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Photos by Jon Anderson.
Amber Glenn Tolbert, at left, and Anna Bates Brown are the co-owners and managers of the new East 59 Vintage & Café in the Hoover Library Plaza.
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Photo by Jon Anderson.
Creamy chicken and wild rice soup complements “The 59” sandwich, which includes turkey, ham, havarti cheese, cranberry relish and French’s fried onions.
Anna Bates Brown and Amber Glenn Tolbert grew up less than a mile from each other in Hoover and, as they went through elementary, middle and high school together, always said it would be fun to open a coffee shop together one day.
That day finally came.
In October 2013, the 2007 Spain Park High School graduates launched a “pop-up” coffee shop with no kitchen in Birmingham’s East Lake community, with the help of the REV Birmingham economic development group. They followed that in March 2015 with a full-blown cafe and gift shop called East 59 Vintage & Café.
And now, nearly two years later, the 28-year-olds have opened a second location, at the Hoover Library Plaza.
The original vendor in the library — Coffee-ol-ogy — rebranded itself as Customs Café and then moved out of the library last year and opened at The Plaza at Riverchase shopping center in November.
Brown and Tolbert said their first location of East 59 in East Lake is doing well, and they were intrigued when they got a letter in the mail saying the Hoover library was entertaining proposals to take over the café spot in the Library Plaza.
“We dream big,” and it just felt right, Brown said. “This is where we came from. We’re products of Hoover City Schools and grew up in Hoover.”
They originally were slated to open the café in the library this past fall, but they ran into delays when they discovered Jefferson County health regulations had changed, requiring them to install a new hood ventilation system.
So a Nov. 3 grand opening party turned into a preview event, and the women and the staff they hired spent the past two months handing out free coffee and drink samples to whet people’s appetites. The official opening came Jan. 3.
“It feels amazing,” Brown said. “Our staff are energized just by interacting with the community. They’re all excited to come to work.”
The menu is essentially the same as in East Lake — sandwiches, salads, a daily soup and beverages, including regular coffee, specialty coffee drinks, teas and soft drinks. They also offer English muffins, croissants and wraps as breakfast sandwiches until 11 a.m. and plan to start offering pastries and desserts, due to customer requests.
One of their specialties is a chef salad, which Brown said is huge and filled with ham, turkey and cheeses. Their cranberry pecan salad with baked chicken also is popular, Brown said. Customers also appreciate their 6-inch quiches, with the crust all the way around instead of having a slice, she said.
All of their coffee comes from Counter Culture Coffee, which Brown said is served by six of USA Today’s top 10 independent coffee shops in the country. “It’s high-quality stuff,” she said.
Brown and Tolbert went through Greystone Elementary, Berry Middle and Spain Park High School together, and their families were extremely close.
Brown went to Auburn University, while Tolbert chose Samford University.
Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, while Tolbert majored in foreign languages. Tolbert ended up working as a church planter, while Brown worked for a community development nonprofit before they decided to launch the cafe and gift shop in East Lake.
Now, Tolbert is going back to school to get her master’s degree in business administration. And both women have newborns. Brown’s baby is 4 months old, and Tolbert’s baby is 6 months old.
Life is challenging, but the positives outweigh the negatives, and they have a lot of family support, they said. Tolbert’s husband, Stephen, handles a lot of the gift shop duties in East Lake and fills in wherever he’s needed.
The women say they’ll split their time between the two locations, and they have an assistant manager at each spot.
They’re enjoying their time in Hoover so far and are amazed at how many people come to the library for different reasons, Tolbert said. “It’s so much more than books,” she said.
For more information about East 59 Vintage & Café, go to east59.net.