I recently had the chance to meet 9 Mile Coffee's owner, Andrew Gushee, this past summer and see the shop's newly renovated building. The renovation that has been made to this space is absolutely incredible. The interior is trendy and welcoming, and the exterior stands out on Schroon Lake's Main Street. It's definitely a space worth spending time in with a cup of coffee or a latte. 9 Mile Coffee Co. used to be across the street from the space it is in now. I wanted to know the story behind this business with all of its recent and exciting changes and upgrades. I asked Andrew some of the questions I had, and the story is a true testimony to setting a goal and achieving it. Even during a pandemic.
Where are you from? If you are not originally from the area, what made you decide to move here?
I am a native of Schroon Lake. I spent the first 19 years of my life in Schroon Lake. My parents were always pretty active in the community. My dad was the captain of the emergency squad for many years. My mother worked as the receptionist at the doctor's office for a long time. Many, many people knew my family. My parents moved from Schroon Lake in 2009 because of my dad’s cancer. In 2013 my family and I moved back to the area. We actually live in the house that I grew up in. When we moved back, I spent two seasons working for a construction company out of Troy. After two years I decided it was time to start my own caretaking and construction business. Small business ownership was the best choice I could have made but it also is the most stressful.
What made you want to open a business in Schroon Lake?
In late fall of 2017 the owner of the previous coffee shop in Schroon Lake, a friend, came to me and said that he wasn’t going to reopen. After 15 years he was ready to be done. He offered to sell the business and the building or some combination of it to me. I am not the coffee geek sort of guy. I do like quality things but I have never been a coffee guru. I have always been extremely passionate about Schroon Lake. I realized that Schroon Lake needs a place, a place to hang out and chill, a safe inviting place where community can happen. I longed for that place. The previous coffee shop owner near the end was only open for 2-3 weeks out of the summer and that was it.
What made you decide to open a coffee shop?
I teamed up with a friend, a friend who was much more the coffee geek. That is where the idea of 9 Mile was formed. We wanted a cool inviting place where community and camraderie can happen. We asked the previous owner if we could rent his space and some of his kitchen equipment. That is how we started. In June of 2018 we opened up 9 Mile. In case you don’t know, 9 miles is the length of Schroon Lake. We rented the space from the original owner in hopes of building one of the buildings on Main Street and moving into it.
At that time, not much had happened on Main Street. Lisa Hess at the Pine Cone Mercantile was the only one who did anything to a building on Main Street. I would say that Lisa is the pioneer. She started the trend whether she believes it or not.
I was sick of everyone talking about revitalization but no one ever did anything. All through the years it has been all talk, but no one other than Lisa had done anything. I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth was and do something about the revitalization of Schroon Lake. After 9 Mile was opened and rolling, we went looking for a building. It was Lisa’s contact with the owner of the old Red Horse Antiques business that let us know the building was an option to buy because it wasn’t even on the market. We looked at another building, but really liked the option to be directly next to Lisa. I believed that the pairing of both businesses side by side would maybe spur on a movement in Schroon Lake.
In September or 2018 we bought the building. The renovations began right away. Shortly after we started in the fall, Stewart's began their store redo. I was excited that more life was being given to the town through some new cool things.
Where do you get your beans?
All of our coffee comes from Kru Coffee in Saratoga Springs. It is roasted right there in their Saratoga location. This year we worked with them on creating our own 9 Mile Coffee Co. blend, which we introduced early this last summer.
What makes 9 Mile Coffee special?
We bring the upscale big city coffee shop feel into a small town environment. Great customer service is a very high priority. From the first experience of entering our shop to the drinks you leave with, quality drives all that we do. For us, it’s more than just a business exchange; we exist to serve the community. #servepeoplemakecoffee is our motto.
What is your favorite part of operating a business in the Adirondacks?
We love watching the seasons change and being able to adjust to each one by varying our offerings. The small town feel in Schroon Lake is a fun environment to be able to participate in as well.
What do you offer besides a regular cup of coffee?
We offer lattes, Americanos, cortados, breves, nitro drinks, and just about any type of coffee you would find at an upscale coffee shop. We make all of our flavored syrups from scratch. We also carry loose leaf teas and chai for the non coffee drinkers as well as hot chocolate. We offer a variety of pastries baked in house each morning. We also offer breakfast sandwiches and a few different lunch options. To deal with the heat of the summer we offer frozen lemonades, frozen coffees, and our most popular summer option: cold brew.
How has the community response been since you opened two years ago?
The response has been encouraging. It is fun to see a diehard Stewart’s coffee drinker come in for the first time and to watch their reaction to the first few sips of our coffee. Summer brings a boom to the business but it is the locals who help us keep the doors open throughout the rest of the year. We are grateful for our community’s support.
How long did your renovation take and what was your inspiration for it?
I quickly realized that this building renovation was going to be far more involved than it seemed. We now had the oldest standing building on Main Street. What that means from those that told me is, it wasn’t the oldest building still in existence, but it was the oldest one still standing that had not been rebuilt after a fire. The building was built in the 1860’s.
Our renovation quickly turned very extensive. We removed one of the old additions completely off the back of the building including the foundation. We found major structural problems in multiple areas of the walls. Looking back, I should have torn the entire building down and started fresh. It would have saved me time and money in the end, but we wouldn’t have maintained some of the cool old character.
We essentially have a brand new building. What was left of the original structure was stripped clean to the wall studs. None of the existing mechanicals were kept. The entire exterior was rebuilt. The attic and roof structure is all new. I could have cut some corners and saved some money. That philosophy goes against every fiber of my being. I would rather take the time to fix or build something correct the first time, or not do it at all.
In the end of September of last year, our lease was up for 9 Mile. We had to close because the new space was not completed yet. January of 2020 saw some major changes in business ownership. I essentially took over ownership of 9 Mile and the building entity entirely. In the end of April of this year we finally opened in our new space. Throughout the renovation process, we faced every single surprise and challenge you can imagine. The process almost killed me. We found every problem that you could find in a very old building minus mold thankfully. There were times where I wondered about how the building didn’t collapse on its own over the years. We faced massive renovation issues. We faced financial issues. We faced business philosophy differences leading to great turmoil. Then right before we were ready to reopen 9 Mile after a 7 month hiatus, a global pandemic hits. We laughed at that point. Seriously, my wife Taylor, who is our manager, and I just laughed. We had been through every other challenge and overcome them, what was a global pandemic anyway but just another challenge.
We now have been open for almost an entire season in the new space. 9 Mile is becoming that space we envisioned for it. There has been a lot more new and exciting things happening since we started our project. I had hoped that the trend in town would begin by our being inspired by Lisa Hess at the Pine Cone Mercantile to do our own thing. In turn, I had hoped it would encourage others to continue that trend.
Do you work with other local producers, such as artists, farmers, or bakers?
Once the virus stuff passes, we are looking forward to doing some fun things with our neighbors Pine Cone Mercantile and Northwoods Bread. We have a few collaborations with other local groups and businesses in the works.
What is your favorite off-work activity?
Spending time hanging with the family, mountain biking, and snowmobiling.