I credit - or blame - my love of coffee entirely on a corner shop in rural Maine.
Somehow, I made it through my late teens and early 20s without developing much of a taste for the stuff. I never needed it to get through a college all-nighter or hangover, or as a morning pick-me-up. It wasn't until Cafe Nomad opened its doors that I really got to appreciate a good brew and, perhaps more importantly, the coffeehouse atmosphere.
Part of the reason the cafe appealed to me so much was, quite simply, the lack of businesses in Norway, Maine, that really had any appeal. It's not to denigrate Books N Things, the excellent bookstore across the street from where I lived for three-and-a-half years, or the Maine Bookhouse, which was packed with used and rare volumes. But they were about it for local attractions at the time. The rest of the main drag seemed to be an odd mix of rooming houses, lawyers, accountants, and "baubles 'n crap" type thrift stores.
When I first moved to Maine, I lived a short walk away from a brightly colored corner building where Cafe Nomad would soon be located. Signs in the large picture windows fronting Main Street announced the imminent arrival of the business, though the predecessor in my job warned that the promise had been up for months. She warned me not to get my hopes up.
But as it turned out, the promise was genuine and the cafe would open its doors not long after. The owners had been taking a cautious approach, buying the building and taking their time to renovate the interior. By the time it was complete, it boasted a central kitchen space, a brightly lit sitting area overlooking a small stream, and a library of titles belying owner Scott Berk's adventurous and globetrotting lifestyle. It was well worth the wait.
Cafe Nomad soon became a regular Saturday destination for me, typically in the bitterly cold winters but occasionally in summer as well. I would bring along a good book, or take my laptop to be the typical (or, for rural Maine, atypical) coffeehouse writer. I wasn't the only one who found the cafe to be a welcoming spot. Business took off right away, and in its first year the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce gave them an award for a valuable newcomer business. And indeed, it was a tried and true model in a new market; before Cafe Nomad, the nearest place to get a coffee and relax was 25 miles away.
They have enormous mugs, and if you were sitting in you got one free refill. They get their joe from Carrabassett Coffee, which is based in northern Maine, and most of the blends are pretty strong. I joked that you needed to add cream and sugar to make it black.
And the food is pretty amazing, too. Soft, fluffy pancakes are a weekend treat that comes with real maple syrup. The chef always seemed to be experimenting with new sandwich specials, so there was usually some delicious option to tempt you.
A couple of years ago, I took a vacation to see some old friends in Maine. They're scattered in a few different places, but I spent the longest time in the Oxford Hills. Going back to Cafe Nomad was a sweet reunion. Quite literally. I got a maple oat scone with breakfast one day, and it was one of the best things I've ever tasted.
Cafe Nomad was starting to host a regular wine tasting by the time I left Maine, and it looks like the place has been successful enough to add more hours and a dinner menu. It deserves all the recognition it gets. The business provided a warm, inviting spot for visitors and locals alike. In some way, I think it helped kick off a wider transformation of Main Street in Norway. Other start-ups never caught on (I could never understand why someone would think their particular Baubles 'N Crap would take off when so many others had failed before) but the Cafe Nomad was followed with more innovative places like a bike and ski shop, games store, and fiber studio.
New London has three coffee houses and a few more cafes with delicious food and bottomless cups of coffee. But I'll always remember Cafe Nomad fondly, and they can count on a customer whenever I pay a visit to western Maine.