Dan Sloan’s world revolves around coffee, but he’s not an addict or snob.
He has a Milano in the morning and maybe another in the afternoon, but that’s about it. If he happens to have a cup of coffee that’s not great when he is traveling, it’s no big deal. Actually, it’s kind of a good thing, he said, it just reaffirms that what his team is doing at The Mill is as good as he thinks.
Dan has been part of The Mill since his early 20s. He’s gone from doing the books, to roasting the coffee and managing the staff to being an owner. He’s seen the coffee shop expand from a coffee corner to two full-scale shops.
A lot of his story has been shaped by the growth and expansion of The Mill, but Dan’s story has also shaped the organic and eclectic feel that’s present at The Mill today.
Let’s start at the beginning.
It was the late ‘70s and Dan was finishing his accounting degree at Union College. He was a numbers guy looking for his first job and a professor told him that the bike shop down the street needed someone to help with their books, so Dan applied and got the job.
At the time, the bike shop owner had a small coffee area in a corner of the shop. Nothing fancy, just basic coffee for the people who shopped. Over time, the shop owner fell in love with coffee and wanted to sell gourmet imported coffee to customers.
“That was the genesis of The Mill,” Dan said.
Now, The Mill has become a Lincoln staple. It’s a go-to spot for studying, newspaper reading or even a first date. Dan looked around The Haymarket Mill, scoping out his patrons for the day, as he described how he enjoys watching different crowds of people filter in and out of the coffee shop.
There’s a certain group that shows up at The Mill on Sunday mornings and another that occupies the late-night, weekday hours. So many people have integrated The Mill into their routine, and to Dan that’s special.
When it comes to running the shop, Dan described his approach as more evolutionary than revolutionary, meaning he didn’t necessarily set out to do anything other than roast and sell great coffee, but they’ve catered their services and aesthetic to what customers have wanted.
“We’re about community as much as coffee … we’re a melting pot, a meeting place, a safe haven … and we hear people’s stories,” he said as he waved to someone across the shop.
The Mill has done well, Dan said. Are there ways they could be more profitable? Sure, but he’s not willing to compromise his community-focused shop just to be slightly more profitable, that’s not Dan.
And while running a local coffee shop might seem like a simple task, it’s not. Dan takes it personally. His employees are like his kids, his two locations are an extension of his home and every paycheck he writes is going toward important things like college tuition, gas, groceries, student debt or rent.
It’s heavy and even lonely at times, because running a popular coffee shop is a 24/7 job. But it’s a load he shares with his wife, and it’s also one Dan takes pride in. It’s a pride and work ethic that he connects to his dad who owned a bakery in a small Michigan town.
Dan can remember washing dishes in the bakery and pulling all-nighters with his dad to make sure the shop was stocked for the next day. He knows it wasn’t easy to raise four boys on a bakery, but it was what his dad loved and passionately pursued until he retired.
He’d often say to Dan, ‘If you don’t have pride in what you do, you have no business doing it.’ That’s why Dan has stayed tethered to The Mill after all this time, it’s the combination of his passion, the people, the ownership and the community – it’s satisfying work.
And while his accountant-turned-coffee-shop-owner title cues looks of confusion, Dan likes that his work is a nerdy-hippie hybrid. He knows his experience in the corporate accounting world has shaped him as an employer and given him the tools to properly build and expand The Mill. In the same way, his people-driven coffee shop has brought out his extroverted side.
When Dan takes time to zoom out and look at the broader picture of his life, he’s not shocked that The Mill has been a consistent theme. He said he always hoped he’d be his own boss. He was never a traditionalist who played it safe. Dan likes risks and he values making his own mistakes.
His story is about building community, watching community grow and staying true to his values. He’s thankful for the stress, chaos and culture that a coffee shop has brought into his life and his story.
He’s Dan Sloan largely because of The Mill, so if you want to know Dan, just stop by The Mill.