MANKATO — Steph Jarett knows good coffee.
Just 21 years old, she ran a coffee shop called Nina’s Coffee Cafe in St. Paul before moving to the Mankato area in February of ’07. And when a mutual customer between her old coffee shop and the Fillin’ Station put in a good word and helped her get a job at the South Front Street location, she understood right away why customers were so loyal.
The Fillin’ Station had that charisma of being the stylish little guy among so many big coffee chains in town. It had the attitude of being the downtown neighborhood gathering place, where the coffee is the focus and the atmosphere encouraged people to put their feet up and enjoy it there.
That’s why, as word spread that the Fillin’s owner was looking to move back to the Cities and that the building already had been sold, a collective gasp almost could be heard among the coffee shop’s cult following.
Jarett quickly put the caffeine-aholics at ease, however, when a new rumor began to spread that Jeff Palmer, owner of Wholesale Fitness Outlet next door, had bought the Fillin’ and would reopen it in the front part of his building just a few feet from its previous location. Jarett would take over as manager, with her fiancé, Mike Willaford, as her right hand.
Now, Jarett is happy to report, the Fillin’ is just days from reopening. The soft opening is Feb. 1.
“This is the first time the phone has been quiet,” Palmer said.
Jarett said people see her and Willaford and constantly ask when the coffee shop will be open. They’re excited about the anticipation that seems to be building and expect to have a line at the door at 7 a.m. when they open.
Neither Jarett, Willaford nor Palmer seem to be concerned about another coffee shop opening next door in the old Fillin’ Station location. Developer Shawn Clow bought the building, and Jarett said a former regular customer of the old location will be running the place. Neither could be reached.
There’s plenty of room for everyone, they said. And the Fillin’ Station has plenty of loyal customers who they predict will stick with them.
They’re not quite ready for them yet, though. Much progress has been made, a great deal of it by Willaford, Jarett and Palmer, themselves. Carpet has been pulled up and wood flooring installed, walls have been painted in a vibrant fuchsia and lime green pallet, the Fillin’s signature furniture is in the space, albeit a bit scattered about, and the coffee bar is set up in the location it will be in.
The details are left, Jarett said, including minor construction, such as a wall that will separate two open spaces. She’s also working out where she’ll be ordering fresh bakery items from.
Other changes people can expect include a new menu, featuring cold sandwiches and soups. Previous lunches, such as the Lincoln Park sandwich, caused a line to form, so she wanted to make the food more simple.
The coffee, however, will be the same. Jarett and Willaford wanted to keep quiet on what kind of coffee it is they serve because they’d hate to have other places catch on to their secret, but they guarantee its the same espresso and coffee blends they had at the previous location.
“This is why we’re doing this, for the love of coffee,” Willaford said.
The same great service also will remain, she said. The only previous Fillin’ employee who will be rejoining the crew is Dylan Schultz. Jarett hired several other baristas who she predicts will make up the best coffee staff in town.
“When you walk through the door, you’re going to be greeted,” she said.
And even though Jarett is a full-time student, studying psychology and art, a jewelry maker and artist, beginning a company called Vintage Daydream, and in the process of planning a July 4 wedding, she’s still going to make the Fillin’s success her priority. It’ll definitely be a fun place to hang out, she said.
“We have three key words,” Jarett said. “Energetic, fun and whimsical.”
Loyal customers take notice
MANKATO — Steph Jarett knows good coffee.
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