Four different businesses have been housed at 24 Main St. in downtown Orono in less than ten years — two different clothing stores, a gift boutique, and most recently a vape shop. So when Anna Berube and Li Yang began looking at that location to create a new business — the fifth it’s housed, if we’re counting — folks told them it was cursed.
But the pair of business partners — Yang, 31, a New York native who has lived in the Bangor area since 2012, when he and his family opened the popular hibachi grill and sushi restaurant Kobe Steakhouse, and Berube, 22, a Brewer native and 2016 graduate of the University of Maine — were undeterred. They wanted to open their dream coffee house, and 24 Main St. was the perfect place to do it. Nest opened in October 2016.
“It’s relaxing. It’s my happy place. Kobe is very fast-paced, but this place — it’s calm,” said Yang. “I wanted this space in particular for a long time, since before the last business was in here, and when it became available, we went for it.”
Nest is just the kind of cute, cozy coffee house you see on “Girls” or “Friends”. Light, airy and well-designed, the space at 24 Main St. looks almost unrecognizable from its previous incarnations — a long wooden bench lines the entire right side of the space and is covered in huge, overstuffed pillows, the walls and tin ceilings are freshly painted in pale colors, and Edison-style light bulbs hang over the rustic wooden tables.
“We wanted everything to be very comfortable, which is why we have all these huge pillows and cushions,” said Berube. “Everything is custom made. We took our time to design every detail.”
Despite Orono being a quintessential college town, the downtown has never had a traditional coffee house until now. In Orono, there’s lots of places to get good coffee, but not a full service espresso bar offering cappuccinos, lattes, iced coffee drinks and all the other usual treats, complete with comfortable seats, music playing softly in the background, and studious customers, faces bent over laptops and books. Until now.
“A lot of Orono students drive to Starbucks to have a study group, which is silly,” said Yang. “And we get a lot of high school students coming in after school as well… and it’s the kind of thing where you can stop looking at social media. You can just sit and talk. You get so much more done if you just talk to people. That’s why our motto is ‘bringing peeps together.’”
Not that Nest isn’t technology friendly — there’s wifi, of course, and an ample supply of outlets for charging devices.
Yang and Berube chose two local coffee roasters — Farmhouse Roasters of Winterport, and Savage and Sons Gourmet Coffee of Bangor — to provide the beans.
Berube began baking while living in The Grove in Orono as a UMaine student. On a whim, she started baking cakes for friends, and found that she not only enjoyed it, but was really good at it. This year, she started her own home baking business, Vanilla Avenue Bakery, out of her parent’s basement in Brewer, where she’s still taking orders for cupcakes, macarons, pies, tarts and specialty cakes.
“I just liked baking so much I eventually said ‘I could make this a career,’” said Berube. “I’m totally self-taught. I love the visual aspect of it and designing something really pretty, as much as I love making something delicious.”
Berube’s specialty is cake — crumbly, moist, decadent chocolate cake in particular, especially the red wine chocolate raspberry cake she bakes almost every day for sale by the slice at Nest. She also bakes muffins, cookies, scones and cupcakes daily, and other rotating selections of cakes and pies. Nest also offers breakfast sandwiches made with Bagel Central bagels.
Over the summer, Yang — who’d already been thinking about opening a coffee house in the Bangor area — happened to run into Berube through a mutual friend. He was surprised they weren’t already friends.
“I like to keep track of all the Asians in Bangor,” said Yang, with a laugh. “I also think that the food industry is way too male-dominated. There needs to be more women in this world.”
One thing lead to another, and the pair realized they both had similar goals: Yang, to open a coffee house, and Berube, to expand her baking capacity and open her own business. When the vaping store that occupied 24 Main St. closed at the end of last summer, they snapped up the lease, began extensive renovations on the space, and went into business.
“I think my family was a little confused as to why I wanted to open a coffee house,” said Yang, whose family has worked in the restaurant industry for decades, and now owns Kobe Steakhouses in both Bangor and South Portland, and other restaurants in Biddeford and Lewiston. “But I wanted to do something totally different. I love coffee houses.”
Nest is just the latest in a succession of new restaurants and bars that have opened in downtown Orono in the past few years, including The Family Dog in 2012, the Black Bear Brewing tap room expansion in 2013, Orono Brewing Company in 2014 and the Marsh Island Brewing tap room expansion in 2016. Paired with established eateries like Woodman’s, Verve, the Bear Brew, Thai Orchid, Margarita’s and Pat’s Pizza, Orono is experiencing a bit of a downtown revival.
“Everyone has been super welcoming. Bob from Family Dog comes in twice a week,” said Berube. “It’s just been a really nice experience so far.”
Nest opens at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, and at 8 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Closing hours vary depending on the school year; visit Nest on Facebook to stay up to date.