From cantor to coffee and back again to Cranford
‘Old-new’ hazan leaves business to do ‘what God expects’ him to do
Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News
Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo nearly left the cantorate for coffee. He likes his freshly roasted — more than two days old and it starts to lose the aroma; after three weeks, it’s stale, he explained on a recent morning in his office at Temple Beth El-Mekor Chayim in Cranford. He is the congregation’s old-new cantor; it was his first pulpit out of cantorial school in 1999, and he restarted his tenure there on Aug. 4, succeeding Cantor Ben Kintisch.
Lanzkron-Tamarazo is serious about his cup of joe. He is the owner of Chazzano Coffee Roasters, a company and cafe in Ferndale, Mich., which he started while living in nearby Farmington Hills. Named in honor of his profession and his Italian roots — his mother is Jewish, his father Roman Catholic Italian — the cafe serves no food, just coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, and was voted best coffee shop in greater Detroit from 2010 to 2013 by local coffee drinkers, and named among the best places for locally roasted coffee by CBS Detroit in 2013.
Now, Lanzkron-Tamarazo thinks if he supplies some coffee, he could double the numbers attending daily minyan in Cranford. But regulars will have to reconsider how they take it; Lanzkron-Tamarazo believes that “if you add cream or sugar to your coffee, God cries and angels lose their wings.”
How did a Hazan, trained at the Manhattan School of Music and the Jewish Theological Seminary, get into the coffee business? It’s a tale best told over a nice hot cup.
“What coffee does is force people to sit and have a conversation,” he said. “If the coffee is good, people will sip for a long time. Then, people find out about each other and find common ground and build community,” he said. Sadly, that morning, he did not offer any beverages.
It’s no coincidence, then, that Lanzkron-Tamarazo is a member of the clergy. As he said, “I became a cantor because I want to spend time with people and find out what’s going on in their lives. For me, the coffee roasting business was built on the same premise.”
He started roasting beans in his garage in Cranford in 2000, long before he left the temple in 2005. To hear him tell it, he loved everything about those years in New Jersey, but it was a first pulpit, and he wondered if there was something bigger and better for him.
“Could I be a concert cantor? Should I try a bigger pulpit?” he asked himself.
Before an opportunity to go to a large synagogue in Wilmette, Ill., presented itself, he bought a coffee roaster and started roasting beans in the garage. That was in 2000, and the first beans he roasted were Costa Rica tarrazu. “It was chocolaty, nutty. I never tasted coffee better than that,” he said.
It was supposed to be a hobby, but before long, he signed on to a pound-a-week subscription, which grew to 10 pounds, then hundreds, and finally thousands of pounds of beans from all over the world. “Every night I would come home, kiss my family, have a bite to eat, and then go into the garage and roast coffee until 1 a.m. I’d wake up for minyan and start all over again.
“Coffee roasting was my mental sorbet. It cleared my mental palate.”
He never expected it would turn into a business, but then he took that job in Wilmette, and moved there with his wife, Lisa, and their three children. It was a congregation where 300 people came on any given Shabbat and where congregants would hang out all day after services. “Our home became the Shabbat house for the synagogue,” Lanzkron-Tamarazo said. And, of course, they served coffee.
A financial upset that occurred before his arrival soon led to Lanzkron-Tamarazo’s departure for another large synagogue, this time in Michigan, and congregational politics there, he said, made it “the worst experience I’ve ever had.”
After two disappointments, he said, “I was considering burying Cantor Frank in the backyard.” Instead, he and Lisa started Hava Nashira, a small, part-time congregation in their home.
And that’s when they decided it was time to go into the coffee business. They invested all their savings, and Chazzano Coffee Roasters was born, in 2006. Eventually, he would have 250 retail customers, and in 2009, he opened the cafe in Ferndale. The couple worked 70-80 hours every week while raising their children.
He fashioned the spot as a kind of networking hub, where he could play matchmaker.
“It was always, ‘Hey Bob, meet Sally’ or ‘Oh, you are looking for a video producer? I know someone for you.’ It was an education in growing a business to be part of a community,” he said — not unlike a congregation.
While he loved the business, he missed the East Coast. “I missed the anger and sarcasm, the pizza, and the eggplant parm,” he said, acknowledging that if his soul is Jewish, “my stomach is Italian.”
And then he realized he also missed the cantorate. Working one summer at his children’s sleepaway camp — Camp Zeke in northern Pennsylvania — clinched it for him. He loved interacting with kids and answering their questions about Judaism. “I needed to resurrect Cantor Frank,” he said.
When an opportunity opened up at Beth El-Mekor Chayim, he said it felt “bashert.”
The congregation feels the same. In an e-mail to NJJN, president Jackie Baranoff wrote, “I cannot express how delighted we are in having Cantor Frank back ‘home’ at TBEMC. During our High Holiday services if you closed your eyes and listened to him, it was as if he never left.”
But for Lanzkron-Tamarazo, a few things are different this time around. All the business experience he’s amassed has given him a new perspective. “There are so many things I want to do here. I want to start a Hebrew high school. I want to open a nursery school again. I want to start a youth choir again.” And he asks a pointed question: “What’s the return on my investment? Which should I do first? It’s not a financial return, but what will help us in three years, five years, 10 years.”
Now he’s just trying to find a balance — which means there will be no Chazzano Coffee Cafe in New Jersey, nor is he poised to become a coffee billionaire. “I love being a Hazan, and I love owning a business. But opening more cafes means training more employees and more worries,” he said.
He’s already written two books about his experiences with coffee, and he’s still involved in the business — he just launched Brooklyn Born Coffee Soda as well as Fruit of the Bean Cascara Soda (cascara is the dried skin of the coffee cherry, often discarded after the coffee bean is removed), acknowledging it’s something he’s wanted to do for a while, in memory of his Italian grandmother. “I can remember bringing a couple of cases of coffee soda up to her on a regular basis.”
But, he said, “At the end of the day, I want to be a cantor, write more books, spend time with my kids” — who are now 16, 13, and 11— “and have date night with my wife. Growing the business in a way that will include me full-time is not attractive to me.”
He acknowledged that being back is “strange, weird, and surreal.” But he is happy, he said. And he’s learned that “everyone needs to answer for themselves the question: What does God expect from you?” He’s got his answer now. “God expects me to be a cantor,” he said.
And good coffee makes him want to sing.