In 2018, Laurie Mills came home with coffee-making equipment and an idea.
Her husband Walter asked what she knew about coffee.
“Nothing,” she replied, “But we’re going to figure it out.”
Fast forward to present day and Laurie Mills is opening her first café in New Market, 5 West Café. The address is in the name, 5 W. Main Street.
Walter died one year ago, but Mills sees reminders of him everywhere in the building they renovated together. The Thurmont couple of 38 years bought the building that’s now the café around 2014. The oldest part of the structure dates back to the 1800s. It’s served as a hotel, tavern, post office, library and more.
Moving forward, Mills hopes to provide a warm, welcoming space where community members can sit and talk.
When visitors enter the front door that faces W. Main Street, to their left they will find the counter where they can order next to canisters of coffee beans and flavored sweeteners. To the right of the door, they’ll see a little less than 20 chairs around tables in a room decorated with books, coffee bags and a fireplace. Upstairs is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Airbnb that’s kept separate from the public.
There’s also seating out back that leads to a parking lot visitors can use, marked by an orange and green wagon wheel. The center of the courtyard is adorned with an old grinding stone from a grist mill that once stood in Monrovia. A few dozen steps from the outdoor seating, customers will see the building where business partner Stage Line Coffee Roasters does its roasting for the coffee served at 5 West. Stage Line has been in business for about three years. Its coffee can be found on shelves at businesses around Frederick County and is sold online.
The day before opening — Tuesday afternoon — Mills jittered with excitement around the café, pointing out renovations here, carefully selected décor there, and areas where she hopes to improve. Her elderly basset hound Boogie dutifully followed her from room to room.
They will serve beverages like lattes, cappuccinos, Americanos, tea and hot chocolate, plus a variety of iced coffees and specialty drinks such as chai latte. Savory and sweet baked goods from Hive Bake Shop in Brunswick will fill the shelves with goodies like pesto and prosciutto croissants. Their focus is on local products.
If 5 West’s soft opening for the town’s Christmas parade is any indication of success, the shop will have no shortage of customers.
“We sold out of everything in two-and-a-half hours,” Mills said.
They’ll be open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, but Mills said the hours and menu could change depending on how the community responds.
“We’re here to make people’s days better,” said Mills, who describes herself as a coffee lover that wanted to create a gathering space.
She brings a variety of skills to the position. Mills has worked as a paralegal and also in project management. She credits her late husband with teaching her how to buy and sell real estate.
After her husband’s death, Mills wasn’t sure she would go forward with the cafe.
“I wish he was here,” she said. “I miss him terribly.”
But a caffeinated support network sprouted around her, like general manager Matthew Schlener. He came to Mills with about five years of barista experience. He’s also founder of a nonprofit, Rhiza Coffee Co., that uses specialty coffee to support orphaned young adults in Peru transition to independence.
When Schlener met Mills, he said he saw the beauty and potential in 5 West Café and was eager to help.
“Everything’s come together really nicely,” Schlener said from behind the counter.
Friends in the coffee business, Josh and Courtney Richer of Greencastle, Pennsylvania, connected Mills to Schlener. The Richers also lent their own expertise. They operate Pure and Simple Café in Greencastle.
Mills said she wouldn’t have opened without the couple, and also sang the praises of Schlener. She gave credit to the town, too, noting that a local grant helped cover the cost of painting.
On Tuesday, a customer walked in, hoping to order. The staff welcomed her, but explained they actually open Wednesday. Mills said that wasn’t the first person who tried to come in early.
“I’m glad I didn’t quit,” Mills said.