Lively music inside Audubon’s Treehouse Coffee Shop & Cafe is common in this quiet town.
That’s because the Treehouse in suburban Camden County is wildly popular among its customers from the borough and beyond who enjoy organic coffees, teas, food, and desserts baked in-house for those who want to “get sconed.” And there’s the music. There’s open mic for all genres on Wednesday nights, and children’s singalongs Tuesday mornings. On Friday nights it varies. There are also events for Irish music and Christian music, poetry readings and community discussions.
Treehouse owners Randy and Tina Van Osten — a Baptist minister and a science teacher from Pitman — say they got into the coffee business more than a decade ago because it was “God’s calling.” It helped that demand for specialty coffees and espresso bars across the country spiked 41 percent from 2011 to 2017, according to industry experts. By 2021, experts project coffee-house sales will reach $28.7 billion.
At the Treehouse, Nicky Caccavo, who has organized the Wednesday open mic for two years, said he loves how musicians have formed friendships with one another and the customers.
“Wait until you hear this guy,” Caccavo said, pointing to Rich Riggs, 68, of Voorhees. Riggs, a retired computer programmer whose white hair is pulled back in a ponytail, arrives most weeks with his 1968 Martin D-35 acoustic guitar, scratched from years of play. His set is a mixture of classic rock and songs he has written.
As Riggs sang the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” his voice reverberated through the Treehouse. He tapped his foot and his callused fingers worked the guitar strings.
Ashley Bulboff, 22, of West Deptford started her set with “I Love You Like An Alcoholic” by the Taxpayers, an Oregon punk/blues band. Her voice was melancholy, and her face partially hidden until she lowered a black hoodie and revealed her delicate features as she played her original work, “Merlot” and “Eleanor.”
“When it’s my music, I try to project my feelings,” said Bulboff, who goes by the stage name Ash Dakota. She started playing guitar in her backyard and now plays at various open-mic events.
Greg and Wendy D’Agostino, who perform at South Jersey venues as Heart & Soul, said they enjoy meeting others at the Treehouse and feeling the kindness of kindred spirits. They sang hits that included Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and Adele’s “Someone Like You.”
Audubon Mayor John J. Ward said the borough of 8,700 residents has embraced the Treehouse because of the Van Ostens.
“They’ve been a constant pillar for Merchant Street,” Ward said. “They’re fantastic people.”
Randy Van Osten, 38, is a minister at the First Baptist Church of Pitman. His wife, Tina, 40, is a science teacher at the UrbanPromise Academy in Camden. They promote being environmentally friendly, whether encouraging customers to use mugs instead of disposable cups at the Treehouse or buying supplies from like-minded vendors. The couple said they are grounded in a spirituality they want to share without overtly pushing religion.
“Everyone’s welcome no matter what they believe. We just want to love on people,” said Randy. “We wanted it to be a place where everyone felt welcome – any human being,” said Tina.
In 2003, the Van Ostens bought equipment and some furniture from the Living Room Coffeehouse they frequented in Collingswood on Haddon Avenue’s busy commercial corridor. They took over that space and created the Treehouse, which they later decided to expand.
In 2008, they moved the business into a brick storefront at 120 W. Merchant St. in Audubon that was twice the size and half the rent of the Collingswood location. Loyal customers followed. “Come and get sconed,” they posted on Facebook, inviting customers to enjoy their baked goods. Shelves for coffee cups have “Mugs not Drugs” painted across the top.
Recently during toddlers’ open mic with local musician Sara O’Brien, the cafe was in chaos with every seat taken and toddlers rushing the small stage to sing, play instruments, or dance as O’Brien enthusiastically strummed a guitar and sang her kid-friendly version of “Rock Around the Clock.”
Rachel Corcoran brought her 2-year-old daughter, Artista, who prefers O’Brien’s open mic to private structured music lessons.
“If she wants to participate, she does. If she just wants to watch, she does,” Corcoran said. “And I have my tea.”
Haleigh Bunting said going to work at the Treehouse is fun because the Van Ostens emphasize interacting with customers while hosting a wide range of events.