Heather Maloney struggled with mental health and wasn’t an avid hiker when she decided tackle the Appalachian Trail in 2015.
She began in Georgia and about two and a half months later she had to stop her off-and-on hike in Pennsylvania after falling on a rock and splitting her knee cap. Determined to not end her adventure, Maloney continued to drive north, ending up at a campsite in Maine.
There she wandered into the Independent Cafe in Bar Harbor where the owner, Tim Rich, let Maloney work in exchange for a bagel and a place to charge her phone.
Ultimately, Rich offered Maloney a management position at the Independent Cafe during the tourist season running from May through October. She accepted while living in her tent nearby.
In Bar Harbor, Maloney watched people come off cruise ships and saw how the Independent Cafe was the center of the tourist town.
It was a destination where people could meet, hang out and socialize. And that the moment Maloney knew she wanted to open her own coffee shop that prioritized community.
Maloney brought her dream to life on Oct. 21 with her new shop the Brick and Mortar Cafe on Massee Lane in Old Town, a unique 300 acre residential development in Columbus with its own town square and main street.
“I want people to come in and feel loved, accepted and valued,” Maloney said. “I want someone who’s having a bad day to come in, and their life be changed. I want people to leave happier and feeling better.”
A scene from Gilmore Girls
Originally from Pennsylvania, Maloney has lived all over the country including Texas and Maine.
She first moved to Columbus to be with family in 2010. Maloney left to travel and live in other places, regularly returning back to Columbus.
“There’s something about this place, the river, the community, the friendships,” she said.
Maloney left her position at Bonefish Grill, a seafood restaurant, in September to pursue her goal of opening a coffee shop.
When searching for the perfect location, a couple of spots in downtown Columbus interested her. But the locations weren’t quite right.
Then Maloney saw a space open up in a Columbus neighborhood she’d never heard of — Old Town.
She drove into a development that resembled a perfect town that could fit into a feel-good television show.
“It feels like the Gilmore Girls,” Maloney said.
Before investing in the space, she sat in front of the empty building that would become the Brick and Mortar Cafe for two months. Maloney met with other business owners in the area and talked to every person that passed by.
“Everyone’s just so connected,” she said. “And they want you to be successful.”
Community and an act of kindness
Maloney wanted the coffee shop to belong to the community. And this goal presents itself in even the decor.
The sofa was given to the shop by a customer. An ottoman was donated by another customer, and a third customer had a rug that completed the seating area.
A local artist, Cindy Hess, put her art up in the cafe to sell. The chairs came from Bonefish after the seafood restaurant remodeled.
“It’s like this is literally the community’s coffee shop,” Maloney said. “And we just have the honor and privilege of working here. That’s what it feels like.”
Brick and Mortar Cafe serves Coffee by Design, a brand based in Portland, Maine, and also the same brand sold by the Independent Cafe. The coffee brand encourages women in business, Maloney said, and she feels good about their business practices.
“They really look out for their farmers,” she said.
Officials at Coffee by Design regularly fly out to meet with their farmers to check that they and their families are taken care of financially, Maloney said.
Her focus on positivity from the coffee brand she chose to the customers extended to her employees. Maloney took a different approach when staffing the Brick and Mortar Cafe.
“Each of my staff has been hired not because they’re experienced,” she said. “But because they showed an act of kindness to somebody.”
Maloney witnessed one of her employees giving a cookie to a stranger and promoting other businesses. Another employee helped a stranger on the side of the road.
From there, she had an experienced employee train the rest of her staff on how to be baristas and do latte art.
When the Brick and Mortar Cafe opened, Maloney didn’t want to hold a ribbon cutting ceremony. Instead she developed what she called a “ribbon giving ceremony” in honor of her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer.
During the grand opening last month, the Brick and Mortar Cafe in partnership with the American Cancer Society raised over $900 for the cause.
Going forward, Maloney hopes the cafe will be able to start catering meetings and continue to allow other businesses to sell products through her shop.
“I just want (customers) to know that they’re loved,” Maloney said. “Honest to God. I just want this to be a really special place for people to come in and feel valued and appreciated.”