Composer Johann Sebastian Bach once said, “Without my morning coffee, I’m like a dried-up piece of roast goat.” And Cole Porter crafted a lyric in honor of the popular caffeinated beverage, “When you’re trembling, and you’re feeling, that immediate death would be appealing, it’s amazing what a good cup of coffee can do.”
Nathan and Katie Nies, proprietors of the Bus Stop, the coffee cart next to the Mail Depot at Fourth and C streets, agree with the above sentiments. For eight years, they’ve catered to Petaluma’s coffee lovers and, in the process, created a community gathering spot. It’s not just fans of coffee, tea and chai – but families who make the Bus Stop a special place.
Nathan, 36, and Katie, 34, met in Seattle at – where else – a coffee shop. “ “We fell in love – with coffee and each other,” Katie said. “When we got married we knew we wanted to open a coffee shop.”
In 2005 they headed to Petaluma, where Katie’s family lived. They had company on the journey – they were towing a coffee cart they’d bought in Seattle. “When we got here,” Katie said, “we started looking for a place to set up shop.”
Fortunately, Maureen McGuigan, owner of the Mail Depot, was looking for someone to set up a coffee cart.
“We owe a lot to Maureen,” Katie said. “Most of our first customers were her friends. And a lot of customers were neighbors.
“What we like about the job is you learn about your customers and their families, you develop relationships so you do create a community feeling. But it developed more strongly than we expected. People hang out here, they make new friends, and it’s fun to see the friendships grow.”
McGuigan loves to give parties, so it was a natural when Arann Harris of the Green String Farm Band wanted to play music on summer Saturdays – there was open space on the building’s west side. Harris brought in hay bales, tomatoes and sunflowers were planted and several bands made use of the space. After several years, a customer brought down some old horse troughs, filled them with dirt and planted jasmine. Someone brought a tablecloth, others donated toys and plants. “People wanted to build their own community,” Katie said. She gestured to the wrought iron table next to the coffee cart. It was decorated with late summer flowers and gourds. Fruits and vegetables are shared too, she said.
What is it about coffee? Katie smiled and sipped hers. “Where do I start? The smell, first thing in the morning. It’s a warm, cozy way to start the day.”
Coffee, Nathan said, “is the elixir of life.
“It tastes good. You open a bag of coffee and there’s that smell; you feel your brain perk up and you can’t help but smile. There’s nothing like making a good cup of coffee and putting it in front of someone. You can turn someone’s morning, or someone’s day, around with a great cup of coffee.”
Are they morning people? Well, Katie is. “I am not,” Nathan said. “That’s why I love coffee so much. There’s not much else that will get me out of bed first thing in the morning. Knowing I’m coming down here, that in half an hour I can make myself a cup of coffee and then it will all be okay. Then the first couple of customers get here. It’s sleepy, the world’s quiet, everyone’s still and they come to you to wake them up.”
One of the challenges of owning a coffee cart is exposure to the elements. The nice days, and there are plenty of them, are wonderful, but Nathan said, “There’s nothing like making coffee when it’s 30-some degrees, rainy and windy.”
The first year it flooded. “It was one of those surreal moments,” Nathan said, “we’re outside making coffee, watching water flowing past our feet.”
The bottom line, they agreed, is they take the bad with the good. Nathan jokes with customers who feel sorry for them on wet days, “We’re out here, surviving the elements to make you a good cup of coffee. We’re just that dedicated.”
Customers Sarah Kandiko and Nathan Brinlee enjoy the Bus Stop in part because it’s “super kid friendly. We stop by,” Brinlee said, “a few times a week, sometimes four.”
Kandiko said, “People come here to talk to each other, not to not talk to each other.”
“It’s a great community,” customer Karen Hess said. She was sitting in the sunshine, watching her 5-year-old son Lukas. “I can see people I know, he can play and I can have my coffee.”
All three agree the Nies’s “make the best coffee in town.”
“And,” Nathan Nies said, “that first sip is so delicious, you wish you could have a whole cup of first sips.”
The Bus Stop, at the corner of Fourth and C streets, is open 5:30 a.m.-1 p.m. weekdays, and 6:30 a.m.-noon on Saturdays.