SKOWHEGAN, Maine — A former carpenter and firefighter has taken on a new venture: bringing a coffee shop to downtown Skowhegan this spring.
Joe Almand, who has lived in Skowhegan with his wife and children since 2005, is renovating the first-floor space at 65 Water St. The space was previously occupied by an office supply store, The Paper Klip.
The building will become Joe’s Flat Iron Café, a name inspired by the historic Skowhegan district. The back section will function as Main Street Skowhegan’s gear library, which lends bikes, kayaks and other outdoor equipment for free. Patrons will be able to peruse the connected spaces, and eventually each will have their own storefront signage.
Skowhegan has two Dunkin’ Donuts locations. But it doesn’t have a coffee shop with a neighborhood feel and ample seating where people can enjoy a well-crafted drink with friends, something residents have said is missing in the downtown. Almand is excited to offer that.
His business is an example of ongoing revitalization and major investment coming to the town.
“I’m looking forward to the collaboration with the gear library and other businesses,” Almand said. “I want this to be a hub for downtown Skowhegan. Not just to grab a coffee and food, but a great community space that we can grow and people can enjoy.”
The coffee shop also marks a pivotal moment for Almand, who at 39 years old made a career change to become a firefighter.
But last July, just a few years later, an accident changed everything.
Almand fell about 25 feet while attempting to rescue a drone that had gotten stuck in a tree, and then tumbled another 15 feet down an embankment. He broke four ribs, both of his wrists, a bone in his face and punctured a lung, which led to multiple surgeries and hospital stays. It ended his career as a firefighter.
Patric Moore, who owns the Water Street building and works as Main Street Skowhegan’s business relations manager, approached Almand about opening a coffee shop about two months after his accident, an idea that he didn’t immediately agree to but pondered during his healing.
Almand began recovering faster than doctors expected. The paralysis on the left side of his face has subsided, though his eye and wrist still bother him, and he can’t lift heavy items like before the accident, he said.
“It was disappointing that I couldn’t go back to being a firefighter,” he said. “But sometimes the stars align. Things happen for a reason. I try to stay positive and not let it get me down too much.”
Good coffee has long been a passion for Almand, who likes to experiment with different blends and gadgets, and whose wife likes to tease by asking if he really needs 20 different ways to brew the beverage. And having worked as a carpenter and cabinet-maker for two decades, he has the skills to renovate the downtown storefront, which can be costly.
Almand has gutted the building’s first floor, began building a service counter and is bringing the space up to code. He’s also developing a menu, deciding on hours and staffing and connecting with Maine businesses to acquire their coffee beans and teas, including Portland-based Coffee By Design and Bar Harbor Tea Company.
Almand plans to offer cappuccinos, lattes and other common coffee drinks as well as smoothies and a variety of teas, including bubble tea. The coffee shop will also have baked goods from The Bankery & Skowhegan Fleuriste a few doors down, sandwiches and other light fare.
“We’re thinking about having speciality grilled cheeses, like lobster grilled cheese on sourdough, on occasion,” Almand said. “The menu might rotate. We’ll keep the basics, but as the seasons change and ideas come about, we’ll try to keep it fun.”
Almand envisions a relaxed atmosphere with hardwood floors and countertops, mid-century modern furniture, and a color scheme with blue and copper tones. The space should seat 50 to 60 people, he said. He hopes to offer extended evening hours on Friday or Saturday for area residents to sit back with a beer or cocktail and dessert, though Almand is still working on logistics.
Another idea is a family or community-oriented evening with board games and trivia that children can participate in, he said.
Skowhegan business owners have been supportive of Almand’s ideas, and several have mentored him or offered important advice about running a business, he said. They’re eager to collaborate and want to see the town come alive.
“For the most part, people are like, ‘I can’t wait to have a place like this [in Skowhegan],’” he said.
For information and progress updates on Joe’s Flat Iron Café, visit the business on Facebook.