BELLOWS FALLS -- Folks can now go to the Flat Iron Exchange coffee shop to enjoy a cappuccino. Or sip on a chai latte. Or purchase a baked treat. Or sit and enjoy the laid-back, artistic ambiance while reading a magazine.
It's all cool with owners Jana Bryan and Mark Kenney, who opened the business at 51 The Square about three weeks ago. The two moved their family into the building from Chester in August and soon began brainstorming a use for the first floor of the structure that resembles the Flatiron Building in New York City.
"It was basically empty, and we had a little bit of time to think about what to do down here, some income potential and that sort of thing. And in talking to people I definitely quickly got a sense that the building is a little bit of an icon in town," Bryan said. "A lot of people have stories connected with the building and with this first-floor space, so it felt like a community space already. And I guess the atmosphere of coffee houses is something I've always enjoyed."
Business has far exceeded the owners' expectations, as locals seem to love the idea of a quaint coffee house in The Square.
"People's feedback really became a part of how this was really going to look," Bryan said about the 1,200-square-foot space below her family's apartment. She also works as a landscape architect 30 hours a week.
Bryan and Kenney received $17,545 from the Rockingham Revolving Loan Fund to get their business off the ground. The Rockingham Selectboard approved the five-year loan in March and Rockingham Development Director Francis "Dutch" Walsh said it came with 4 percent interest. Walsh told the Reformer it is nice to see a vibrant business at 51 The Square.
"Their philosophy for the coffee shop is a place that people can congregate, talk, share ideas. It's more of a place where you can sit and take your time," he said, adding that the shop's presence adds to the interesting mix of businesses in downtown Bellows Falls. "(Bryan) spent a lot of time just getting to know the people that were here. (Bryan and Kenney) spent a lot of time just scoping things out."
One of the people who enjoys hanging out at the Flat Iron is teenager Emma Petretti, who was spending time Tuesday chatting with Bryan and Bryan's son Tuckerman Wunderle, who was working behind the counter.
"I give it two thumbs up," she said. "I just think that the atmosphere is really, really good here. It's a safe and really cool place to hang out. You can easily have friends come over and have coffee. I'd give three thumbs up, but I only have two."
Kenney, who also works as a funeral and cremation consultant, told the Reformer Petretti's enthusiasm is not uncommon, as the coffee shop's popularity has skyrocketed.
"Everybody has been psyched. Everybody has been talking about it," he said.
Bryan said she and Kenney choose to get their coffee locally and the shop's tea leaves come from Stone Leaf Tea in Middlebury. The baked goods, she said, come from licensed home bakers in Bellows Falls, Chester and Springfield. No baking is done on the premises, which Bryan said helps keep things simple.
"There are, it seems like, endless drinks you can make between coffee and milk, so it's a lot of fun just exploring those and all the different types of coffee from Precision Valley (Coffee Roasters)," she said.
The Flat Iron Exchange is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the week.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.