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Brewing Up Business

From espressos to artwork, the Clifton Coffee Mill has supported local crafts for two years.

At the Clifton Coffee Mill, neighbors come in for a cup of joe but they stay for the art.

The small coffee house has been brewing up what one patron considers an excellent espresso for two years now and has recently started to feature the handiwork of local crafters and artisans, from soy candles and cutting boards to paintings and jars of honey.

"When the space became available, my wife and I decided we wanted to work where we live," said Greg Anderson, owner of the Clifton Coffee Mill. "It's been an intense couple of years and there've been a few challenges we weren't prepared for, but it's been great."

Serving hot and cold coffee beverages along with smoothies, fruit drinks and Hawaiian-style shaved ice, the Coffee Mill has become a gathering place for town residents.

"If I'm going to take the time to have some coffee, I want to have it in a cup and sit down," said Nick Heckett, a Clifton resident who stopped in for his daily cup of espresso.

Noting the sugar floating on top of the foam, or layer of frothy coffee on top of his espresso, Heckett said it's hard to find a place that makes espresso correctly.

"They're the only ones who know how to do it right," he said, taking a sip.

Heckett and other residents have become regulars, said manager Rebecca Knauff.

"I'm really proud of our customer base," said Knauff.

WHEN SHE was promoted to manager last summer, Knauff said she wanted to incorporate the idea of a farmer's market into the coffee shop to give local vendors a place to display and sell their goods year-round.

"I wanted everything in here to support local people trying to make a name for themselves," she said. "It started with the honey, then we started to carry pottery and the art. It's a nice little touch to this town and the coffee shop."

Marbal Adams has sold her pottery through the coffee shop for the past six months and previously had some paintings on display on the walls there.

"I think it's great, they do a good job there," Adams said. "It's nice to see what the locals are doing."

Adams said she offered to put her pottery in the Coffee Mill after her paintings were displayed.

"There aren't enough places like this to show your work," she said.

In addition to being on display there, Adams said she's enjoyed the chance to support other local businesses.

"I bought some honey to give in Easter baskets this year," she said.

Terri Merz, who runs T&T Apiaries with her husband Tom, said the bee-keeping business has been in his family for generations.

After the town's farmer's market closed for the summer, Knauff approached them and asked if they'd want to try selling their honey at the coffee shop, Terri Merz said.

"It's a wonderful idea," she said. "We don't have a large customer base so it works well to sell our honey there."

The Merzs sell what is considered raw honey, directly out of the hive. The difference between their product and store-bought honey is that raw honey is not blended with honey from a different area, and the honey is not heated to prevent crystallization, Merz said.

"Raw honey is better for you because it contains all the local pollen that cause people's allergies," she said. "It can help make your allergies better. Plus, it just tastes better."

Merz said she's sold quite a bit of honey through the coffee shop.

"It's a nice local store," she said.

TUCKED INTO A corner are some hand-made cutting boards, courtesy of Mark Knauff and his side business, Warm Woods of Clifton.

Mark Knauff said he started making the boards when he had 1-inch strips of hard wood left over from making the Adirondack chairs he sold at the farmer's market.

"I wanted to find a way to use them so I started making cutting boards to give as Christmas presents," he said.

Since taking his cutting boards to the Coffee Mill, Mark Knauff said he's been selling them faster than he'd imagined.

"I think they've sold 70 of my boards," he said. "It's a great market and it fits in well with what they're trying to do."

The Clifton Coffee Mill has become an established and well-respected business in the community, Mark Knauff said.

"It's kind of like 'Cheers,' but with coffee instead of beer," he laughed.

As the seasons change, so too do the items on display. Jennifer Pogoda, owner of Gift Baskets of Clifton, said she's currently selling Easter-themed baskets at the coffee shop.

"It made sense to have my baskets in a local shop," she said.

A stay-at-home mother of three children under the age of 5, Pogoda said having her baskets at the Coffee Mill has allowed her to grow her company without taking too much time away from her family.

"This is what I can handle right now and it's been wonderful," she said. "It's good for the town, it's good for the commerce. When people come in who aren't from Clifton, it shows what we have to offer."

Pogoda said she hopes the Coffee Mill will eventually be able to offer more local goods, but she plans to keep her baskets there.

"It's exposure for me and my business," she said. "I've had sales and made new customers because of this shop."

The country-themed art now on the walls in the Coffee Mill are done by Joelle Rene Hughes, who was suggested to Rebecca Knauff by two students who had their art on display at the end of the year.

"Any opportunity to get art out there, all forms of it, helps the community," Hughes said. "A lot of people like to see original artwork and it gives the Coffee Mill its own style and flavor."

Hughes, who has her work on display in a handful of places across Northern Virginia, said she hasn't sold any pieces yet, but she's received some "good feedback" from Coffee Mill customers.

"It helps to broaden people's horizons," she said.

Rebecca Knauff said she's happy with the artists currently featured in the Coffee Mill.

Even the baked goods are from around the region, including Great Harvest breads from Burke and some pastries from Uncle Ralph's in Maryland, Rebecca Knauff said.

"We're always looking for improvement and trying to bring in more things and products, but I'm pretty happy with the way things are now," she said.

The coffee, of course, is still the big seller.

"I think the lattes we make are our specialties," Anderson said. "We get a lot of requests to add more food, but when we tried to sell box lunches during last year's Homes Tour, we had a lot left over, which reminded me why we don't serve more food."

Anderson said he'd like to expand his business hours to earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon, to hit the morning rush hour and early evening dinner crowd.

"I like to think of the town center as a place where people can gather in the later afternoon and walk around with some coffee," he said.

Still, after two years, both Rebecca Knauff and Anderson are happy to still have customers including them in their daily routines.

"We're very excited about our anniversary," Rebecca Knauff said. "We're thankful for the town and the people who have been with us for the past two years."