At this point in my life, I’m comfortable enough with my nerdiness to confess that when I was in college, I sort of liked writing papers. While my friends worked on group projects, or rehearsed presentations, I was scribing 15-page papers on the delay between perception and reality in “Heart of Darkness,” or the role of the coyote as a trickster figure in both Native American literature and Looney Toons. Fascinating, right?
But it wasn’t the actual coursework I enjoyed. It was the coffee. For hours at a time, I would post up in the corner of some cozy little coffee shop downtown with my laptop and a dark roast coffee. When I’d worked up a sufficient caffeine buzz, I’d clear my head amongst the wordless chatter and whir of espresso machines, and I’d type up literary analyses that only an undergraduate English major could admire. There was a strange comfort in it. I never thought I’d miss it, but when I graduated, I did.
Until this week, when I walked into Nat’s Nook, the new coffee shop and creperie in Vineyard Haven. Not only did a crepe sound delicious, but the aroma of coffee and the warm atmosphere made me want to hang out in the corner — or better yet the outdoor courtyard — and read a book (there’s a book exchange). Maybe I’d even write an article ahead of deadline (free WiFi).
Turns out that’s exactly the vibe owner Natalie Grewal was going for. “I wanted to encourage people to sit and not feel rushed out,” she said. “I wanted to create a space that nourished people with food, but also soothed their soul.”
Originally from British Columbia, Ms. Grewal first fell in love with the idea of a coffee shop while working at Garcia’s (now 7a Foods) as a college student seven summers ago. “I just loved it, the people, the regulars, and the atmosphere,” she said.
When the Vineyard Haven space, just off Main Street, went up for sale, Ms. Grewal decided to realize her dream of opening her own coffee shop. It needed some work, and was a little off the beaten path, but with some help from her fiancé, she has truly made the space her own.
“It’s part of the charm,” Ms. Grewal said of the setback location.
But to draw customers off Main Street, down the alley that leads to the Nook, Ms. Grewal knew she would have to do something special. “I always wanted to do a coffee shop, but crepes came about as a way to differentiate from everything else in Vineyard Haven,” she said.
The idea wasn’t as half-baked as it might sound. Ms. Grewal has been practicing the art of the crepe at home for years, and the result is a fluffy yet crisp enclosure for any meal of the day. Eggs? Sure. Meat? Done. Nutella? Obviously. She even does gluten-free crepes, if that’s your thing.
She says the crepe menu is a mix of ingredients she loves. “The Greek is my favorite, or the avocado, tomato, goat cheese. I wanted to do a mix of meat and veggie, something for everybody. I wanted to draw both locals and people who are only here for a day.”
In addition to crepes, there’s fresh baked goods, an iced tea bar, and all sorts of coffee. The coffee! Here’s the thing about the coffee. (You might have guessed I’m a coffee snob. You might also have guessed that I’ve had several cups of coffee just now). The coffee at Nat’s Nook is from Rao’s.
That might not mean anything to you, but Rao’s Coffee Roasting Company is based out of Amherst, also home to my alma mater, UMass. I can’t tell you how many regurgitations of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” I BS’d there. It was a place with a wonderful, hip yet homey vibe, and a killer Sicilian Roast.
“I’ve always really loved their coffee, it’s really strong, which I love,” Ms. Grewal told me, and I wholeheartedly agreed. Just seeing the little blue and yellow Rao’s cups on her counter filled me with nostalgia for a place where I used to feel at home.
“Because I’m not from here, and home is so far away, I’m always searching for places where I feel like I’m at home,” Ms. Grewal said. “There’s always something missing when I go to places on the Island, sometimes there’s great coffee, but the atmosphere isn’t my favorite. I just wanted to create a space that where you can feel at home and feel good.”
Mission accomplished, Natalie. At least for one other post-college washashore.
Nat’s Nook is now open at 38 Main St, Vineyard Haven from 7 am to 5 pm. 508-338-2340. natsnookmv.com.