FONTANA — Once a little-known park house in Reid Park, the Coffee Mill BTW (By the Water) is now a center of activity for those who want a cup of coffee or a fruit smoothie.
Maryanne Bruss has opened a coffee bar in the 24-by-24-foot building with an espresso machine and a menu of most of the organic coffees and organic teas, bakery products and other snacks offered at her larger Coffee Mill shop at 141 Mill St.
Since opening, the little coffee shop by the water at 349 Third Ave. has become a destination for those who make a daily walk along the lakefront, or for those who are just visiting.
“I love it,” Bruss said of her new shop. “It’s going to be great.”
The relatively small size of the building is not a concern, Bruss said.
“I like small. Small, quaint spaces make for cozy coffee shops,” she said.
The interior is dominated by the espresso machine and the ordering bar. Seating is outdoors.
There is seating for 16 people in the front under four umbrella-shaded tables, and seating for another 12 in the back.
Bruss had originally intended to include indoor seating, but decided to forgo that because interior space is at a premium.
Work to turn what was essentially an empty building with a sink into a coffee shop began in April and lasted into the first week in May.
Bruss opened for business on May 17.
“It’s on our best places to go,” said Jan Duwart, who stopped in with husband Kirk and sons Ben, 11, Connor, 10, and Sam, 7.
Duwart said the family came up from Chicago to visit Fontana for Fourth of July week.
Barristas Carly O’Brien and Faith Lensmith, both of Williams Bay, took their orders.
Susie Claffy and daughters Colleen and Caroline, all of Hinsdale, Illinois, were in Fontana at their summer home.
“We love it and come here all the time,” Claffy said.
While they like the original Coffee Mill, they prefer this location closer to the water.
“Now we don’t have to walk along a busy street, we just walk along the lake,” Colleen said.
J.D. Talken of St. Charles, Illinois, sat under the shade of an outdoor table umbrella and finished his coffee.
“It’s nice,” Talken said. “I rode past on my bike. I thought I should stop in there.”
He said he had “a wonderful cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee.”
Mary Beth Petersen of Chicago said she was already a fan of the Coffee Mill shop on Mill Street when she stopped by the Reid Park location with her daughter, Lauren Madigan, and six-month-old granddaughter Mella.
“We love it,” Petersen said.
Its advantages are that it is close to the water and the children’s park, she said.
Since most visitors, like the Claffys, bring along their canine friends, the Coffee Shop BTW also sells doggie treats, and features a large doggie watering pan as well.
While business has been picking up, Bruss said the cold, wet spring and early summer slowed walk-up business.
“Mother Nature has not been on our side at this point,” she said. “It has been a slow start to summer.”
The Coffee Mill BTW is open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Bruss said she plans to extend hours to 8 p.m. during special events, such as the Lobster Boil at Reid Park.
The Fontana Village Board was taken with the plan when Bruss first proposed it in November 2018.
So was Steele Whowell, who is a co-owner of the family-owned Gordy’s marina and restaurant.
Gordy’s Lakefront Marine wanted the building for offices. But Whowell decided that the idea for a coffee shop in that location was a better one.
Whowell said Gordy’s employees would probably be frequent customers of the new coffee shop, because it is pretty much on their way to work.
“It has been great to have the Coffee Mill in that location,” Whowell said. “I am not sure how many of our team members get coffee there routinely, but I know the ones that do love having it so close.”
Bruss came across the park building when a friend was planning to open a yoga school and Bruss was helping her find space. Her friend decided that the park house was too small for yoga.
But Bruss realized it was a good fit for a coffee house.
The Coffee Mill BTW’s will remain open until it gets cold, Bruss said.
But because Bruss rents the space year-round, she plans to open for special winter events, such as ice boat regattas and Reid Park’s ice skating rink.
According to a plaque on the front of the park house, it was built in 1974.
Village Administrator Theresa Loomer said the village-owned structure has been rented out for special events, reunions and parties. But in her memory, until now, it has never been leased to a business.
Since opening in 2012, the Coffee Mill has built a cadre of loyal customers who enjoy a coffee or tea and muffin or croissant.
The shop is popular enough that Bruss said she hopes that the second location by the lake will reduce the congestion at the Coffee Mill on Mill Street.