Photo by Robert Beeland (C’18)
By Taylor Lanier and Helena Kilburn
Stirling’s Coffee House plays an integral role in the way Sewanee operates, and for this reason, changes at the establishment deserve the attention of all in the Domain. It is in the best interest of the community to look to the future and consider the fate of Stirling’s.
Recently, there has been a change in the management at Stirling’s, from Residential Life to Sewanee Dining. While Chef Rick technically oversees the beloved business, it is Julia Stubblebine who is the hands-on manager. Stubblebine came to Stirling’s from Julia’s (a popular Downtown Sewanee deli) last April. Stirling’s employee Ashlin Ondrusek (C’19) remembers Julia’s Downtown deli fondly. “Julia’s had a convenient grab-and-go case for snacks, along with fresh salads, pretty desserts, and amazing catering. The food was really good. Stirling’s named a new sandwich special in her honor, the Julia. I highly recommend it. It’s made with essentially all local produce.”
Stubblebine has “always loved Stirling’s,” and one of the reasons she decided to be the new manager was that it gave her the chance to be more involved in the Sewanee community. Her goal as manager is to “keep Stirling’s Stirling’s” because she feels that “the beauty about Stirling’s is that it doesn’t feel like an institution here. When you come here it is like you are in someone’s home, you are not in a dorm room, you are not in a classroom, you are not in an office space. You can remove yourself from that and go hang out in an old funky house.”
Stirling’s offers an important change of pace from the rest of campus. She sees how important the coffee house is to the community and aims to keep going in the right direction. She has noticed that there are many benefits to having Stirling’s run by Sewanee Dining. In the course of its shift from being a student-run organization to its current position under Sewanee Dining, there are more resources available for the betterment of Stirling’s.
Stirling’s is currently making efforts to serve mostly local and organic foods. There is also a focus on sustainability, with most of the paper and food waste from Stirling’s going to the farm as compost. Students are excited about the food changes. Ondrusek explains, “Julia wants us to be a bigger and better Stirling’s. We’ve been producing more things than we have in the past, and we’re improving things we’ve never bothered to look at.” Stirling’s now has a cold case in order to display its homemade desserts, a new dishwashing nozzle with powerful water pressure, a new espresso machine, and tastier syrups for the coffee. Ondrusek notes, “Everything just tastes better.”
The potential upgrades to come include a new deli case and a grab-and-go case, which would be stocked with Naked smoothies, Kombucha, and Chobani yogurt. Perhaps the most Sewanee-inspired development within Stirling’s new repertoire is ‘On Your Honor’ coffee. Not yet in effect, this system will provide coffee, thermoses, and cups for customers to avoid the long lines when Stirling’s is especially busy. As a customer, you’re expected to ‘pay on your honor’ for the coffee that you can conveniently pour for yourself. The sign now displayed at Stirling’s prices a cup of ‘On Your Honor’ coffee at $1.50. Ondrusek is hopeful for the new system, saying, “If it works at Stirling’s, Chef Rick is looking at implementing ‘On Your Honor’ coffee in duPont Library, which would be really nice.”
The Easter semester of 2016 included a test run of “Domain Dollars” at restaurants in the Downtown Sewanee area, including The Blue Chair, Shenanigans, and Cross Roads. However, Domain Dollars are not in the cards for Stirling’s as of yet. The initiative of Domain Dollars is to stimulate the local economy of Sewanee, a goal that Stirling’s continues to fulfill year after year due to its strong connection with the university.
Another big change is the new porch. With this new space, roof and furniture to come, there is much more room to accommodate both the usual rush of people and crowds for future events, such as live music and poetry. With these plans for the future, and many others, Stirling’s looks like it will only become better and more popular. As Stubblebine said, “It has its place here… and they are putting a lot of work into it, and to me, those are good signs of Stirling’s being here and staying here.” Though a few things at Stirling’s are changing, those changes are only going to make Stirling’s better, and the Sewanee community willcontinue to have its favorite yellow coffee house for a long time to come. Stirling’s Coffee was open for business mid-March, 1996. Twenty years later, the restaurant still maintains a bustling, yet comfortable, social scene for the avid coffee consumer in us all.