Raising a Mug in Alpharetta and Milton

Locally-owned coffee shops draw devoted customer base

Photo provided by Mugs on Milton
Suzanne Pacey/Staff
Alpharetta location, 35 Milton Avenue.
Suzanne Pacey/Staff
Milton/Crabapple location, 12670 Crabapple Road.
Photo provided by Mugs on Milton
Business partners Gretchen Smith and Jennifer Newton.
Photo provided by Mugs on Milton
Fresh baked bread.
Photo provided by Mugs on Milton
Fresh baked pimento cheese ham roll.
Photo provided by Mugs on Milton
Photo provided by Mugs on Milton
Photo provided by Mugs on Milton
Photo provided by Mugs on Milton
Fresh blueberry muffins.

The relative ease in taking Mugs on Milton in Alpharetta from idea to opening day still surprises the two owners to this day.

“We came up with the idea and laid out the details in the fall of 2013, and we were open in January,” laughs Jennifer Newton, who opened Mugs with business partner Gretchen Smith. “I know...it’s crazy but it worked.”

A year later, the same “crazy” ideas led to a spinoff in Crabapple, Mugs on Milton, which duplicated the success of the original location.

Customers were quickly drawn to the ever-changing menu of breakfast items (although the staples of muffins, scones and cookies are always available), free trade coffee roasted and brewed on site, and a newly-expanded lunch menu.

Don’t see it on the menu? Newton said give them a few day's notice and they just may be able to fill special requests.

Before opening Mugs on Milton, Newton and Smith were both working in downtown Alpharetta – Smith at the iconic Sis and Moon’s boutique and Newton at a marketing firm – when the idea to open a coffee shop started getting tossed around.

“People kept saying there needed to be a coffee shop downtown, and we decided we were the ones to do it,” said Newton, who lives with her husband and two dogs in Milton.

Neither had ever worked in food service in the “bricks and mortar” sense, although Gretchen did have a long background in baking.

They quickly found a small space on Milton Avenue in the heart of downtown Alpharetta, taking over the 700 square feet of space that previously held a consignment shop. Within a few months of opening, Mugs on Milton had expanded to the entire building.

“It was kind of surprising,” said Newton of the quick success. “We expected low and steady growth...but that was not at all what happened.”

She said for the first four months it was just her and Smith running the coffee shop.

“We were working about 15 hours a day, seven days a week in those first few months,” said Newton. “We started hiring others to help because we were growing so fast.”

She and Smith, who also lives in Milton, both strive for efficiency — foregoing complicated recipes to the ones which require the fewest ingredients, and which could be made in an oven. At Mugs, you will not find a deep fryer or cooktop.

Everything is made on site with the exception of a few items to meet special dietary needs for vegans or gluten-free.

“We figured out pretty early what made sense and what was possible to do with the most efficiency,” said Newton, who has lived in North Fulton since 2004. “Gretchen’s experience in baking was invaluable in [that process].”

It also helps that the two women are of the same mind when it comes to decision making, and rarely, if ever, disagree.

“It helps that we are always on the same page and have very similar ideas,” said Newton. “We both have ‘can do’ attitudes and there isn’t much that holds us back.”

That positive attitude is the primary reason the second location in Crabapple is open today.

“The only explanation is we are crazy,” laughed Newton, who said they never planned to open a second site.

The two were approached by someone interested in a franchise, and had gone through the process of scouting a location and taken the basic steps to open. But the prospective owner backed out, and Newton and Smith were left with the perfect location.

“It was just one of those things...everything was moving so smoothly so we just kept going,” said Newton. “[But] if there were any roadblocks there probably would not have been a second location.”

She credits her staff, which is now at 14, in much of the success of Mugs. Newton said they are very deliberate in their hiring, then create an environment where their employees are supported.

“We have a fantastic team that needs very little direction from us to do their jobs well,” said Newton. “We want people to be happy here and want to come to work.”

Looking forward, Newton said they are always listening to customers and always tweaking the menu to serve their customers best. But as far as a third location of Mugs?

“That would be a hard ‘no’,” laughs Newton. “We are very happy where we are.” ■


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