A family tradition turns into a new coffee shop

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

The ladies in Jennifer Grantham's family have had a special tradition which they had kept for many years – a tradition that, with the recent closing of Monticello's only coffee shop, threatened to end.
Grantham, who has lived in Jefferson County for 12 years, says that the ladies in her family have held a tradition of stopping in at the Electric City Wheels & Grinds coffee shop (informally known as “Margie's Shop” by many locals) for half a decade. The ladies would get together and connect over cups of coffee or lunch.
So in October, when Grantham and her grandmother went into Electric City Wheels & Grinds for a cup of coffee and a spot of conversation, the shop's owner, Margaret “Margie” Stern informed the ladies of the upcoming closure of the shop.
While many shops in Monticello serve coffee, Electric City Wheels & Grinds was the only shop that functioned primarily as a coffee shop with a side menu of lunch or treat items – the closure of the shop meant the shuttering of Monticello's only dedicated destination for caffeine.
“I asked [Stern] how much she was selling [the business] for,” said Grantham. “And when she walked away, my grandma looked at me and asked, 'Do you think you can run this?'”
Grantham has extensive experience in the restaurant industry and she has worked jobs in the food service and hospitality industry since she was a teenager.
She's never owned a business, though, despite coming from a family of business owners.
When Grantham replied with certainty that she felt she could run a coffee shop, her steps to take over Monticello's coffee shop didn't take much longer after that to begin falling into place.
“It wasn't in the plan, at all, to do this. It just kind of happened. Everything since has been rolling really smoothly,” said Grantham, adding with a laugh: “it all happened very fast.”
In addition to her experience in the restaurant industry (including several years as a barista), Grantham has a personal passion for cooking – a passion she will bring into her new cafe.
“Anyone who knows me very well, I cook a lot. I have a huge kitchen at home,” says Grantham.
It's more than just ownership that will be changing at the little downtown coffee shop – when Grantham took on the task of owning and operating Monticello's coffee shop, she also chose to change the name.
When her shop opens its doors in early January, Electric City Wheels & Grinds will be no more – as Jen's Apron Café will be the new identity for the Dogwood Street building.
“I've worn aprons for years,” says Grantham, calling her shop's name a 'play on words' for her passion for cooking, coffee and aprons. “I'm bringing back the power of the apron,” she adds. “Aprons aren't just for housewives – the history of aprons goes back to women just trying to protect their few pretty dresses, carrying vegetables from the garden, drying little kid's tears, using them for potholders and just using aprons for everything – aprons are very versatile.”
Jen's Apron Café will continue being a coffee shop, but Grantham also hints at the addition of a lunch menu of fresh, delicious food which her shop will be serving to her customers.
“We are going to have a new menu that will start in January. There will be sandwiches, soups and a couple different salads,” says Grantham, adding that she also hopes to run lunch specials, with her Monticello client base being able to have some input on what monthly specials will eventually be kept permanently on her establishment's menu.
While her shop will provide lunch meals to those who stop in for more than just a cup of coffee, Grantham says that the biggest appeal of the cafe was the ability to continue serving coffee in Monticello.
“The coffee is a big draw. Me, my mom, my grandmother, my aunts – coffee is a big thing for us,” says Grantham. “Meeting up for coffee once a week [is] something we've done for years – it's just something we do.”
While Grantham has lived in Jefferson County for many years and owns a home in Monticello, this will be her emergence into the society of downtown business owners.
“I've loved Monticello ever since moving here, so to suddenly be a part of the downtown business community is so, so exciting for me,” says Grantham. Her family values the efforts of local business owners and small businesses, so being a part of that – and being able to contribute to the growth she sees in Monticello, has been an exhilarating prospect.
“I'm really just excited to be a part of it all,” she adds.
Grantham is aiming to have her coffee shop officially open in early January, and she is still working on establishing the hours of operation, menu and other key details – but this Friday, during the Downtown Christmas festivities, Grantham and her crew will be serving hot drinks.
At the Downtown Christmas event, they will be serving up Christmas-themed coffees and hot chocolates as well as introducing themselves to the Monticello community.
“We want the whole community to come out in support on Friday. We will be introducing ourselves while serving coffee and hot chocolates outside the store,” concludes Grantham. “We are really looking forward to having the whole community coming to see us and learning what we are all about.”