Jeff Voyles has worked in some of the premier hotels, casinos and restaurants in Las Vegas, including working at the MGM Grand for 15 years.
Voyles has also taught management in those fields at that city’s schools.
Now, after 25 years of living in the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” he is bringing that experience to a new café in Millstadt.
“My background is in hotels, restaurants and casinos,” Voyles said. “When I came back home about five years ago, I wanted to do something different on a smaller scale, and I also wanted to go where there was a need. I know there’s been a need for a coffee shop here for the locals.”
Voyles, who is originally from Belleville but now lives in Waterloo, co-owns Coffee Mill Café with Tony Moorehead of Smithton.
Voyles said he decided to open a coffee shop after seeing the building and realizing it perfectly suited that purpose. The duo opened the café, located 115 E. Washington Street, on Aug. 27.
“I knew I didn’t want to do something that involved working all night like in a casino,” Voyles said. “This is a great crowd. Who doesn’t like coffee and doughnuts? It just seemed like the perfect business for me to come back to.”
So far, Voyles said the business has been successful, citing the more than 1,300 customers who have already signed up for the café’s loyalty program.
“We have an amazing customer base,” he said. “The locals have been so supportive and it’s been all word of mouth. We do some social media, but it’s been all repeat customers and a lot of dedicated, loyal locals.”
He also said he has enjoyed running the café more than he did his work in Las Vegas.
That time has served him well, however, as it taught him three cornerstones of running an establishment that he uses in Millstadt.
“Our pecking order is customer service is number one,” Voyles explained. “That’s up, above and beyond anything we do – making sure we can relate to everyone and make them feel comfortable.
“The second thing is to make sure our service is quick. With Starbucks and other coffee shops, you just automatically assume you’ve got to wait a long time. So we don’t want that to be the case. The third is to maintain the quality of our product and the appearance of our product. We really focus on what the end product looks like.”
Those products include several types of coffee, including iced coffee and speciality drinks like pumpkin pie latte, biscuits and gravy, pastries from Bootsie’s and Waterloo Donuts, breakfast sandwiches and Belgian waffles.
The coffee beans are acquired locally. Voyles also highlighted the dozens of syrup flavors used in the coffee, including more sugar-free varieties than any other local location he knows.
The menu is also expanding, with lunch offerings like soups, chili, gourmet hot dogs and other sandwiches. It will also soon include Original Fried Pies.
Voyles said the menu will grow even more because he works to fulfill customer requests for new products.
All those items except the fried pies are or will be prepared fresh daily, either at a local business or in the café’s full kitchen.
Voyles said quality was important.
“We’re very careful on what we put in here,” he said. “We’re not just going to take anything and put it in here.”
The same goes for the decor of the coffee shop, which includes photos from Millstadt’s Rachel Barker and paintings from local artist Susan Rogers.
“It’s nice to have a little local talent showcased in here,” Voyles said.
Customers do not have to see the artwork, though, because the business also has a drive-thru that sees heavy traffic, especially in the morning.
Voyles said having a standalone building with windows low enough for a drive-thru is rare in a small town, but he felt the feature was a necessity.
“Drive-thrus are so important and so popular,” he noted. “They just really fit our culture now.”
The building is the one occupied by the first bank in Millstadt in 1903. It still has the original vault in the back.
Voyles said all those factors, but primarily the customer service, speed and quality, are ones that will make locals keep coming back to Coffee Mill Café.
He added that his definition of locals does not just mean Millstadt residents.
“I absolutely love being in Millstadt,” Voyles said. “I’ve really got to meet so many great workers and great people. And not only in Millstadt, but I get a lot of transients in here. Waterloo, Smithton and Freeburg (residents) – they have to go through here to get to Belleville or they have to go through here to go to St. Louis.”
Coffee Mill Café is open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.
For more information, call 618-476-6540 or go to coffeemill-cafe.com.