACOCA means different things for each person. What anacronym will you decipher from the enigmatic name? To find your answer, simply take the short walk down to the little shop on the corner of College and Walnut.