Food & Dining
Senoia Coffee & Cafe a nod to town's history
by Bradley Hartsell
In the beginning, there was Hollberg’s Fine Furniture and Hutchinson Hardware.
Then, in downtown Senoia, at the turn of the new millennium, a local coffee shop opened. The shop — then called Senoia Coffee Company — may have seemed a fleeting endeavor, but the Pengellys, Suzanne and David, had a vision they believed in.
“We loved Senoia,” said Suzanne Pengelly, who moved to the town with her husband in 1992. “We looked at all the tiny towns before we decided to buy and we felt Senoia had something special. Hollberg’s and Hutchinson’s were the only two business, but we saw this building for sale and it was just perfect for what we wanted to do.”
The structure was added by a member of Senoia’s founding family, Benjamin Nolan, in the 1920s as a grocery store. Nolan, who went on to be editor and publisher of the “Senoia Enterprise Gazette,” died in 1956 and the building sat vacant for nearly 60 years, according to Pengelly. A picture of Nolan and his father hangs in the coffee shop.
When the Pengellys first considered purchasing the building, the couple knew the age showed considerably, but the state of disrepair did little to dissuade them.
“The building was falling on its knees. It was rough,” said Pengelly.
The Pengellys were extensive travelers and developed an affinity for coffee from all over the world. Pengelly says her husband, in particular, cultivated a deep fascination with coffee, and combined with their love of food and entrepreneurship, the couple knew they wanted to open a coffee shop.
The Pengellys attended a school in Idaho to “learn the art of roasting coffee.”
“We really learned freshness made a difference. It’s very meticulous, making coffee,” said Pengelly. “It was a great learning experience. We love showing people the roasting experience because they gain an appreciation for the coffee that they buy and they drink.”
It didn’t take the people of Senoia long to connect with the Pengelly’s way of making coffee. Before the shop, those who wanted coffee had to buy it prepacked from the store or grab a cup at the gas station.
“But Senoia Coffee Company opened their minds to a whole new side of coffee,” said Pengelly. “It just worked.” “We taught everyone how to enjoy freshly roasted coffee,” said Pengelly, whose coffee has been known to be sent as gifts by customers to friends and family overseas.
The Pengellys sold Senoia Coffee Company in 2002, only to repurchase it in 2008, renaming it Senoia Coffee & Cafe to acknowledge their expanded lunch menu and unique wines and beers. They could never let go of the glimmer and allure of the business they built.
“[When we sold] we could have kicked ourselves because we loved it,” Pengelly said. “Once you create something, it’s your baby. It’s hard to go into a place and see the changes.”
The philosophy of premium is one the Pengellys apply to every aspect of Senoia Coffee & Cafe, and not just the coffee. Suzanne Pengelly is serious about her lunch and dinner menus.
The cafe also features entertainment — a quarterly comedy night called “Clean Laughs Show.” Pengelly owns an entertainment-based business and her husband is an entertainer, so the Pengellys bring their connections to Senoia.
Senoia Coffee & Cafe just celebrated its 14th anniversary, and the Pengellys feel it is the desire to take such good care of their “baby” that has led the small business into forming such a big following.
“I usually don’t drink coffee, but I come here,” said longtime customer Warren Dunn, who is simply known around the shop as “Yank.”
“I used to work in the railroad here, so I’ve been coming for years,” he said. Pengelly gushes about the feeling of community that’s popped up in the shop. Customers like Dub Pearman, who lives a block away and comes almost every day, add to that strong sense of community. Pearman says he and his neighbors just need six chairs when they frequent Senoia Coffee. “We’re not real picky about where, just as long as we’re close to one another.”
Pengelly is happy to oblige. Last year, Benjamin Nolan’s daughter, Charlotte, passed away at age 94. She had become a fixture at the coffee shop, and Pengelly recalls the great stories she’d tell about growing up in Senoia and working side by side with her dad. One of the last things Pengelly remembers asking Nolan was whether the building was a friendly place during its days as a grocery store.
Nolan recalled the times when men would gather weekly to swap stories and news from across the little town. She called it “a gathering place.” It moves Pengelly that today Senoia Coffee & Cafe is still a gathering place, citing the weekly women’s group that recently braved the freezing weather to meet in the Cafe.
Fourteen years ago, something about Senoia and the old Nolan building spoke to the Pengellys. Today, Senoia Coffee & Cafe is a staple of the town’s charm. Many couldn’t imagine it working 14 years ago. Now, they can’t imagine Senoia without it.