At 4 a.m. on a cold November morning, Circuit avenue is empty. Not a car or a person is in sight. Just a fierce northeasterly wind ripping down the street. All the shops are closed up tight, except for one: Mocha Mott’s, where a dim light glows from its location below street level. Walking down the metal stairs, the vibration of loud music can be felt through your shoes. Inside, Scott Hershowitz, who is dressed in long shorts, a short-sleeved button-down shirt and turquoise high tops, is bopping around as though it is noon in the height of summer. He’s been at the shop since 3:45 a.m. to prep for the 6 a.m. opening. “There’s a milk delivery today and they always come when we are in the middle of our morning rush, so I rotated the stock around now so that we can just jam it into the fridge when they get here. And then I baked some muffins. Jake, today’s cook, will bring the bagels in a bit. Got the bagel station ready, shaved some carrots for lunch and, of course, brewed the coffee.” He realizes he is talking loudly over the music. “Sorry, let me turn the music down. I’ve got my Mocha Mott mix going. Around eight thousand songs — something for everyone — played randomly. It even has Jessica Simpson and the sounds of chickens clucking in a barnyard on it.”
Scott moves and talks at a mean clip. In a matter of minutes he relays: the basic history of his relationship with music; his basal temperature (“I run hot”); recycling; his early desire to be in the military and his disappointment when he found out his eyesight was too poor to enlist; and his lifelong passion for airplanes.
Jake Ryan, the cook, arrives with a box of bagels. Scott greets him with a “Hey, man” and immediately goes to work placing the bagels in the bakery display case. “We’ll maybe use this one box today, but in the summer we use four or five a day. The summers here are insane. I have to get here at 3 a.m. to be ready. By six, people are lined up down the block. If I haven’t eaten my breakfast before the doors open, I will not eat until after I’m done at one.”
This reminds him to grab his breakfast and eat. He has some leftover citrus ginger stir fry that his wife Julie made. “She is the best cook. Amazing. I hate cooking with a passion. Hate it. I am terrible at it. I mean, just the other day I was making a smoothie and ramen — two of the simplest things on the planet to make — and I completely screwed it up. It was a disaster.” Later in the day his wife confirms that it is “incredibly stressful to watch him cook.”
Still, it’s hard to believe he has a hard time in the kitchen because as he relays his tale of cooking woes he demonstrates himself to be a master at Mott’s, multitasking his way through about seven projects at once.
At 6 a.m., Scott flips the lights on and pulls stools down from the counters. Outside, there are already customers waiting for their morning coffee. “These are all regulars,” he notes as he unlocks the door. As they pour in, he greets each one, glides behind the counter and begins making their drinks. He doesn’t ask what they want. He knows. “At this hour, it’s more about ritual than trying something new. The afternoon is when people try something like a pumpkin latte.”
At 7, his fellow barista Jihan Ponti, arrives to help out behind the bar. They greet each other warmly with a funny 10-second dance and Jihan slides right into action, helping Scott catch a ceramic coffee mug that has been thrown by a customer entering the store. “We have not dropped a mug yet,” says Scott proudly.
“Jihan started last fall. I trained her and warned her about the summer. She didn’t believe me when I told her how crazy it was. Five or six people behind the counter working literally as fast as they can for seven or eight hours straight.” Jihan adds, “It was hell.” Scott continues: “It’s all about the number of seconds you can shave off. How can I do this faster? How can I help this person get what they need and get out the door?”
Even though it is November, Scott is still shaving seconds. Throughout the morning rush, he continuously glances at the shop’s big windows and calls out the customers coming down the stairs to the shop. He knows them by name, by their drink or sometimes by both name and drink, “Here’s cafÃ© mocha and her daughter Zoe.” But no matter how he knows a person, when they reach the counter, their usual, if they have one, is waiting for them.
Scott sees his job as a barista as an “important job in society. I help people start their day. Get them off on the right foot. I want them feeling good as they leave here. Sometimes a regular will come in and I can tell something’s up. I’ll ask, “Hey, are you okay?” They’ll tear up. They’ll talk. I’ll listen.” Scott laughs, “I often say that I am practicing unlicensed therapy.”
He often does sound like a shrink. Whenever he doesn’t know a person or a particular order he’ll ask, “So, what are you thinking today?” And, no matter what they order, Scott replies with an admiring “Cool.” His tone is so positive and genuine that this one word sounds like a sentence that says, “Hey, you’ve just made the best choice — by the way, you’re great.”
But while Scott’s mornings are about getting people on their feet, his afternoons are spent helping horses stay on their feet. After his morning coffee shop service, Scott heads across the street to his apartment for a “costume change,” donning warm, protective clothes for his work as one of the Island’s few resident farriers. “These boots can withstand 2,000 pounds of pressure. The first week I had them, a Percheron [a large horse] stomped on my foot and I did not feel a thing.” He laughs: “My wife calls me safety Scott. I’m a gear head.”
Indeed, his old red Toyota Rav4 that serves as his mobile farrier unit is filled to the brim with tools, along with his first-in bag for his work as an EMT. As he heads to a small farm in West Tisbury, he talks about his wife Julie. “When I first met her, I thought, wow. She’s beautiful. And then I found out she was a carpenter and I was like, wait a minute, she’s beautiful and she can kick ass?” Scott met Julie about six and a half years ago at Mocha Mott’s. He was immediately smitten, but it took some time for him to work up the courage to ask her out. “One of the scariest moments in my life,” he recalled. They were married less than a year later. “I’m teaching her to be a farrier. Can you believe that you do not have to be licensed in the U.S. to call yourself a farrier?” His own training is in fact formal; he explains that he was “really lucky” to attend Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s farrier program and study with Mike Wildenstein, “the highest certified farrier alive. It is the best farrier training in the world. They only let three people in a year. Just an incredible experience. I got to attend to a zebra’s hooves and trim the toenails of a pregnant polar bear [while the animal was sedated]. Her paws were huge!”
Scott parks his car by a small muddy paddock and jumps out to greet his first patient. “Champ! How are you, handsome?” The horse whinnies. “I know it sounds delusional, but I believe I can understand what they are saying.” As Scott scrapes, trims and files Champ’s hooves, the horse seems completely relaxed, even soothed by Scott’s attention and work.
Later we head to the barn where he keeps his horse Calvin. The EMT radio squawks out calls as he explains that his interest in horses grew out of watching the second Lord of the Rings movie. “It wasn’t like I wanted to gallop through the forests with a sword. It just made me want to be around horses. I told my friend Hannah Maxner that I wanted to learn to ride and she brought me over to Netherfield Farm and gave me a lesson. I began mucking stalls to pay for more lessons. One day Beach [Bennett] found me sitting in a stall with Calvin’s head in my lap. I had no idea that this was a crazy, potentially dangerous thing to do. But Calvin and I had a connection from my first week there. A few years later, Beach called me from Wellington and asked if I wanted Calvin. She could have sold him for hundreds of thousands — he’s a Grand Prix dressage horse — but she gave him to me. And we’ve been together ever since.”
Calvin and his barnmates, Tate and Latte, trot over to Scott as he walks up to their paddock. After some rubs and pats, he heads in to the barn to muck the stalls. Soon after, Julie arrives. She feeds and waters the horses as Scott rakes and talks some more. He describes their plans for an apple orchard in Maine, talks about his Monday night drumming sessions with Paul Thurlow and discusses laminitis (a serious disease in horses’ feet). “Scott really only has two speeds: stop and go,” Julie says. Scott laughs, “Hey, did you want to ride Calvin tonight?” Julie points out that the sun is setting and it is getting colder. “Maybe we just go home and have dinner,” she says. “Cool,” Scott replies. And away they go.
Scott Hershowitz by the Numbers
Professions: Barista, Mocha Mott’s (14 years), Farrier (nine years), EMT (seven years).
Starts his day at Mocha Mott’s: 3 to 3:30 a.m. in the summer, 4 to 4:30-ish in the winter. “In my 14 years doing this job, I’ve only slept through three times.”
Number of horses he works with as a farrier: 58.
Days on as an EMT: “I’m on Sunday nights, but have my radio on and listen for anyone who might need my help.”
Family: Married to carpenter Julie Verost.
Animals: A cat named Little Miss Meow Meow Kitty Paws and Calvin (formal name Kliene Prinz), a Hanoverian Warmblood horse.
Number of coffees a day: “I don’t really touch the stuff. One iced coffee will last me a week.”
Favorite drink to make: Cafe mocha.
Average number of miles he walks while working at Mocha Motts every day: 13.
Studied: Drafting, mechanical engineering at Springfield Tech Community College and has a degree in physics from URI.
Born and raised: West Springfield. “It was a rural farm community. I lived at the end of a cul de sac.”
First job: “I was 10 and I volunteered at the New England Air Museum as a tour guide. I worked there for years.”
Reason for coming to Martha’s Vineyard in 1989: “I was working for the Army Navy Store and they had a shop on Circuit avenue. I came and fell in love with it. The nature, the people, everything.”
Lives: In Oak Bluffs on Circuit avenue, “four inches and eight feet from my sister in law.” (She has the apartment next door).
Number of tattoos: 14. “My first tattoo was a crescent moon and shooting star on top of my head. I was going bald at 19 and that was my solution.”
Hat he wears while serving coffee: “Most people think it is some kind of yarmulke, but it’s actually just the top of a woman’s sunhat that I’ve cut off. I’ve gone through four or five of them.”
Bumper sticker he designed and made for his wife reads: “I love mashed potatoes.”