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As Harmony Café opens in York, barista’s journey hits ‘surreal’ moment

As Harmony Café opens in York, barista’s journey hits ‘surreal’ moment

  • Robert Thomas has transformed Molly’s Courtyard Café into his own space with his own vibes.
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Growing up poor in York City with a single mom, Robert Thomas said dreams like owning his own business one day were just that: a dream.

Not all that long ago, he couch-hopped his way through York, occasionally sleeping on park benches and in hotel lobbies.

“I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have anywhere to go, I didn’t have a license, I was in trouble with the law,” he says. “It was all bad. It was all bad.”

At age 20, he found out he was going to be a dad. The sobering reality of fatherhood led him to plant deeper roots, so he got a job as a barista at the Starbucks on Springwood Road in York Township.

He fell in love with it. The coffee, the culture behind it, the interaction with people.

Robert didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning of a journey that’d lead him to running his very own coffee shop, making what was once a dream into a reality.

From Molly’s to Harmony

Robert was looking into new opportunities about five years ago when he heard Molly Fisher of Molly’s Courtyard Café in downtown York needed a barista.

He got the job and later became manager. Molly began to joke with him about selling him the shop.

“And then one day, she just looked at me, the most serious of faces, and was like, ‘So about buying this place, were you serious?’ I was first taken aback but then was like, yeah, for sure.”

In April 2022, Rob bought it, renamed it Harmony Café after his 8-year-old daughter, and went to work redesigning the space.

Spreading his wings

During his time at Molly’s, Robert reconnected with his dad, who he hadn’t talked to since he was 12.

“Our relationship has just slowly blossomed,” Robert says.

Together with a team of friends and family members, they spent the next several months rehabbing the space, adding creative seating and a more open, modern industrial vibe.

While the look of the shop has definitely changed, some things will be the same — notably the people behind the counter and the shop favorite avocado toast dish (“Molly blessed me to keep it,” Robert says).

The rest of the menu, though, will be his own creation.  

“I appreciate her getting me to where I was,” he says, “but she always told me she wanted me to spread my wings, so I’m going to do it as wide as I can.”

‘That’s ours’

He one day hopes to roast his own coffee beans and maybe grow into a bigger space. Until then, he says, he’ll be using Square One beans from Lancaster.

Opening his own coffee shop still feels “surreal” for Robert. When he and his fiancé drive by the shop, they’ll look at each other and say, ‘That’s ours.’

He’s come a long way since sleeping on the park benches, but everything just kind of lined up perfectly, he says.

“You know, it sounds cliché and ridiculous, but you really can do anything if you just really put your mind to it and you treat people right,” he says. “The universe just looks out for you in the right way.”