Amanda Nester grew up obsessed with coffee and books. When the opportunity to buy a book-centric cafe in Pulaski, VA came knocking, she grabbed it. Today, under her management, The Coffee Grinder is a buzzy joint where words, caffeine and delicious fare happily coexist. I thought I’d catch up with her on the very day she was hosting a book club meeting featuring one of my novels.

AMK: You went from being an employee at the Coffee Grinder to the owner and manager, fulfilling a long-held dream. What was the thought process there?

Amanda Nester: It was definitely a decision that I thought about—a LOT.  I tend to over-think and over-analyze as it is, so this was no exception.  My head and my heart were at an impasse, but I finally decided I was just passionate (and stubborn) enough to make it work.

How does it feel to go from an employee of a business to the proprietor? What has changed, and how will it characterize the way you manage the place and other employees who were there from the start?

It is amazing and terrifying at the same time! The biggest change has been the freedom to play things by ear without having to wait for approval—and for the first time, my customers really felt their voices had been heard.  I only have one employee and she’s been amazingly encouraging through the whole process—and she feels a sense of ownership as well, since her ideas and input were crucial to our development.

What sort of support did you get from friends and family when you decided to embark on this venture?

I am incredibly fortunate to have friends and family who were just as excited as I was.  Once everyone got all their “what ifs” out of the way, they rallied behind me.  My dad recently retired and stepped in as my unofficial partner in the business—when anything needs fixed, or I need someone to make an emergency run to pick up milk—he’s my go-to.  I’m also blessed to have a boyfriend who is beyond patient—when I’m doubt my abilities or question my decision, he’s the first to reassure me and occasionally even calm me down…

Your dream to own an establishment was intrinsically tied to the connection between coffee and books, and your love of both. Is a book-friendly coffee shop your ultimate dream, or a coffee friendly bookshop?

That’s a tough one.  I used to aspire to the latter but the more I learn about coffee, and the more people I meet because of it, I’d have to say a book-friendly coffee shop is my new ideal.  Maybe I won’t get a chance to get on my soapbox about why the classics are so important, maybe my Shakespeare quotes will be a little under appreciated at times, but I can laugh and bond over coffee with anyone.

Other than the space for readers, a selection of books in the corner, what specific book activities do you run at the coffee grinder?

I’ve partnered with our local library to promote some of their events and build a connection between their readers and our coffee drinkers, and I’ve met with several local writers who are eager to get involved.  Any books I have on hand are available to purchase or borrow, and I dream of poetry readings and book signings in the near future

How do you choose the books you display at the Coffee Grinder? Do they reflect your taste as a reader, or do you try to cater for varying literary tastes?

Both.  Because I have such an eclectic taste in literature, there’s a little something for everyone.

Do you get any writers at the Coffee Grinder and what are they typically working on, and what is the attraction to your place?

I do get a few (and hopefully more will come!)  Because I’ve worked hard to turn The Coffee Grinder into a comfortable, relaxing space, it’s easy to forget about the outside world for a while and lose yourself in your work.

Writers tend to linger for a long time at coffee establishments. Ignoring your soft spot for books, are writers bad for business when they occupy seats and tables for a long time, or do they spend well?

I love it when people linger! It means they feel at home, and that’s what I’m going for.  I want everyone to feel like they could spend the day here.  And I certainly can’t speak for other businesses, but my customers are consistent spenders when they’re hanging out for any length of time.

How can a small business like yours compete with a behemoth coffee chain corporation? What’s your added value propositions?

I like to think we’re not even in the same category as those huge corporations—it’s like comparing Grandma’s potato salad with the prepackaged stuff in the grocery store.  Same name, completely different product.  I serve coffee and espresso-based drinks, just like the chains do. But my beans come from a few miles down the road, they’re roasted in small batches, and everything is fresh.  My flavoring syrups are made in-house and have zero artificial flavors, preservatives, or chemicals.  Baked goods are made by me, from scratch, and I can tell you exactly what’s in everything I offer you.

Are these challenges of running a small business compounded for female owners?

Truthfully, I am one of the lucky ones.  I have no doubts there are women who face adversity in the business world but I have been met with nothing but encouragement and help from my community.

Tell me more about your coffee: where do you source it, how do you serve it, and what statement do you want the Coffee Grinder to make?

I take coffee very seriously and for that reason, I have two primary roasters.  Open Road Roastery in Floyd, VA provides the coffee for drip and pour overs; Dark Hollow Micro Roasters in Sugar Grove, VA provides my espresso blend.  I try to cater to both ends of the spectrum—those who want a “plain” cup of coffee, and those who prefer all the bells and whistles (and whipped cream) I can provide.  And that is the statement I want The Coffee Grinder to make—that everyone is welcome, everyone is equally valuable, and that everything is better with coffee.

How do you personally take your coffee?

Much like my reading material, it depends on my mood.  As long as it comes in a giant mug (it tastes better that way, I swear) I’m happy.

Now come clean, are you an aspiring writer, and if so, what are you cooking?

From the first limerick I wrote in third grade, I knew I was a poet.  I am constantly writing and jokingly refer to myself as my biggest fan, because I often go back and get lost in my own work.  I’d love to get a collection of my poems published someday…but it would take a LOT of coffee to make me brave enough to try.