WELLSVILLE - Dawn Morton always knew she wanted to start a business someday — something she could check off her bucket list.
Ever since she graduated from high school, Morton considered various business ideas, but the one she loved the most was owning a coffee shop.
“I have always loved the atmosphere of coffee shops and cafes,” she said. “Places you walk in and feel instantly better. Maybe it’s the music, or the plants, or the unique way they always seem to be decorated. They smell like coffee and baked cookies. Baristas make these awesome drinks on these huge, shiny machines that look really complicated, and so when they hand you the latte, you feel all the craftsmanship that’s gone into that drink.”
But it just never seemed to be the right time.
Seize the Day
It wasn’t until years after experiencing the worst day of her life she decided to seize the opportunity and opened her coffee shop, Aurora Coffee Co., in downtown Wellsville.
Morton, who attended Vinland Elementary and later graduated in 1996 from Baldwin High School, picked up and moved to Arizona after high school and then on to Oregon before returning to Kansas.
“I actually grew up in rural Baldwin,” she said. “...I’ve lived in Topeka, Olathe, Gardner and Lawrence and somehow, I ended up just 10 minutes from where I started...it’s just funny how things happen like that.”
But in October 2016, life as she knew it changed forever.
Morton’s husband, Scott, committed suicide while Dawn picked up her children from school.
“That was a really dark day,” she said. “That left me widowed at 39 years old with two young daughters.”
Once the shock wore off several months later, Morton, once again, considered the dream she never gave up on. Deep in grief, the idea offered a glimmer of hope.
“The only positive thing to come from it was that my husband had left us a good life insurance policy,” she said. “So, I did the responsible thing and paid off everything I could. Then I started contemplating this little pipe dream I had of opening a coffee shop. And I realized...now it was actually possible. And if Scott’s death had taught me anything, it was to seize the dang day. Don’t let fear of failure keep you from cultivating success...I wanted my daughters to see me doing something amazing, and I wanted to leave something amazing for them after I was gone.”
Morton bought a little notebook and started making plans, but she soon realized she’d have to put her dream on hold. Her girls were still too young, and so she’d wait until they were older before opening a coffee shop.
“That was the plan,” she said. “Then the perfect building came up for sale. It didn’t even have a chance to get listed before I put an offer down. And so, I owned a building...”
Morton purchased the building at 608 Main St. in May 2018, but didn’t open the coffee shop in that space until March. For about five months, she rented the office space in the front portion of the building to a trucking/transportation company. The temporary lease gave her some time to prepare for eventually opening the coffee shop. The building also had an established seasonal shaved-ice business in the back.
“Part of the reason I wanted this building in particular was that it already had the Sno Shack,”
Morton said. “I wasn’t intending to buy a shaved-ice business, but everything was already there so I thought, ‘What the heck’ - and asked my family to help me run it during the summer. It was actually a really good practice run for the coffee shop. We learned a lot about our town, our customers, and doing business in general.”
Coffee and More
Aurora Coffee Co. offers customers fine, freshly ground espresso drinks, with beans from Broadway Roasting Co. in Kansas City. Morton said she tried several bean varieties, but nothing compared to Broadway, which also supplies the beans for the drip coffee. While the house coffee is usually Broadway’s Indian Monsooned Malabar variety, sometimes other blends are used.
The shop also offers hot and iced lattes, cappuccinos, iced coffees, blended coffee drinks, known as frappes, and soft drinks.
“We also have an excellent tea program with Hugo Tea in Kansas City,” she said. “When properly brewed, their teas are so delicious...they supply our Chai as well as all of our iced tea, hot teas and herbals.”
Also on the menu is a variety of baked goods from local baker, Emily Winchester, of Dancing Cow Farms and Daylight Donuts, which recently partnered with the coffee shop, Morton said.
Baked items include muffins, croissants, cinnamon rolls and an assortment of sliced quick breads for quick, grab-and-go breakfast snacks. Customer favorites include freshly baked cinnamon rolls, scones and cookies.
While the lunch menu features an assortment of sandwiches and salads, Morton said she has plenty of ideas for expanding the menu.
“ We’ve just added chicken-, tuna- and egg-salad croissant sandwiches to our menu for lunch, and hope to roll out a few new ones next week - a nice grilled-cheese sandwich and BLTs,” she said. “We’re talking about adding wraps, smoothies, fresh-fruit and yogurt parfaits and homemade granola.”
The coffee shop also has a small variety of home decor and gift items for sale, including kitchen towels, travel mugs, organic soap and seeds for butterfly and bee gardens. Morton said she plans to offer more merchandise soon.
“I used to own an Etsy store where I sold my crafts,” she said. “I just haven’t had time to make anything lately.”
The other business, The Sno Shack, is open June, July and August, offering traditional shaved-ice concoctions, and not snow cones.
Customers can choose from 30 different syrup flavors to make their own cool treats. Since most of her customers are kids from the local pool, Morton said, The Sno Shack will also sell hot dogs, chips, soft drinks and candy.
Except for a few temporary fast-food jobs in high school, the coffee shop is Morton’s first attempt at operating her own business. She’s actually a registered nurse, who’s employed by a major health insurance company as a case manager. The full-time, remote job keeps her busy Monday - Friday in addition to her two businesses.
“I’ve been with this company since 2012 and don’t have any plans to leave (it),” she said. “It’s work I enjoy, and it’s also a safety net for me and my family. The thing that everyone should know about opening a coffee shop is that it will not make you rich. I do not take a salary or any tips. This is a labor of love.”
This fall, the coffee shop is planning a charity/fundraiser event in October supporting Suicide Awareness/Prevention and Mental Health Awareness. Proceeds from the event will likely be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which supports fundraisers like the Out of the Darkness community walks across the country. The walks not only raise money for suicide awareness and prevention, but to help support those left behind.
“We’re still researching the best use of the funds and planning the events,” Morton said. “We plan to have music and slam poetry and some representatives from mental-health organizations in the area. October is significant because it was the month of Scott’s birth and death. We will also be doing something cool for the car show and Wellsville Days.”
Though the coffee shop has been open just a few months, Morton said the community has welcomed the business.
“Everyone has been very supportive and so nice,” she said. “I opened the coffee shop to be a social hub for the community, and I’m happy to see it become that. I’m also happy to see a little growth on Main Street. I’ve always said that it would take just one or two successful businesses to jump-start the revitalization of the town and trigger growth. It seems to be working.”
— Aurora Coffee Co., 608 Main St., Wellsville. Phone number: 785-816-1616. Summer hours: 7 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday. Aurora also has its own Facebook page, and will eventually have a website at:
aurora-coffee.com. The website is still under development at this time.