Growing up, one of the treats we experienced was traveling the nearly seven miles down Highways 212 to the intersection of Highway 208 and US 25-70, near Hot Springs.
At that intersection stood a small café, The Old Mill Wheel. The chuck wagon sandwiches there were to die for. The cook was an older gentleman named Jim, who didn’t say much but stayed busy flipping burgers and chuck wagons, his wedge shaped paper hat never leaving his head.
The waitressing was handled by a sweet older woman named Dorothy who kept everything pleasant and neighborly.
Afterwards you could go outside, watch the water wheel turn and feed the humongous trout in the pond, which had been stocked by the property’s owner, Roy Roberts who had been the Sheriff of Madison County in the late 1960’s.
For those who wanted to stay a little longer, you could rent a small cabin located behind the café.
The recession of the late 1970’s, coupled with the death of the Hillbilly Highway, did the café and cabin rental business in. The final blow came when zoning laws changed and the little building was forbidden to be a restaurant, as it stands on a flood plain.
In fact, the creek actually flows underneath the store!
The building stood idle for years and someone bought the old water wheel, while the cabins began decaying from neglect.
Last week I talked about the death of the small Appalachian family tobacco farm. In the article, I addressed the issue of doubt and despair in rural Appalachia. That issue has also adversely affected small businesses in the area.
Where do we go from here?
Well, meet my buddy Jemima. She is one of those folks who have figured out a way to succeed in a new world while hanging on to old Appalachia.
Jemima and her husband Matt bought the Roberts property. In July of 2012 they opened Laurel River Store and Coffee Shop. At the time, I didn’t know Matt & Jemima but I did go to high school with Jemima’s older brothers Alex & Ian.
I was happy to see the doors of the little building purposely standing ajar with an “OPEN” sign hanging in the window.
However, I had my doubts to be honest.
I thought ‘A coffee shop at Laurel River? It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.’
Shows how much I know. Matt & Jemima have tremendous work ethic, with Jemima running the store while Matt works as a fishing guide.
I was driving to work one day and said to myself ‘I am going to stop and get a cup of coffee.’
When I walked in, I was met with a warm smile from Jemima and was delighted at the sight of local art and the smell of coffee…..and there was a bevy of handmade pastries, shaved ice flavors, etc.
The coffee was fantastic! Then one day I tried one of her latte’s with whipped cream on top. I told her it was so good that she should call it the Latte Da!
Sometimes I worry about being a pest because I love the people that come in. Customers come from all walks of life. It’s like photography Nirvana just to sit there and watch them come and go.
When I told Jemima I was going to do this story, I asked her what made her want to run a coffee shop.
“Well, I didn’t have any burning desire to run a coffee shop although I have worked as a Barista before.”
She went on “However, we had the property so why not?”
It has been a rousing success. Sometimes the line is to the door. Jemima has even been able to hire some part time help.
In the end, I guess some would say one shouldn’t be afraid to dream or try.
That may be true but I think it may be just as much about not being afraid to adjust.
Y’all should really stop in at Laurel River Store sometime if you get a chance. You won’t regret it.
Have a great week, y’all!