By JOHN HOWELL Melanie Quirk sits at the counter, her right elbow leaning on the granite countertop and her left knee tucked under her right. She's talking about the dream she has had since she was a girl, one that's now unfolding. Her hands move along
Melanie Quirk sits at the counter, her right elbow leaning on the granite countertop and her left knee tucked under her right. She’s talking about the dream she has had since she was a girl, one that’s now unfolding.
Her hands move along with the words, pointing to the faux tin ceiling, the pew a friend pulled from a church he bought in New Jersey, the shiny new coffee machine, the pastry display cases and the book nook where customers can take a break to read or talk with friends.
This is the Coffee Grinder in the Governor Francis Plaza. It is both the new and the old Grinder.
As a Pilgrim student, Melanie and a couple of similarly daring friends would occasionally skip classes for lunch at the Grinder. Sometimes they would encounter a teacher who would keep their secret most of the time.
Melanie is not encouraging students to do the same thing, although she believes to achieve goals, one must take risks and learn from their mistakes. She also is a believer in a strong work ethic that she attributes to the jobs she has had since she was a kid. One of her first jobs was a Warwick Beacon carrier, but it was a five-year run at Dunkin’ Donuts opposite Ann & Hope that she started at the age of 14.
From Pilgrim, Melanie attended URI where she graduated with a degree in human development and family studies in 2002.
After graduating, she took a job selling mortgages. It was there that a real estate agent suggested she consider selling real estate, going a step further to commit to paying the training costs. Melanie was in.
It is a job Melanie has taken to and one in which she believes her college degree has served her well. She started her real estate career with Keller Williams in 2005, where she became close friends with agent Joanne Samborsky. After about 18 months she became an individual Re/Max agent. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Melanie sold 50 houses, making her the individual Re/Max agent with the third-highest number of sales in the state. So far this year she has sold almost 30 houses.
She takes pride in her success in real estate, but it is the Coffee Grinder that has her passion.
Melanie can’t pinpoint when she knew she wanted to own and run the Grinder. No question it was her part-time job during her college years at the Grinder that had a lot to do with it. The novel “Bookends” by Jane Green also played a role. The romance novel is the story of a young couple that takes a risk to open a book shop. In 2015 she told Duckworth, “I wanted to buy this place.” She said he told her that she was third in line.
It wasn’t to happen then. Ed Duckworth died in 2017 and the future of the Grinder appeared uncertain. Richard Cascella acquired the business. The shop didn’t change. Cascella kept it pretty much the same with its booths and gallery wall of photos from customers.
Melanie’s interest hadn’t waned. She called Cascella expressing her interest. She got a call six months later. Cascella was agreeable to talking. A deal was worked out early last year, and then COVID hit and everything shutdown. Melanie could have backed out, but she didn’t.
“There’s only a handful of times when opportunity comes to you in life,” she said. She wasn’t going to let the Coffee Grinder slip away. She went ahead with the purchase and launched an ambitious remodeling effort.
Her decision to go ahead didn’t go unnoticed. Friends on social media encouraged and applauded her. There were also the critics who questioned why anyone would buy coffee at the Grinder when they could get a cup at the Cumberland Farms across the street for less than a buck.
Melanie says those people don’t understand her vision for the Grinder. It’s a place for people to meet, talk and escape from distraction. There isn’t a TV in the Grinder. It’s a friendly place.
Between serving customers Tuesday morning, Melanie said she was thrilled by the turnout to the reopening of the Grinder on Saturday.
“It was insane,” she said, “everybody showed up for me.” Mayor Frank Picozzi also turned out.
Between the orders Tuesday, Melanie was doing what she is good at whether selling real estate or coffee – talking with people.
“People are always going to remember how you make them feel,” she said.