Around four years ago, a small coffee house called the Nest opened in Orono, Maine in September of 2016. Not only has it seen tremendous growth since then, it has maintained its quality food, supportive community and phenomenal management. Owners Li Yang and Anna Berube have creatively curated their menu to incorporate vegan options and continually managed concerns brought on by COVID-19, while still aspiring to open more Nest locations around the state.
Currently, they’re looking to open locations in Portland and Bangor, Maine. When asked, Yang admitted that the reason behind the Nest’s opening was quite silly — Yang opened the restaurant for an ex-girlfriend. He joked about how silly his initial intent was because of how popular and successful the restaurant has become in all seriousness.
“Neither of the two of us had ever run a café or restaurant business before,” Yang said. “There wasn’t really a set goal in the beginning. With support from employees, [we] have made the Nest thrive in Orono and no one wants it any other way.”
In the beginning, the Nest was “a simple coffee shop.” These days, however, it is much more. The Nest offers coffee, baked goods, and a variety of other breakfast food and drink options, as well a smoothie bowls and smoothie options. They also offer a variety of breakfast sandwiches and bagel options. For some time, with the goal of producing a vegan menu in mind, The Nest offered quinoa bowl options in addition to the other menu spotlights. Due to COVID-19, much of the business has transitioned to online and to-go ordering, but this really hasn’t set the company back.
Today, “Going vegan” is widely popular. Although some menu items aren’t vegan, the menu is almost entirely a choose-your-own type of menu. Therefore, if one wishes for a smoothie or quinoa bowl, or even a sandwich to be vegan, it’s possible! Just be sure to ask.
In these last few months, COVID-19 has impacted the Nest from both a menu standpoint and a business perspective.
“With campus being back to live session, there’s more to-go ordering and online ordering,” Yang said, recognizing that students on campus massively impact employment and the number of orders the Nest receives in any given amount of time.
Even during summer months in a “normal year,” students are a huge financial support. Many tend to stay in the area throughout the summer, so there’s lots of ordering taking place even when classes aren’t in session. COVID-19 will make this year different. It’s hard to say what late fall into winter will look like for the Nest, with students on campus set to be sent home prior to Thanksgiving.
During the summer the Nest often hires a number of students who, depending on scheduling, return as full or part-time employees in the fall. Yang and Berube don’t know what the success of Nest locations in Bangor and Portland might look like, because they’re convinced the University of Maine community is what’s keeping the business afloat in Orono.
Regardless, Li Yang and Berube are still reaching for the stars by hoping to expand in other areas of Maine, even considering the setbacks COVID-19 has brought. In the hopes of extending their reach and their vegan menu to new customers, Yang and Berube are preparing for whatever the next few months may bring their way.