Filling Station offers fuel for body

Falls Road coffee shop stirs strong interest

October 02, 2002|By Kathy Hudson | Kathy Hudson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Meg Enns distinctly remembers the summer morning a year ago when she went to buy produce and noticed a "for rent" sign on the old stone filling station at the intersection of Falls and Shawan roads. She immediately pictured a coffee shop at this busy junction.

"But I said to myself, `Don't do it. Don't do it. Get it out of your mind,' " says Enns.

For a few days she didn't say a word to anyone about what she envisioned. A Florida native, she had been in Maryland only six months and had just been laid off from her job at an Internet company.

She had already operated a successful coffee shop in Atlanta, where she had lost her lease just before the 1996 Summer Olympics. For four years afterward, she had lived in New York and traveled all over the country as tour manager for the jazz trio Medeski Martin and Wood. She wanted stability. She was fighting the idea of having her own business again, but finally, she had a friend, Mary Kremzner, call the number on the sign.

"When I saw it, I knew it was her destiny," remembers Kremzner, who has known Enns 15 years. "She flourishes when she is her own boss. I saw her shop in Atlanta. ... She has an amazing way of creating a unique environment that is warm and inviting."

Three months later, with Kremzner's financial support and partnership, and design and construction help from friends and family all over the country, Enns opened her coffee shop, the Filling Station, on Falls Road.

With a logo that combines a fuel gauge and coffee cup, the Filling Station is the perfect name for a business in a 1938 building that was just that. For 50 years it was a service station, but since 1978, a series of other businesses, including a florist and a laundry and dry-cleaning company, have leased the site.

Sturdy gray tables and chairs fill the shady portico where cars once pulled up to the pumps. An old gasoline nozzle by the green coffee shop door says, "Gas Pumps Open."

"I fuel up every day," says horse trainer Elise Boyce of Sparks, who stops in for breakfast. "This is the best coffee around." Boyce is one of a growing number of regulars who come every day for Enns' coffee. Business has grown so steadily in the nine months since the Filling Station opened that Enns has hired two part-time employees and has just completed a major renovation to accommodate more people in her tiny space.

"Inside is only 160 square feet, and 20 of that is a bathroom," says Enns, 37, whose years of New York living helped her know how to use every square inch of space. An antique counter and cash drawer now serve as a coffee-fixings station. A reproduction deli shelf showcases a collection of oilcans and service-station memorabilia. Fresh flowers fill stainless-steel containers and antique watering cans.

Two chalkboards, shaped like old gas-station and interstate signs, advertise specialty espressos, cappuccino, latte, cafe au lait, frappuccino, iced coffee, mocha, tea and chai, and "real Italian macchiato." (Enns emphasizes that real macchiato is not sweet, but an espresso made with just a little milk.)

She also says the key to good coffee is the beans. Hers come from a small roaster in Seattle that ships her beans on two days' notice. "And I don't use a bean past seven days," adds the energetic young woman, who graduated in 1987 from Florida State University with a bachelor of science degree in exercise science. She then practiced for 15 years as a personal trainer and rehabilitation specialist before going full time into coffee.

The quality of her coffee and baked goods keeps regular and new customers coming to her shop. "I live a block from Starbucks, but I drive out every day. ... It's one of the best cups of coffee I've had," says Rodgers Forge pharmacist Doug Campbell, who first dropped in on his way to Hanover, Pa.

A toy-truck collector, Campbell now helps Enns gather memorabilia for her shop: signs, oil-can-shaped banks, toy gasoline pumps and books about old service stations for customers to enjoy. "Meg is an artist in coffee," he says. "Everyone who comes in, comes back."

Even in off-hours the tiny coffee shop fills quickly. Customers include construction workers, a Philadelphia woman en route to Glyndon, two couples who rumble in on motorcycles and a Towson man who takes care of a nearby estate and gladly dispenses advice on how to keep boxwoods healthy and grass green.

"That's what I love about this intersection," says Enns, who lives a few miles away in Butler. "We have all types."

Even though she pays between $7 and $8 per pound for coffee, Enns offers on her menu of specialty drinks a short cup of coffee for just $1.

"I believe the coffee thing is out of control," she says. "I could charge a lot more, but I chose not to, because I have a diverse crowd. I want to make it affordable."

She also sells more than coffee. "Meg is always trying new things," says longtime Butler resident Sybil Hebb, who stops by after lunch.

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