The Coffee Mill: A Destination Coffee Shop
A family-operated business, The Coffee Mill was opened at a time when places that solely sold coffee were rare.
Perusing the shelves of nostalgic candy many Baby Boomers remember from their childhood, Karen Hone picks up something that is appropriate as Christmas morning draws nearer. It is a piece of chocolate in the shape of a lump of coal.
"This is for anyone who is on Santa's naughty list," Hone said. "Many of us recall when we were kids and we were told if we were bad we would get coal in our stocking."
Hone's life revolves around nostalgia. The former Belleaire Bluffs city councilwoman operates The Coffee Mill, a coffee bar and old-fashioned country store that was opened by her mother, Alice Schoelles, in 1976.
"My mom is in her 80s and still comes in three days a week," Hone said. "This place is like home to me. My kids have worked here, my son-in-law has roasted the coffee and this is a place where everyone who visits seems to feel relaxed and comfortable."
A mesh of aromas that include holiday favorites like pumpkin lattes, egg nog lattes and assorted coffees roasted at the store waft amid the 2,000 square feet of a former service station adorned with cypress ceilings, walls and floorboard planks. A family-operated business, The Coffee Mill was opened at a time when places that solely sold coffee were rare.
Long before Starbuck's became a household name, Schoelles was recently divorced and searching for a way to generate income. She started The Coffee Mill after a visit to her sister's home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. That is where she saw a small coffee shop that piqued her interest.
The Coffee Mill debuted in the front room of a turn-of-the-century home near its present location. Then, Schoelles and her sister, Evelyn Tyler, sold eight varieties of coffee and a couple types of teas. In 1977, the sisters moved their shop to a former Sunoco station on Indian Rocks Road, transforming it into an old-fashioned country store.
Today, The Coffee Mill offers more than 75 coffees – many of which are made at the store's roasting room - and dozens of teas as well as a wide assortment of candies, chocolates, jams, cookies, nuts, dried fruit, and homemade fudge. In the coffee bar, patrons sit on stools sipping java, hot chocolate and hot tea while savoring assorted baked goods. The main section of the store in lined with shelves dotted with gift baskets, educational children's toys, arts and crafts and a variety of gifts.
"Consumer demand dictates what we carry in the store. For several years, The Coffee Mill sold bulk spices until the interest declined. Old fashioned candy such as peanut brittle, hard candy, chocolates and licorice are popular. Today, the educational children's toys are big sellers.
For the holidays, Hone is selling a heavy volume of gift baskets. The Coffee Mill stocks the shelves with pre-made gift baskets, but Hone says that customized baskets are in demand.
"You just let us know the items you want and we will make a basket within your requested price range," Hone said. "Typically, people want coffees, teas, snack foods, chocolates and/or gift items included."
Homemade fudge and chocolates are featured in a glass case not far from a section lined with nostalgic candies. Clark and Zagnut bars, Pez dispensers, chocolate-covered peanuts, and candy canes are among the selections.
"People love to walk around the candy section because sometimes they haven't seen certain types of candy in years," Hone said. "It makes them remember of what they had when they were kids."
For Hone, every day she walks into The Coffee Mill is a reminder of her childhood. She worked at the shop when she was in high school and continues to immerse herself in the family business, even in an age where there are Starbuck's and other competitors seemingly on every corner.
"Places like Starbuck's and Panera have more visibility because there are lots of them around here, but there are few places anywhere like our shop with the ambience and the attentive customer service," Hone explained. "This is more of a destination than just a place to get a cup of coffee. That is an advantage we have that keeps people coming back."