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Small Business Spotlight: The Mill

Ilah Cookston-Minton at her Midtown shop. Photo by Spencer Backman.

Before settling into a permanent space on I and 19th, The Mill owners Ilah and Nick Cookston-Minton carved their own niche in the Sacramento coffee scene as a mobile cafe popping up on street corners and at popular local events such as the Midtown Farmers Market and Sacramento Antique Faire. When the opportunity presented itself in 2014 to establish residence in Midtown, Ilah and Nick reinvented their model and put down roots in the light, airy space of their current cafe.

From conception to building to reinventing and building again, the venture of entrepreneurship has been one of labor and creativity for the couple, whose hands-on approach is an evident aspect of becoming an anchor in Sacramento’s coffee culture.

“It takes an immense amount of confidence, energy, and discipline to participate in business as an entrepreneur,” said Ilah. “…It feels like [opening The Mill] happened out of thin air, but alas as most know it all came together by vigorous hard work.”

For Ilah and Nick, who live close to the cafe, their love of Sacramento has grown from walking its streets. They are among those in Midtown who by walking or biking the city get a stronger sense of community through seeing local businesses thriving, artists connecting, and the multitude of event posters getting tacked up and covered with new ones. When walking into The Mill, you can tell it is a quality coffee shop owned and cared for by true Sacramento locals.

We spoke with Ilah about their shop, what its like to be an entrepreneur in Sacramento, and the couple’s connection with the city. Read below for our Q&A with this small business owner who, with husband Nick, is finding success in their craft.

When did you start The Mill? What inspired this idea?

This is an interesting question for us because we ‘started’ The Mill two years prior to opening our first cafe. Driven by our curiosity and need to build a livelihood we both were challenged and excited by the idea to opening a cafe. This became the most tangible choice with Nick’s nearly decade of experience & expertise in the specialty coffee and my lifelong curiosity as an artist. As it were, we began looking for a ‘space’ to open our cafe, leading us to asking the questions that ultimately lead us to building a mobile cafe to begin serving anywhere we please. It wasn’t long there after the the opportunity arose to build our first ‘brick and mortar’ cafe. The story continues from there as we demolished and built The Mill as she’s known today.

What are your favorite aspects of Sacramento?

We live a couple miles from the cafe, so most of our appreciation comes from walking Sacramento. One of the things that always strikes us is the amount of space available- it feels limitless, maybe its because of the geography of a valley. No other close by cities feel as spacious when you are walking about your day. We also love the trees in Sacramento, which are a huge part of our daily lives, and not a day goes by that we aren’t noticing something about them.

How would you describe what it feels like to be an entrepreneur/small business owner in Sacramento? What is good and what are some of the struggles? 

One observation from the trail is that being an entrepreneur connects you with all the people in the world that are working hard everyday to build something piece by piece, in a way this is unspoken and nearly invisible until you literally are shaking someones hand who’s running a business- and upon eye contact there is this transmission that has some subtext that reads something like “yep I’m working my ass off too.”…For us it is extremely creative, which can inspire one to continually grow ones limits and make incredible things happen.

Where are some of your favorite spots to visit or things to do around Sacramento?

We love walking out at the Yolo bypass Wildlife Area, the birds and changing landscape are endlessly fascinating and very soothing. Truth is, we love to eat- some of our most favorite places are centered around food- be it here or anywhere for that matter. A few of our most favorite Sacramento spots are: Mother, Nopalitos, Masullo’s and picking up fantastic ingredients for a home cooked meal at the new Co-op. A couple out of town favorites are Sol Food in San Rafael, Greens in SF, and hitting the coastal trail of Tennessee Valley.

What is your favorite coffee related drink? What other coffee shops do you visit?

Wherever we go we seem to always order espressos and especially when we are visiting cafes out of town, we are ordering a cafe’s specialty drink. We get around to cafe’s all over.

You use coffee from Portland-based Heart Coffee Roasters. What makes your coffee special?

Nick and I are talking about this all the time- ‘special’ is what pulls us into any experience. Or lets us linger in it once it’s gone. What is special about our coffee is the intention–we use coffees that are roasted gently, special equipment, and precise recipes, so that the resulting cup is an expression of the coffee rather than the flavor of the roast. As a result the taste of these coffees tend to be more delicate, sweet, and nuanced compared to the often overbearing roasty flavors of what is generally available. Let’s not forget that after all coffee is a fruit.

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You can visit The Mill at 1827 I Street, Sacramento, where they are open daily from 7am-7pm. Connect with them on Instagram at @themillsacramento and online at themillsacramento.com.

Nick and Ilah Minton-Cookston. Photo by Spencer Backman.

Featured photo by Spencer Backman. All other photos unless otherwise noted by Owen Mark.

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About the author

Victoria Kobayashi

Victoria Kobayashi

Victoria is a music and arts contributor reporting on live events and festivals happening throughout California. She was born and raised in Sacramento and recently graduated from the University of California, Davis, majoring in Design and minoring in Professional Writing. Her hobbies include browsing through fashion blogs, photography, listening to new music, thrift store shopping and going on weekend road trips. She's always down for an adventure and meeting new people.

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