Photos by Deny Howeth

Coffee, Ice Cream & Fashion

The Perfect Blend

A Special Allure

In a resort town brimming with charming stores and eateries, Rehoboth Mews has an extra special allure beckoning you down its narrow lane. Aside from a lapidary for epicurean stones and a year-round Christmas outlet, there are two establishments offering luxuries that many would deem essential: Gourmet coffee and fresh-from-the-farm ice cream.  They’re available seven days a week and virtually all year at the Coffee Mill and the Mill Creamery by owners Mel Damascena and Bob Cartwright, both of whom relish the kindness and camaraderie that are key to their personal and business lives. 

“You come in as a stranger and leave as a friend.”

A Dream Rooted in the Brazilian Countryside

“I’m from Minas Gerais, Brazil, a region that’s one of the biggest exporters of coffee beans,” Mel explains. “Growing up, I would read books about coffee houses, and I always wanted to own one. Then one day while on vacation I walked past and saw the sign announcing that this coffee house was for sale.”  An immediate call to Bob, who dedicated many years of his career to civil service in Scranton, Pennsylvania, quickly solidified that dream. Soon after, the men christened the new store. Today it’s one of Rehoboth’s most memorable places, redolent with the scents of 120 different organic and fair-trade coffee blends, bagel sandwiches and freshly baked croissants, cookies, and cakes. Inside tables are surrounded by Mel’s accomplished photos of moody urban and festive beach scenes. Outside there are more tables where diners can enjoy solitude or gather with friends in the quaint setting.

Despite the cozy close quarters and the challenges of grinding, pouring and replenishing the array of condiments, the shop is immaculate, and the service is always friendly and efficient thanks to its dedicated team. As Bob sees it: “Our employees are invaluable because they come in to do a job but are also part of a family, just like our customers are. Working 40 to 50 hours a week in the summer, you get to know them and focus on their best qualities. Some are good with lattes, and some are good with breakfast sandwiches. We also get a lot of input from our employees. It doesn’t matter if you’re the owner or the guy making the coffees and dishes. We all share the same goal – to make people happy.”

Community and Congeniality

Thanks to that goal, there’s an unmistakable sense of congeniality in the atmospheres of both shops. That’s partly because gourmets and everyday folks alike love the comforting and exotic coffees and ice creams. Yet it also helps that the Mill and Creamery are just a few blocks from the beach – a place that tends to foster happiness whether you’re on vacation or just going about your day. Mel and Bob’s professional mantra matters, too. “When people are here, they’re away from their normal stress,” Bob muses. “We accommodate them through our philosophy, ‘you come in as a stranger and leave as a friend.’”

The impact is long-lasting and even generational. Customers and friends who first visited in 2009 make a point to spend time there during their vacations. Children who were in strollers that first year are teenagers now. Some are in college, and some are married with kids of their own. They return in summer to the coffee and ice cream shops where they made wonderful summertime memories. Some of those customers and friends have done remarkable things to support the businesses. As Bob recalls, “the pandemic was a testament to how we looked out for each other. Customers went out of their way to stop by even if it meant they could only buy coffee to take home. Our Web business was also important because I could box up special orders and walk them straight over to the Rehoboth Post Office. Our landlord gave us relief and the Rehoboth Main Street and Camp Rehoboth organizations were also great supporters. It reminded us that everyone here is part of a community, like the thread of a cloth.” 

That truth was especially evident during a recent renovation of the Coffee Mill, when the carpet had to come up so it could be replaced by a stylish epoxy floor. “We had to completely empty the building,” Bob says, with a gesture toward the wall lined with dozens of containers of coffee beans. “The day we were cleaning it all out a bunch of local folks showed up to help us. They even came back a few days later to help move everything back in.”

Celebrity Vibes and Exciting New Directions

That universal sense of goodwill has also captured the hearts of Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford, two familiar faces on early morning TV. It started with frequent visits by Hoda and her mom, Sameh, to the Coffee Mill during summer vacations and hit a fun milestone in 2011 when Hoda invited Mel to come on the Today Show for a special Hoda and Kathie Lee segment about “Our Favorite Things.” In a live appearance, Mel delivered their favorite Coffee Mill blends – medium-roast Jungle Java for Hoda and dark roast Midnight Sun for Kathie Lee. A year later the Coffee Mill hosted a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness with Hoda as a special guest who spoke of her own cancer journey. 

Satisfying Repeat Customers 

In the years since, the business has evolved to meet the preferences of many repeat customers. “People love our house blend when they want a plain coffee, and our mocha zip blended frozen coffee with chocolate covered espresso beans,” Mel says. “They also like our Frappuccino. I think a lot of people appreciate that it’s all fair trade because we belong to an international co-op.” Across the mews, at the Mill Creamery, frequent favorites include orange-pineapple, cow pie chocolate and peanut butter, cookies and cream and strawberry cheesecake, which for some reason appeals mightily to kids. All of the flavors come from the Hopkins Dairy Farm, chosen, Bob says, “because it’s local” and guaranteed to be fresh and pure. 

Branching Out: Success Breeds Success

Encouraged by the success of both businesses, they branched out with a new Dewey Beach Coffee Mill on Coastal Highway across from The Beach House hotel in 2023. It happened at the invitation of the owners of the Atlantic Oceanside Dewey Beach Resort, who are longtime customers of the Rehoboth location. The menus are the same, but the Dewey location also offers rooftop seating. Since 2014 Mel has also operated BRASHhh, a store featuring men’s clothing, grooming accessories, and gifts. Why BRASHhh? “Because you have to remember when you were young, and your grandmother would say ‘stop being brash’,” Mel says, with a laugh. “It’s your kind of place if you’re not afraid to be colorful and fashion-forward, to express yourself and unleash your good fashion sense.” As noted on the store’s Web site, Mel hand-selects every item in the store based on his eclectic style preferences. One of his favorite brands is Descendant of Thieves, and he’s building his own label, known as Fearless, for the store. “I’m always on the look-out for the next big thing, great idea, fun item and amazing trousers . . . and the jacket that you will not say no to.” The space has afforded Mel the opportunity to extend his creative vision, with items displayed around rustic woods and metals and vintage furniture. It’s also another venue for his photographs of local lifeguards, landscapes and portraits. All in all, it’s as colorful and engaging as its owner, presented with the same enthusiasm that has long endeared him to Bob. “It’s always an adventure because we complement each other,” Bob says. “Mel is more vibrant; I’m more of an old soul. Mel is fun – “Because you know how to keep it fun,” Mel adds.   

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