Written by Henry Culvyhouse.
For its second winter season, the now iconic silver Grindstone Coffeeology truck will be serving Huntington’s downtown workers on weekday mornings.
It will surely be a welcome site. Especially on those dreaded Monday mornings, when no amount of java can keep one’s mind on the business at hand and off the past weekend.
Standing at the corner of Eighth Street and Fourth Avenue, “Bonnie” (as owner Brenden Fenn calls the truck) will be dispensing mochas and lattes to the folks hustling and bustling in the city’s center every Monday-to-Friday from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
While the move towards a bigger downtown presence wasn’t anticipated, it has turned out great. “We didn’t come downtown too much last year, because we try to serve areas where there isn’t a coffee shop nearby,” Fenn said. “But now that we’re a part of the morning commute, we’re getting a lot of downtown workers and local businesses supporting us.” For Fenn, that’s a good thing. Because if there’s one thing he is passionate about, it’s coffee.
When Fenn came to Huntington from Australia in 2015, he brought with him a deep appreciation of both coffee and coffee culture.
Living within walking distance of five or six coffee shops in their native land, Fenn and his wife were always “well caffeinated.” In addition, thanks to their personal espresso machine, the couple experimented with exotic brews at home.
“We went through trial and error for about 10 years, then we finally hit how to do it right,” Fenn said.
The Fenns fell in love with their new home in Huntington. They loved the kindness of their neighbors, the small town charm, and the nearby mountains. But there was one thing that kept troubling them; there just weren’t enough coffee options.
“This isn’t necessarily a difference between Australia and the USA, but more of a difference between urban areas and small-town USA,” Fenn said. “A lot of small towns—and in many ways, Huntington has a small town feel—don’t have specialty coffee places. Bigger cities, like Lexington, Cincinnati, do.”
Seeing an opportunity, Fenn found an old vending machine truck owned by a local World War II veteran who used it to haul equipment for a lawn care service and never painted, Fenn said it was the “perfect blank canvas” for his business.
“We’d searched all over, especially in California, where the food truck business is huge,” Fenn said. “Even if a food truck spent its life in Ohio, when it gets sold it usually goes out to California because there’s such a demand. It’s pretty amazing we were able to find a truck here in Huntington.”
Open since May 2016, Fenn said the best feeling he gets from his 18 months in business is “helping people rediscover coffee.”
“I really like that with older customers, who might have gone their whole life drinking drip coffee like Folger’s or Maxwell House,” he said. “Being the one who exposes people to a new coffee like a latte is a great experience to me.”
“And for people who have been exposed to specialty coffees, some of them were served coffee-flavored dish water in the past, so it’s good to show them you can have rich coffee Americano that doesn’t taste burnt and bitter,” he added.
Whipping up Flat Whites (an Australian take on the latte) isn’t Fenn’s only passion. Contributing to the community and local economy is another cause that gets him excited.
“I want to grow this business so that it creates jobs and keeps that money in the local economy,” he said. “I don’t want to make it sound like I have the solution, because I don’t. But I know if people have jobs, have work, and feel like they’re a part of something, it helps with other issues like drug addiction and crime.”
The fact that Huntington appears to be turning a corner is another reason Fenn said he invested in new a small business here.
“I’ve only been here two-and-a-half years, and I’ve seen enough big improvements to invest in the community,” he said. “Huntington is one of those hidden secrets in the states. People have a lot of pride in this community and it’s on the up-and-up.”
And just like anywhere in West Virginia, town pride comes out in its high school football. Fenn said he vends at the Huntington High School games during football season, contributing a portion of the sales to the Highlanders’ marching band.
“We love being a part of those games because it’s been a good step for my family becoming more involved in the community,” he said.
Lately, Fenn said the company has branched out into catering services and is looking into options down the road for a brick-and-mortar establishment. No matter what direction the business goes, he said “Bonnie” will always be a Grindstone icon.
“There’s no other food truck like her around,” he said.
The schedule for locations Grindstone can be found are on its Facebook page: Facebook.com/GrindstoneCoffeeology.