“Today’s Special–Peruvian Mocha Au Lait” says the sidewalk sign on North 4th Street, right outside Folks Café. Just a few short blocks from Wilmington’s Port City Marina, Folks on Fourth houses the hungry, the friendly, those seeking quality caffeine and good conversation. Being so close to the Cape Fear River, the boats, yachts, and slips along the River Walk, Folks Cafe provides a warm, aromatic welcome to dry land.
“I still love the smell of roasting coffee,” says Tammy Pacini, nodding toward a little side room known as the Coffee Lab, where Juan Pacini roasts organic, fair-trade coffee.
Wafting through the walls, across the bike rack, then swirling around that sidewalk sign, the scent of fresh-ground Sumatra lures in passersby—cars pull over, bikers halt, pedestrians meander inside for a macchiato, an empanada, or a house specialty, straight from South America—el alfadore, a sublime mix of coconut, cookie, and dulce de leche.
The egg salad sandwiches, the gourmet paninis, the buritos, even the macaroons: everything is made by hand, says Tammy, completely from scratch, a sort of Juan-Tammy-and daughter Paula combo: “No strict recipes,” says Tammy, “just a pinch of this, a bit of that.”
The front counter hosts an alluring display of bottomless mango muffins, cinnamon rolls, and assorted pastries, while cards from long-time customers and repeat visitors decorate those front walls, embodying the true house specialty: a sense of community. At Folks, you’ll find a steady flow of conversation—sometimes English, sometimes Spanish, sometimes in-between—punctuated by a smile, and a genuine interest in the person walking in the door.
“What I truly love about our cafés are the people. The people who come in have become my friends, especially the regulars—I know their families, I’ve seen their kids grow up…I really care about this Wilmington community,” says Tammy. “And that’s a good, good feeling.”
Originally from Ecuador and Argentina, prior to Wilmington, the Pacinis settled in Southern California. In 1987, Juan moved Tammy and his five daughters to Orange County—“we have a female dog and cat too,” jokes Tammy, of the family’s male to female ratio. “Keeps it consistent!”
Their new life got busy, but acclimating to the culture and learning the new language became top priority. ‘
“I was 27, working at Target,” says Tammy, with a smile, “and a customer asked me where the aprons were. I didn’t know the word ‘apron’ yet, so I took the easy way out. ‘No aprons.’ I said.” She laughs, recalling the man’s helpful response.
“A few minutes later, he returned to my aisle, holding up an apron. We both smiled. He told me to carry a little notebook and when I heard a new word, I should write it down.”
Soon, that notebook was full. Tammy transitioned from Target to an administrative assistant at a construction company, where she worked for many years. Their neighborhood was safe, the neighbors were helpful, but something was missing.
“People were nice enough, but as a family, we noticed a lot of materialism in Orange County,” says Tammy, “always bout the new toy, or the latest model of this and that. It wasn’t about quality time, or community. The values were very different.”
And so, when their daughter Paula married a man from New Bern, North Carolina and moved clear across the country, to a little place called Wilmington, Juan and Tammy Pacini soon followed.
At Folks in Wilmington, they’ve created a space for community to grow, a place where community comes together. There’s Edgardo, retired doctor and current artist, who hosts informal Spanish conversation classes at Folks on Fourth, and the artists of Acme Art Studio, directly behind the café, create collage, oil painting, and folk art to complement their favorite coffee shop. ‘‘The Acme artists color my walls,” says Tammy, with a smile. “I love that my place is decorated by customers, and those customers are friends.”
The original Folks still lives at 12th and Princess Street, maybe a five-minute bike ride from Port City Marina, and the community table sparks some lively conversation throughout the day.
“They gather and talk politics! One side of the table can be ultra-conservative, while the other,” says Tammy, “are super progressive. I always ask them, ‘How can you all be sitting there chatting?’”
Somehow, they do. Over a cup of Organic Peru, maybe a fresh-baked mango muffin, the community table crowd tackles the issues of the day—brows furrowed, voices earnest—before tabling it for the morrow, coming and going as friends.
Back at Folks on Fourth, Tammy gestures to the garden, showing the first signs of life, the mosaic-tiled bistro table and the growing bustle of the Brooklyn Arts District. “I really like this area,” she says. “It’s exciting, and there’s fresh energy.”
“But I like going back and forth between our two cafes,’ she adds, with a smile. “If I’m at one shop too long, I miss the other!”
FInding your way to Folks on Fourth: