The Milton Schoolhouse is nestled in the heart of Alton, Illinois, just a few minutes uphill from the banks of the Mississippi River. Owners Meredith and Joel Elliott bought the schoolhouse in 2009 with a limited budget and no previous construction experience. "There was a steep learning curve involved," Meredith says.
The couple’s start-up capital quickly dwindled under the scope of the project. Fortunately, the discovery of abandoned art glass from a former glass studio housed in the space became a needed source of income. After three years of selling glass to collectors and using the funds to continue renovations, the Elliotts opened several small studio spaces in the school, with an impressive list of local start-up businesses including Massage at Milton, Carrie Carpunky Photography, Midwest Electric, Edward Scott Foto, Happy Camper Grooming, Ronah Leah Photography and a community kitchen that's home to several other small entrepreneurs.
Over a century old, The Milton Schoolhouse's stout building has previously functioned as an elementary school, a glass factory and now as a small business incubator for artists, chefs, photographers and more.
Upon entering the Milton Schoolhouse, the senses awaken all at once. One is greeted with several visual artistic expressions: a peacock mural leading to the downstairs studio spaces and the mosaic mirror tiled entryway leading upstairs to Maeva's Coffee, where the divine aroma of Goshen Coffee Co. fills the air and mingles with the scent of freshly baked pastries and quiche.
Before Maeva’s opened its doors, Alton had no coffee shop to call its own. A few have come and gone over the years, but the Elliotts wanted to build a shop that would draw a crowd of diverse individuals who enjoy great coffee in a great environment. The shop is the product of a highly successful Kickstarter campaign that the Elliotts "launched, not only as a primary source of financing for the project but more so to gauge community interest." They launched the Kickstarter campaign during an open house for the Alton Historical Homes Tour in fall 2013.
In just less than 30 days, the Maeva’s Kickstarter campaign raised $16,000. With 228 backers, 80 percent of whom live within a 5-mile radius of Milton, Meredith Elliott knew Alton needed a coffee shop. She received the news while high on a ladder caulking ceiling tiles in the room soon to be Maeva’s. Meredith then began receiving a deluge of phone calls and texts from friends and family who had been following the campaign’s progress. The Elliotts were elated to meet their goal and were "blown away by the community support."
They began the Maeva’s build-out in February 2014, during one of the coldest winters on record. Working with very little heat in a drafty room was a challenge, but the Elliotts and a handful of volunteers managed to power through and completed construction of the shop in five months, opening for business in June 2014.
The shop’s wooden tables, benches, countertops and lighting bars were all masterfully handcrafted by Joel from fallen walnut sourced from his grandparent's property. A friend’s family owns a mill and was excited to help in the process, simply for the sake of seeing the gorgeous natural grain revealed in the patterns of the walnut planks. Joel’s friend Ben Kruger of Beaver Creek Woodworks guided him in the process, allowing Joel to use his shop to turn the raw walnut into dimensional lumber for crafting. The Elliotts call themselves “perpetual scrappers” and have sourced most everything in the schoolhouse for free or for low cost, finding hidden gems on Craigslist and through friends and family. The shop's wrap-around booth was made from an old cedar fence. The coffee bar is faced with oak floors salvaged from the floor of a U-Haul trailer. The lighting fixtures above the bar were made from steel pipes from an unused boiler in the basement of the schoolhouse. With Joel’s superb master craftsmanship and Meredith’s eye for design, Maeva’s has become a comfortable, hip spot for a spectrum of patrons.
Stacked shelves of vintage books line the wall in the corner of the room, embellished with the names of the Kickstarter backers. Local potters Chad and Felicia Breen of Mississippi Mud Pottery created the beautiful mugs used to serve delicious beverages to customers. Tiles of Frida Kahlo, Edgar Allen Poe and Buddha were used to repair damaged spots in the original 1930s oak floors, which have otherwise been beautifully refinished and restored.
Argus Keppel of Goshen Coffee Co. created a special custom blend just for Maeva’s. After attending a class offered at Goshen’s roasting facility in Edwardsville, Meredith fell in love with Keppel’s sincere passion for his craft and Goshen’s uncompromising quality. Goshen’s exclusive roast for Maeva’s is a sultry blend of organic Guatemalan and Sumatra beans. The blend pours lovely in both espresso and drip coffee and offers notes of grapefruit and chocolate. In addition to its coffee program, Maeva’s also carries a nice selection of seasonal mini quiches made with local eggs as well as delicious baked goods.
The Elliotts hope to add on an outdoor courtyard to Maeva’s and rent out spaces in the Milton Schoolhouse gym for private parties. "Our dreams ripple out to fill the pond of this enormous project," Meredith says. One ripple on her mind is a Maeva’s bus to take to festivals and offer quick services in the parking lot for those on the move.
Maeva's Coffee, 1320 Milton Road, Alton, Illinois, 618.581.7510, maevascoffee.com
Hungry for more Midwest food-scene news? Follow us on:
- FACEBOOK: facebook.com/feastmag
- TWITTER: @feastmag
- PINTEREST: pinterest.com/feastmag
- YOUTUBE: youtube.com/FeastMagazine
- INSTAGRAM: @feastmag
Click here to subscribe and each month you'll receive a delicious serving of Feast delivered directly to your home, hot off the presses!