ESSEX JUNCTION — Nomad Coffee is open and full of sound: customers chatting as the doors continuously swing open, the scream of the espresso machine and the soft crinkle of pastry bags.
Nomad began as a mobile coffee shop and espresso bar in 2016 and has since expanded to two permanent locations in Essex Junction and Burlington, and a seasonal location at Sugarbush Resort.
From day one, Nomad’s biggest goal was to be an environment for people to gather, Nicole Grinstead, co-founder of Nomad Coffee, stated in a June 3 email to the Reporter.
“Five years into this and I still am blown away every time I walk in the doors of South End or Essex and see people meeting for coffee and croissants, or working away on their laptop,” she stated. “I feel grateful folks choose us to be a part of their day.”
The founding of Nomad began when Andrew Sepic and Grinstead fell in love while they attended college in Canada. After graduating, Sepic and Grinstead moved to Montreal where they lived for six years enjoying the croissants and espresso the city had to offer.
After six years, the couple decided to move to the U.S., Grinstead's home country.
The two began a five-month road trip filled with sampling coffee and cultures of the states they drove through. In the end, they settled in Vermont and decided to bring specialty coffee to areas outside of Burlington.
With the purchase of a 1971 Go Tag-a-long travel trailer, Nomad began to take shape.
Founders and partners
Owning and operating Nomad is one of the biggest challenges Sepic and his wife have faced together, but he would have never been able to do any of it without her, Sepic said.
“We’ve definitely kept each other in it over time,” Sepic said. “Nicole is the idea person and the creative force and I’m the ‘how we make it happen, how we get it done’ person.”
Sepic and Grinstead liked the idea of having a nomadic unit when they first started, but as business grew it became difficult to store the supplies they needed to keep up with their demand.
When they settled into permanent spaces, Nomad was able to add baked goods to their menu, a goal they had been working toward since the beginning.
“When my wife and I lived in Montreal, we loved to have our Sunday espresso and croissant experience at our favorite bakeries,” Sepic said. “Now to be able to offer something like that, it really fulfills that goal.”
What’s on the menu
Nomad’s baked goods are overseen by Chris Johnson, the head baker who joined in 2021. Johnson trained under renowned pastry chef Dominique Ansel and Thomas Keller, the first and only American-born chef to hold three Michelin stars.
“[Johnson] has really leveled up our game in terms of the pastries and making good items,” Sepic said.
Along with high-quality pastries, Nomad houses specialty coffee, supplied by Brio Coffeeworks, a specialty coffee roastery that supplies a new type of coffee experience in Vermont, Sepic said.
“Brio really was a natural fit for us because they’re a husband and wife business ownership as well,” Sepic said.
To determine if coffee is “specialty coffee,” professional coffee scientists grade it based on a 200-plus point checklist that includes measurements such as aroma and taste, Sepic said. Coffees that score an 80% or higher are rated “speciality.”
Sepic recognizes there is a big jump in .99 cent coffee and their $3.50 drinks but says Nomad customers are paying for the higher quality coffee made by staff trained to brew a balance of sweetness, acidity, chocolaty, nutty and tannic experience.
Saying goodbye to ‘Tiny Nomad’
Nomad is now looking to sell their mobile unit after the grand opening of their Essex Junction location. The coffee shop held a “celebration of life” on May 29 for community members to say goodbye to the mobile shop.
Customers were invited to take photos inside “Tiny Nomad” and leave written messages on a poster board.
“Tiny store, big flavor! We will miss the charm of the little shack but excited to see you stay and grow,” one customer wrote.
Grinstead and Sepic will miss Tiny Nomad but they are excited about their new chapter.
“I am a little sad to see it go but even more excited to see it have a new home and new community,” Grinstead stated.
Looking to the future, Nomad hopes to host more events and gatherings including book clubs, poetry readings and open mics, Grinstead stated. They would also like to expand their bakery department.