Written by: Ella Stine, Grace Pechacek and Truman Kloehn
When you walk past the brick buildings in Lincoln’s historic Haymarket, you might get the feeling you’re walking through history.
And when you walk into The Mill coffee shop on the corner of 8th and P streets, you walk right into the history of one of Lincoln’s most iconic businesses. A business that started as a bike shop in the 1970s, took on a European flair and switched its focus in the 1980s, and has expanded out of it’s hometown to five total locations today—never going out of style at any point along its journey.
A European Influence in the Heart of the Haymarket
When it first opened in the 1970s, the original bike shop sold gourmet coffee—which became a buzz around Lincoln’s cycling community. That excitement turned into a shift in the business model, and plans to focus on coffee started brewing.
“About 1988 was when the first espresso bar went in,” co-owner Dan Sloan said.
A partner of Sloan’s at the time had lived in Italy and helped set the tone and inspiration for the new coffee shop. Ever since the first espresso bar opened, the Mill has maintained a European-inspired model, focusing heavily on the quality of it’s coffee.
“During that time, I had a partner that used to live in Italy. We decided that our model was going to be more Italian or European, rather than West Coast,” he said.
That influence hasn’t been lost. The Mill still sticks with its original model of offering sizes no larger than 16 ounces, tracking calories in each drink, and ensuring the coffee has an expensive, Italian taste that sugar-packed chain shops can’t necessarily boast.
The Mill also offers a wide variety of merchandise and coffee products available to purchase in store. A lot of these products are only found in Lincoln at The Mill.
From Coffee to Community
For The Mill, its focus on quality is more than the drinks themselves—it’s making space for a community to grow.
The Mill is old enough that it was around before Starbucks and Scooters were well-known coffee shops, but people continue to choose The Mill over chains. The Mill does not aim to be a drive-thru caffeine stop, but more of a full coffee shop experience.
Walking into any of The Mill’s locations, customers immediately feel a sense of belonging seeing others sitting in the shop and sharing a conversation with a barista.
“Our baristas talk to you throughout the entire process of making your coffee,” co-owner Tamara Sloan said. “They have that real moment of contact with each customer.”
It’s welcoming, sophisticated atmosphere draws in the college crowd and keeps them coming back as they continue into the professional world—trading study sessions for business meetings. Both Tamara and Dan Sloan noted that The Mill hosts a vast array of customers—from high school students up to seniors—because it’s atmosphere and product appeal to each and every age group.
Looking to the Future
Together, owners Dan and Tamara Sloan make the perfect team to find new ways for The Mill to grow and thrive well into the future.
Tamara’s background in Apparel Design contributes to her strong knowledge of brand image—keeping The Mill’s brand relevant and exciting. Dan’s background is in accounting, which has helped the Mill grow sustainably.
The pair touched on the fact that they tend to not make large changes in the brand, rather small ones over time, to keep up with modern customer tastes.
“The Mill is evolutionary not revolutionary,” Dan said.
But even as The Mill’s branding and offerings have changed over time, the Sloans’ focus has always been on creating an atmosphere that’s comfortable for everyone.
“We try really hard to not focus on just one demographic,” Tamara said. “We want everybody to be comfortable here.”
The Sloans are currently looking at a number of renovations at their locations in Omaha and Lincoln.
In mid March 2024, fire tables and heaters in overhangs will be added in the outdoor areas of The Mill’s Omaha outpost. At the Lincoln location on P Street, a new storefront, refurbished set pieces and expanded entrance could help increase efficiency an comfort. A new outdoor awning and lighting may help welcome guests in the future, too.
As the local coffee chain approaches its 50th anniversary in the next five years, one thing is certain: The Mill is a timeless establishment that will never lose its charm.