After 20 years in business, a downtown Blacksburg mainstay is still serving up fresh coffee.
Opened in 1991 by Scott Elich, Mill Mountain Coffee has become known for its variety of teas and fresh-roasted coffee.
Elich and his business partner, Dave Johnson, made the decision to move from Seattle to Blacksburg in 1990. Elich said Johnson and his wife attended Virginia Tech and knew there was a lack of locally owned coffee shops in the area.
“My business partner and I saw how the coffee business was expanding eastward,” Elich said.
Not finding the type of real estate they were looking for in Blacksburg, Elich and Johnson opened a shop in Roanoke instead. Less than a year later, the Blacksburg location opened.
After opening six stores in the area, the partners split ways, and Elich focused his efforts on the Blacksburg location.
With a degree from the University of Idaho in history and political science, Elich didn’t come from a coffee background. Elich said his main goal of opening a coffee shop was to be able to roast his own beans in the store.
“Basically when we bought our first coffee roaster, we got a few lessons. Everything else has been on the job training,” Elich said.
Over the years, Elich has seen customers and employees come and go. The biggest impact came when Starbucks opened its first location in town in 2002. Elich said by that time, Mill Mountain had an established clientele that helped them survive.
“We definitely felt it when they came to town, but we’re doing fine,” Elich said. “We just keep grinding along.”
Elich understands why customers choose Mill Mountain over corporate chains.
“We have better coffee than anyone else, it’s fresh. I think we have an ambiance,” he said. “We try to make the place look nice. It isn’t a copy or a corporate chain, we are unique.”
Charles de Souza, a graduate student, is a regular Mill Mountain patron.
“I like that they roast their own beans, and it’s a locally owned business. They have the best coffee in town,” de Souza said.
Angela Barlow, a graduate student studying sociology, also appreciates the shop’s atmosphere.
“I like that the environment is conducive to social gatherings,” she said. “It’s a more personal environment.”
With the recent construction downtown, Elich has seen business decline a little bit, but he said with the Prices Fork traffic circle, it has picked back up.
Elich doesn’t foresee much change for the future, but he hopes business will continue to grow.
“I’m happy with what I have here, and I want to thank everyone for supporting us for all these years,” he said.