The Joys of Ohio’s Winding Road: Something’s Brewing in Hocking Hills
By GRANT JOY
Photos courtesy of Tim Thomas
Roughly, Hocking Hills State Park sees an average of two million visitors per year. That’s about the same as Maine’s awe-inspiring Acadia National Park. The highly popular Hocking Hills is known for its breathtaking beauty of sand-stone gorges, mind-boggling recess caves, free-flowing waterfalls, and towering Eastern Hemlock trees. As more and more visitors flock to Ohio’s most visited state park, demand for increased services around the Hocking Hills region is also on the rise. Local entrepreneurs Linda and Tim Thomas saw an old farmhouse and garage located just south of Logan on State Route 664 as a great location to launch Hocking Hills Inn and Coffee Emporium.
Before becoming the Hocking Hills Inn, the structure of the old house was in good condition due to it being constructed with local, 8-inch thick brick. However, as Linda points out, the inside hadn’t been updated in many years. “Everything in it was outdated from an appeal perspective,” explains Linda. Their goal was to modernize and remodel the space.
Linda and Tim proceed to give me a tour of the Inn. As we make our way upstairs, the first suite I look at is the Hemlock Suite. It is a beautiful space, complete with a jacuzzi, a spacious, glass-tiled shower, air-conditioning, a queen-sized bed, and beautifully stained-hardwood floor. As we continue on the tour Tim and Linda make mention that each room has its own individual air-conditioning unit to add to the functionality and comfortability for guests. A common area upstairs acts as a stylish-modernized kitchen for guests.
We make our way downstairs and out across the side of the house, and enter the Magnolia Suite. “This was the sunroom,” states Linda. On the back wall, the drywall was torn away to expose the original brick structure, separating the living quarters from the spacious bathroom. Guests are able to enjoy their favorite television shows on the suite’s second-flatscreen TV from the comfort of the jacuzzi. Linda also points to an outcropping of a window. The original owner had it closed over along the back-wall; the outline is now a mirror tucked into the old window frame. Originally part of the downstairs kitchen, the Magnolia suite contains a large number of pieces that were original to the house. As we exit the Magnolia Suite, Linda informs me that in addition to the suites, laundry is also provided on-site in the basement.
After returning to the downstairs common space of the Inn, I was curious to learn more about the Coffee Emporium. “An odd way to explain it is my daughter and I wanted a coffee shop down here because we live here and there was no coffee shop,” explained Linda. “My other three partners were interested in being part of the vacation aspect that was going on in the region and when we saw this property on the corner come up –– it was magical. All of my partners bring something different to the table, we all are strong, alpha, independent women.” The Inn and Emporium was a result of four women’s dreams, thus they partnered together to make the Inn and Emporium a reality. The Coffee Emporium is housed in what used to be a garage, as the group completely rebuilt the structure and added onto the building that would become the Coffee Emporium.
One key to the early success of the Coffee Emporium is their hand-crafted, artisan-style cuisine options. “I think we offer something that is not offered anywhere else in this town [Logan],” states Linda. “We do artisan paninis, breakfast pizzas, soups. Everything is hand-crafted and high quality. Folks traveling here want high-quality foods.” These high-quality products and hand-crafted artisan style foods provide locals and visitors great products that help support Hocking Hills communities, as the Emporium employs young people from Lancaster, Athens, and Logan. In addition, the Emporium pays its employees at a fair-wage that is above Ohio’s minimum wage.
As we continue our conversation about the Emporium, Linda mentions the Emporium operates under three core principles: Integrity, high-quality, and value. Integrity is present through the Emporium’s partnership with Jane Cavarozzi, founder of Dirty Girl Coffee, based in Glouster. Dirty Girl Coffee is a fair-trade coffee that supports women growers and pay-equity in developing countries in addition to supporting local economic development projects. “We use Dirty Girl Coffee,” begins Linda. “We don’t compromise on the integrity of our product line. We spend the most amount of money on buying the coffee product. That leads to the quality [aspect]. The quality comes down to the quality of service. It’s a ‘Hey, how are you, what can I do for you?’ This quality is carried all the way through, and if it ain’t right, we will make it right.”
The quality of service is largely due to the role of Coffee Emporium’s manager, Chelsea, whom Linda recruited away from Columbus and Starbucks to come to southeast Ohio and run the Emporium. The third guiding principle is value. Tim is quick to chime in. “One of the most forgotten things about a good cup of coffee is the water,” Tim informs me. “We’ve worked very hard on getting the best water that we can get. The unique thing is we are using Hocking County well water.” Tim then informs me of the process of piping in the well-water. The water used in their coffee has some minerals left behind so that the water does not become “flat” as Linda refers to it. The last piece of the value component is closely-connected to the emphasis on hand-crafted techniques as employees undergo twenty hours of training before starting and aren’t left alone on the floor until after several months of work.
In addition to the value-based philosophy that guides Hocking Hills Inn and Coffee Emporium, the Emporium also features a tapper infused with nitrogen, which serves two nitrogen cold brew coffees as well as one flavor of Kombucha. “People seem to love the nitrogen-brewed coffee,” Linda further explains, “It does two things to the coffee: It makes the coffee creamy and it adds a hint of sweetness. So that head of the coffee that is being put on it really makes it creamier.” Tim sums up the benefit of nitrogen-brewed coffee by likening it to draft beer. “It’s like draft beer, you can’t go into a grocery store and buy cold brew because if you did the nitrogen would escape before you got it.” The result of having a nitrogen tap has allowed the Hocking Hills Coffee emporium to offer a greater variety of choices to its coffee consumers while ensuring a high-quality product is being delivered. It also allows locals to experience a different way to enjoy a cup of coffee.
There is a great partnership between Hocking Hills Coffee Emporium and Dirty Girl Coffee. As a result of the stunning natural beauty of the Hocking Hills, coupled with the rise of Instagram, more and more visitors are finding themselves in southeast Ohio, thus they come across to Coffee Emporium, which in turn, has helped increase awareness of Dirty Girl Coffee. “From this small-coffee shop Jane’s Dirty Girl Coffee is going out all over the planet,” states Linda. “We’ve had people in here from the Netherlands, California, Germany, and Sweden, and everyone has made comments on the quality of Dirty Girl Coffee.”
This illustrates how two local-businesses can partner with one another for increased benefit. Furthermore, Hocking Hills Coffee Emporium, Hocking Hills State Park, and Dirty Girl Coffee are all interconnected. The success of the Emporium is a result of its close proximity to Hocking Hills State Park. Dirty Girl Coffee now benefits as the Hocking Hills Coffee Emporium is now the number one seller of Dirty Girl Coffee. Further, Dirty Girl now has a global reach as a result of visitors to the Hocking Hills and partnering with Hocking Hills Coffee Emporium. Hocking Hills Inn and Coffee Emporium represent a model for potential local-business growth across southeast Ohio due to the area’s bountiful natural resources.
As our conversation draws to a close, Linda and Tim take me across the courtyard to the Emporium and generously allow me to try one of the handcrafted paninis. I order the Turkey, Pesto, and Provolone Panini. In my opinion, I haven’t had a better Panini then the one at Hocking Hills Coffee Emporium. I’ve been back two other times since I interviewed Tim and Linda. While Hocking Hills Inn and Coffee Emporium is a business that wants to profit, they are equally in the business of improving the quality of life for women through empowerment and providing an opportunity for those who want a chance to work in a high-quality coffee shop. More simply, they just want to share their passion and love of coffee with visitors and locals alike.
IF YOU GO: To visit the Emporium for yourself or to book your stay at the Inn visit them online here. The Inn and Emporium are located at 13984 Ohio 664 Scenic Logan, Ohio.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Grant Joy is the 2019-20 AmeriCorps member serving this year for Ohio’s Winding Road. This is his third AmeriCorps service year. He spent the past two years serving in Colorado and Vermont before deciding to come back closer to home in southern Ohio. He is looking forward to sharing stories of the people and places that make Ohio’s Rising Appalachia a unique and vibrant region.