After being dormant for more than four years — and serving as little more than a backdrop for tourists snapping photographs since the Carrot Tree moved its location to the waterfront — the National Park Services’ 1736 Cole Digges House at 411 Main St. in Historic Yorktown has a new occupant.
Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters moved their location from Hayes to the prime location in Yorktown last month, and owners Celeste and Jo Gucanac are brimming with excitement.
The entrepreneurs started their roasting business in 2007, offering high-quality, socially responsible gourmet organic, Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance-certified coffees. As their business expanded, the warehouse with a small retail front they were occupying didn’t suit their needs.
The couple spent the last 11 years educating their customers about coffee and assisting them with opening their own coffee shops.
“The natural progression was to start our own petite cafe,” Celeste Gucanac said. “The Cole Digges House is so special to people in the area. We love history and feel we’re in the right place, and the right family to be here.”
While the retail front is in full swing, offering a variety of bagged coffees and teas, hot beverages will be available next week when the coffee roaster is up and running. The menu will consist of fresh baked goods, salads, gourmet meat and cheese platters, and soups made by Justified Bakeshop in Williamsburg.
A liquor license is expected in October, when the store will begin serving beer and wine.
“We’ll only be serving French wines as an homage to our allies, and because they’re my favorite,” Celeste Gucanac said.
Celeste Gucanac’s father — sommelier Charles Birr, who also works at the cafe — is a certified wine-education expert, and Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters plans to offer a wine school this fall.
The entrepreneurs bring a unique skill set to their business. Jo Gucanac comes with a background in information technology, while Celeste was a professional ballerina with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, which is housed in Washington’s Kennedy Center.
The couple has three children younger than 12.
“I fell in love with the Cole Digges house when my kids were still in strollers and we would walk around Historic Yorktown Village,” Celeste Gucanac said. “We are a family who loves national parks. My kids have junior ranger badges from all over, including the Historic Triangle.”
Outdoor enthusiasts, the Gucanac family spent a lot of time on the water while living on the Mobjack Bay.
“Someone told us that we shouldn’t let our kids swim in the water because it wasn’t clean enough. Of course that concerned us; we didn’t know water conditions were questionable being new to the area,” Celeste Gucanac said.
It was at that moment that the couple decided they had to make a difference, both personally and as business owners. A portion of every bag of Mobjack Bay coffee sold benefits Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.
Always on the hunt for new grassroots incentives to promote safe waters and a healthy environment, the cafe is implementing a program where they will provide customers who are on their way to the Yorktown waterfront with empty buckets to fill with litter found at the beach. When customers return the trash-filled buckets, they’ll be rewarded with a free cup of coffee or frozen treat for the younger environmentalists.
The Gucanacs look forward to discussing future environmental efforts they can be a part of in tandem with the National Park Service.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have the Gucanacs in the Cole Digges House. It’s clear they have a great business model and are well received in the community, just as their products are in the region,” said Kym Hall, Colonial National Historical Park superintendent. “We feel super fortunate to have such a talented family helping to revitalize Main Street. Their attitude aligns with the National Park Service and sets the right tone for Yorktown.”
Obvious self-starters fueled by their product, it’s apparent there’s much more on the horizon for potential incentive programs.
“Their business is more than roasting and selling coffee. They connect people in the community with positive influence and total societal involvement,” Hall said.
For locals living in Historic Yorktown, the petite cafe offers a unique gathering place in a familiar setting.
“Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters is the perfect addition to the village, for both tourists and locals. We’re excited to welcome Celeste and Jo and their family to Yorktown and look forward to meeting up with neighbors and friends at our very own coffee roastery,” said Historic Yorktown Village resident Maureen Moss.
While the Cole Digges House has become a hotspot for photographers in search of that perfect colonial backdrop while photographing potential brides and newlyweds over the past few years, the building will be available for rent to accomodate business meetings, weddings and other special events.
Current hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters’ products may also be found locally at Whole Foods, Earth Fare and The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg’s Merchants Square and online at mobjackbaycoffee.com.
“We’re looking at being in Historic Yorktown Village as part of our mission. When you purchase our products, it will assist with keeping the Cole Digges House open as well as bringing new life to Main Street,” Celeste Gucanac said. “What I love about that past is that at one point someone was actually living out the story you look at as history. I’m teaching my kids to have an appreciation for that as we move forward.”