The decorated "specials" sign near the counter at Deja Brew on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Deja Brew is a quirky coffee house located at 101 W 4th St in Bethlehem. (Lidia Breen/B&W Staff)

Lehigh Staples: The homey atmosphere of Déjà Brew

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Every Wednesday, Jeff Vaclavik, owner of Déjà Brew Coffeehouse and Deli, puts a “reserved” sign on one of his tables. There, the table waits for a group of retired Lehigh professors who gather there each week to catch up in their old stomping grounds. This is the only time that Vaclavik reserves a table.

Déjà Brew’s customer base, according to Vaclavik, is about 85 percent Lehigh students and faculty.
Their goal is to provide a place where people can go not only to eat quickly in between classes, but also where they can work on their laptops and enjoy bottomless coffee.

Gonzalo Cavero, ’17, said the coffeehouse provides a meeting ground for all occasions. He’s been there with both friends and family and said the “homey” feel makes it a great place to do homework, hang out with friends or even go on dates.

That comfortable environment comes from Vaclavik’s efforts to not only make Déjà Brew a business, but also a contributing part of the Lehigh and South Side communities.

He recalls times when clubs have met to hold meetings and remembers occasions when he has had to turn down music so creative writing classes could focus on their discussions.

Over the years, Vaclavik has seen several other establishments come and go, due to — in his opinion — the resistance these businesses have toward adapting and joining the Lehigh community.

Déjà Brew, however, has instead decided to embrace it, always striving to strengthen relationships with Lehigh.
When students come to ask for donations for clubs and events, Vaclavik always tries to give some kind of gift.
Thirteen years ago, when the community was looking for some type of non-profit event to hold, Vaclavik immediately thought of a successful event held at the Goose, where a student who had won the Williams Prize showed a film he made for a class.

That was the birth of a film festival that takes place at Déjà Brew every June.

In the past, the event has been held at Lehigh buildings such as Whitaker Hall.Unlike others, Vaclavik doesn’t hesitate to blend his home and work life.

Gabriel Gaydos, ’18, has always had a positive experience at Déjà Brew, feeling respected by the employers and enjoying his food.

But, in an email, he mentioned the plethora of bikes and toys scattered among the front area of the coffeehouse, a side effect of the fact that Vaclavik’s son is basically growing up there.

“When I see him around kids his own age, I see a difference in him,” Vaclavik said.

He attributes this to the unique way that his son spent his afternoons after school and on days off.

Unlike most children, Vaclavik’s son has grown up surrounded by professors and college students, some of whom come back to visit, shocked at how much he’s grown over the years.

On top of making his own business a home for himself and his family, Vaclavik said a big part of the community is being there for other businesses — even the competition.

A couple of weeks ago, a piece of deli equipment broke and couldn’t be repaired for some time. Vaclavik knew this would put some serious strain on his business.

However, the owners of the Goose not only generously offered to let him use their equipment, but were able to set him up with an extra until he was able to get his equipment repaired.

According to Vaclavik, the hard-working and roll up your sleeves persona of the South Side is what makes these businesses successful and able to enjoy the presence of healthy competition, rather than reject and run from it.

This positive attitude helps businesses do well, and provides the students with an environment full of opportunities.

“The people who have a really good, positive experience in the four years here are the people who do take an interest and get involved in things,” Vaclavik said. “Anybody who said there’s nothing to do is out of their mind.”

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