By Laura Scheuer Sutton
Quills Coffee triumphantly returned to the Highlands in April after nearly a year’s closure, taking up residence on Baxter Avenue next to Flanagan’s Ale House, in the former home of the Decorative Hardware Store. The original Quills location, on Kentucky Street just off Barret Avenue, closed in July 2008.
Brothers Nathan and Gabriel Quillo, who co-own the business, called on the muscle of friends and loved ones to help with the renovation of their new space. Relocating was appealing to the Quillos for reasons of “business stability” and the “great plans for the neighborhood and the community,” according to Nathan. He adds, “There’s so much energy on that part of the Baxter corridor, with the foot traffic and the variety of businesses. All our neighbors have been terrific so far. They appreciate us being there, and it feels really good. This thing could really work here and become part of the fabric of this neighborhood.” Support from the Original Highlands Neighborhood Association, neighboring businesses and Metro Councilman Tom Owen helped bring Quills to the area.
The small storefront opens up to a surprisingly warm, airy interior with two different atmospheres. The first floor buzzes with the busy hubbub of an urban coffee shop, while upstairs is a quieter, more relaxed area designed to encourage lingering and concentration.
Architect Jeff Rawlins, of Architectural Artisans (“one of the coolest people I’ve ever met,” says Nathan), helped the Quills’ crew refine their vision for the space, which, according to Nathan, was in horrible condition when they got started. He says the Quills team “tore down plaster, upgraded plumbing and electric, exposed brick, refinished floors and gave the old character of the building some TLC to bring back the unique qualities and beauty that were already there.” Hundred-year-old beams were exposed with the help of Green Go Construction, who aided in the effort to retain as much of the building as possible. The Quillos and their friends did the trim work, bar, floors and painting. “It was a lot of elbow grease and trips to Lowe’s,” says Nathan.
Quills prides itself on a diverse, knowledgeable barista staff, many of whom are home roasters, and that commitment to coffee shines through in their work. “We want to take coffee to another level with premium handcrafted espresso drinks,” says Nathan. That means “properly steaming the milk, pulling a perfect shot, and even doing some latte art.” Quills doesn’t neglect drip and French press coffee either, and they offer tasty baked goods, including pastries, scones, cookies, muffins and other treats. You can even wrap up your indulgence with a sweet something from onsite chocolatier Cellar Door Chocolates. Possible future menu items include yogurt, granola, paninis and hummus.
During their hiatus, the Quillos cupped coffees from several local roasters, and now two local companies are roasting coffee for them. “They exemplify what we believe in and what best represents our vision of what coffee should be,” says Nathan. Quills offers 12 varieties of coffee, including three exclusive roasts – a rainforest blend, a Quills house blend, and Espresso Especiale. The house blend is roasted by Sunergos, and the rainforest and espresso roasts come from Mike Safai, a well-known local roaster located behind the original Java Brewing on Frankfort Avenue.
The Quillos also felt that tea wasn’t getting a fair shake in the previous incarnation of Quills, so during the hiatus they brought in a consultant with years of experience in the subject. Today, artisan teas come by the cup or as part of a full tea service, comprising a 14-ounce china pot, loose leaf tea, instruction on the correct steeping and straining technique for the tea you’ve selected, a white cup (the better to observe the color of the tea), and a timer to assist in perfect brewing, all served on lovely trays designed by a local artist. As Nathan explains, “Each re-steep will bring out different subtleties in the tea, easing your way out of that tea experience as you relax.” Tea tasting and cupping classes may be added in future, based on demand.
One unique feature of the new Quills is the second floor private conference room, which local businesses and groups can reserve for a small fee. The area is public seating unless reserved, at which point it can accommodate groups of up to 15. Couches, comfy chairs, plentiful outlets and strong wi-fi make the shop a welcome haven for those working solo, too. It should be noted, though, that the second floor is not wheelchair accessible.
While book sales are no longer a primary part of the business, as they were at the prior location, Quills still “wants to be a coffee shop that embraces people who love to read and the literary aesthetic” by hosting book readings and clubs and encouraging a peaceful environment, says Nathan.
Nathan also asked to clarify what could be a lingering misperception that first arose during the previous incarnation of Quills. Despite some rumors, he says, “We are not connected to any religious or political organization. We’re independently owned and operated. If anything, a true coffee shop should be pluralistic in nature, a public place of expression. We don’t want to exclude anyone. I want to do coffee and do it well. As a company, the only thing we’re religious about is espresso. Quills is a coffee shop for all people to feel comfortable, whoever you are, whatever background you come from. We want to be a place where Republicans and Democrats, gay and straight, PC and Mac can all peacefully coexist.”
Quills Coffee is open Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m., and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, visit quillscoffee.com. Quills Coffee, 930 Baxter Avenue, (502) 742-6129.