By Jessah Lowry
If you haven’t noticed, Stirling’s Coffee House has changed since you were on campus last semester. Though there have been growing pains, the additions and revisions that you see have definitely improved the quality of the Stirling’s experience. I remember entering the little coffee house on Georgia Ave the beginning of my freshman year, and my Netflix-addicted self felt what I had imagined strolling into Central Perk or Luke’s Diner would have been like. I left amazed and caffeinated, with the after-smell of a slightly burnt baguette clinging to my t-shirt. Now, three years later, I find myself on the other side of the counter serving lattes to queues of sleep-deprived students.
As an employee as well as a customer, I was a bit overwhelmed with coming back and realizing I had a lot of readjusting to do. How do I work the new register? We have a new boss? We bake quiches now? Not only have the aesthetics of the place changed, we have new management, and our menu has been upgraded. With the series of changes that took place over the summer, I’ve felt frustration trying to get back into the swing of things. After talking with Shift Manager Bella Lily (C’17), I think this is due in part by what she described as “a disruption of flow” for employees behind the counter. However difficult overcoming the learning curve may be, I’m so glad to be back serving our community. Beginning the semester learning a very new system has proven to be somewhat chaotic, but we’ll soon find our rhythm.
I’m so thankful that Stirling’s has Julia Stubblebine, the new manager, and the much needed support of Chef Rick, who now oversees all of Sewanee Dining. Lily said, “Julia came in with a fresh pair of eyes,” which has been great, because she is very “communicative, willing, and excited” when it comes to her new role. When you meet Julia, you’ll notice instantly that she is very experienced with the restaurant industry and cares deeply about serving the Sewanee community. She touched on the fact that Stirling’s is not just students serving students – it’s students serving Sewanee faculty, staff, and community members, as well. From her perspective the key to Stirling’s continuing improvement is, “We’ve got to grow slowly, because we have this limited space to work with.” We know that this space inside can become cramped during a rush, so this is the reasoning behind the porch expansion – any other type of expansion from the inside would just not be structurally possible. Of the beloved Stirling’s staff, Stubblebine said, “You guys really take ownership of this place, and you guys really care about it, and you also take care of each other.” You can tell that Julia genuinely loves her job and is eager to help Stirling’s reach its highest potential.
The revamped Stirling’s has sparked the nimble minds of some of our faculty. I turned to the quick-witted Professor Lauryl Tucker to hear some of her opinions. She expressed her love for the new cupcakes, recalling that the lemon lavender flavor was particularly life altering. She also fancies the new counter that Shift Manager Emily Riedlinger (C’18) constructed using an antique door, sharing with me, “I’d like to imagine the door came off the closet of a haunted house and was blown off its hinges by some kind of supernatural event and recovered, and now it’s where I order my latte.” She also enjoys the local produce and the freshly baked goods. However, she did express, “The alligator pit in the floor of the back room seems like a bad choice in terms of flow and customer safety.” This was her only qualm in that customers might see the “alligator pit” as a tad unwelcoming. Lastly, Tucker showed gratitude for the new, sturdy tables. She explained, “When I need to tip a table over to make a point, I like that the table was already stable, because when I tip it over, people will know that I had something to say damn it, and it wasn’t just that I leaned on it too hard or, you know, touched it.”
The creativity and vision that Julia offers and the support of working under Sewanee Dining with Chef Rick has turned Stirling’s questionable future into a promising one, with many new projects and developments on the way. Through all the hurly burly of university life, some of the most productive decisions we can make are when we simply embrace the change (with an extra shot of positivity).