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Nov 2003 / a day's work :: email this story to a friend

The Hill's Magic Beans
By Amanda E. Doyle

It might not be a typical career path — from long hours of vascular smooth muscle research at Washington University to long hours roasting coffee beans and pouring up perfect cappuccinos for loyal customers — but it seems to be working out well for the co-owners of Shaw's Coffee Ltd., on The Hill. What began as a shared passion for gourmet coffee between colleagues Walter Boyle and Gail Maher has turned into one of The Hill's many small-business success stories.

"Walter and I worked together in the lab at Wash U, and we'd often find ourselves needing to sit and write, spending long hours working on projects," remembered Maher. They became hangout nomads, trying coffeeshops, restaurants and anywhere else they could find to work outside the confines of the lab. All the while, they talked (besides work) about gourmet coffee, and their frustration at finding something they liked in St. Louis. Their conversations led to a search (yes, some call them "coffee crazy") for a West Coast coffee purveyor, from whom they could purchase green coffee beans to roast for themselves. Next thing they knew, they'd found a supplier ... and a can't-walk-away deal on a gorgeous old coffee roaster.

Things snowballed from there: with a giant coffee roaster comes the need for a space to house it, and Maher and Boyle quite literally happened upon the spot at 5147 Shaw while shopping next door at Viviano's. They moved in the roaster, and then — slowly — built their caffeinated empire around it, spending the next couple of years purchasing the cozy storefront and rehabbing it with the help of designers and local artists, including Todd Kinnikin (who crafted the intricate wrought metal accents), David Bartels (who created the oversized wall art) and a custom cabinet maker who outfitted the space. Armed with a warm and charming space and what they say are the best-roasted beans in town (the precision of roasting means all that chemistry and lab background comes in handy, after all!), Shaw's Coffee Ltd. and its proprietors created a stir, for residents of the neighborhood and beyond.

Now, the business is ready to expand, and fortunately, the space next door in the stately Riggio Building was available for the purpose. The adjacent corner has the same pressed-tin ceiling and a terrazzo floor in good condition; with work proceeding, it won't be long 'til the opening of the expanded seating area. They'll carry the same décor and feel throughout, although more space also offers tantalizing opportunities like ... lunch? Small market items? Expanded inventory for their fledging web- and mail-order business? Maher and Boyle are excited about the possibilities from their perch on The Hill.

Amanda Doyle enjoys sampling the wares of coffeeshops around town, but confesses a bias for People's Coffee.

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