CINCINNATI – For Sarah Peters and Melissa Laake, the fire at Peters’ coffee house could have marked the beginning of the end.
A month later, Peters, who had watched her business destroyed, and Laake, who didn’t know how she was going to make it through her cancer diagnosis without her favorite morning “Joe Mocha,” were toasting a new beginning.
“Getting back to normal one cup at a time,” Laake said Wednesday as hundreds shared coffee in the Pleasant Ridge parking lot next to the spot where Peters’ The Coffee Exchange used to stand.
Buoyed by the support of loyal customers and friends, Peters was back selling coffee for the first time at a pop-up stand on the Fourth of July.
“We tested out the machine yesterday. I was like ‘Finally, a good cup of coffee!’” said Peters.
At the same time, Laake was telling how much that coffee and her friendship with Peters and The Coffee Exchange meant to her, especially after her diagnosis.
Laake recalled how devastated she felt when she found out about the fire.
“I got a text from my brother-in-law saying the Ridge was burning ...I had to pull over and start crying," Laake said. "It’s meant so much to me. This was going to be a big part of my recovery."
After she was diagnosed with breast cancer days before the fire, she went right to The Coffee Exchange, Laake said.
“I remember sitting at the coffee bar and telling them. Within hours, I had the most beautiful bouquet of pink flowers from the team at The Coffee Exchange. They're like family to me,” Laake said. “I knew I would be OK because of them and everybody else. We have such a great village.”
Now she’s cancer-free, Laake said.
“Two weeks post-surgery, I’m here with friends I know. I’m so blessed … They centrally are the core of what Pleasant Ridge is,” Laake said.
Peters says she hasn’t decided if she’s going to reopen her business – or where. Her building was so damaged it was torn down a few hours after the fire. One thing’s for sure: If she does reopen, her customers will be come right back, as evidenced by Wednesday’s turnout.
While others were sleeping in on the holiday, Peters said she served 200 cups of coffee after putting out notices on Facebook and Instagram.
“We knew we’d have a lot of people. We weren’t expecting this number of people,” Peters said.
Peters said she plans more pop-ups in the coming days.
“We’ll try to be out here on Friday morning if we can replenish our supplies,” she said. “Two or three days next week - maybe Wednesday or Friday.”
Whenever, wherever, Laake will be there.
"I went through a withdrawal for not having my Joe Mocha," Laake said. “I’ll do anything and everything I can to help them continue to grow and get them up and running.”