Small-town feel, stunning surroundings draw Nathalie Ames to Grand Mesa hamlet
Born and raised in Chicago, Nathalie Ames had never heard of Mesa until she went to, of all places, the Grand Canyon.
It was 2000. She was rafting the Colorado River and a few guides on the trip happened to be from this tiny, unincorporated community in western Colorado.
Ames was intrigued. A single mother of a 6-year-old at the time, Ames thought back to her childhood and how much she loved visiting her father in the Snowmass area. It’d be great to give her daughter Laura a similar Colorado retreat where the child could play outside with no traffic, maybe even ride a horse or sleep under the stars.
Ames, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker since the mid-1990s, looked into Mesa because it sounded idyllic.
“I had been to many places in Colorado, but these raft guides suggested Mesa,” she said. Ames flew into Grand Junction and noticed how dry Mesa County was in the summer. Then, she drove up Colorado Highway 65 toward Mesa.
“It was this lush green,” she said. “It was such a pleasant surprise.”
Ames — whose last name is an anagram for Mesa — purchased a cabin with 30 acres so she and her daughter could leave city life behind.
For the past 14 years, Ames has never lost that love for Mesa — a quaint village, where, as the saying goes, if you blink you might miss it — investing in rental property, serving on the local water board, boasting about the community to anyone who will listen and opening Blink Coffee Co., a small business that’s grown as it turned into a community gathering point and destination stop for Grand Mesa visitors.
“I’m sure it was difficult for people to accept her at first, but it seems, for the most part, people like the presence she has brought to Mesa,” said Blink Coffee baker and manager Heidi Griswold. “They like that she has stuck with it, and she’s not going anywhere and is interested in more than having a coffee shop. She’s actually interested in the village.”
Although Ames initially came to Mesa on a part-time basis in 2000, steps to make it a more permanent home were put in motion with the 2002 purchase of the corner lot and building at 11011 Highway 65.
Ames and her mother, Laura Sudler, also from Chicago and also with years of real estate experience, thought the location could be ideal for a coffee shop, something the women thought Mesa lacked for locals and travelers on Highway 65.
“I just think you need a coffee shop,” said Ames, a lover of vanilla lattes with four shots of espresso. She laughed at her choice of words. “Well, I don’t know if need is the right word, but I wanted a coffee shop.”
After several years of construction delays, changes in construction costs, etc., — at one point co-owners Ames and Sudler thought about abandoning the project out of frustration — Blink Coffee opened on that corner lot in November 2007.
“It was a mixed reaction,” Ames said. “This is a very traditional, conservative area in a good way, so change is hard for people. Some resisted. Then some groups were like, ‘Yeah.’”
In 2008, Ames and her daughter moved to Colorado full-time, Ames to Mesa and Laura to boarding school in Colorado Springs.
“She never regrets me moving here,” Ames said. “She thanks me all the time.”
When Mesa Grande Restaurant closed down a couple years ago at 10983 Highway 65 across the street from Blink Coffee, Ames and Sudler, who still lives in Chicago, purchased the building with its full kitchen to open Blink Twice, a full-service restaurant and complement to Blink Coffee.
Last December, Ames moved Blink Coffee into 10983 Highway 65 with its outdoor seating, full bar and kitchen, modifying the menu so Griswold could bake and chef Erick Thompson, who worked at 626 on Rood and trained at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, could cook.
The new Blink Coffee is more a café from melding the two menus. Ames is pleased with the transition.
Sudler said her daughter never talked about owning a small business, particularly in Colorado, until Blink Coffee opened years ago, and Ames admitted she has learned valuable lessons about being a small-business owner in a small community, including, and perhaps, most importantly, hiring great staff.
“She’s just such a go-getter,” said Griswold, who interviewed with Ames two years ago. “She’s really quite meticulous. She really looks after her business and her employees. She cares a lot about the town of Mesa and wants it to have what the coffee shop and restaurant give it.”
An avid world traveler and photographer, Ames uses the Blink Coffee walls, bookshelves and free spaces to showcase interesting places she has been, or signs she has found, but also the artwork of others.
“I love meeting new people, eating new food, seeing new things,” Ames said. “A lot of ideas here I’ve seen from travel that I’ve brought back.”
Why would a Chicago native and world traveler open a small business in one of western Colorado’s smallest places? Ames was prepared for the question. She has been asked that numerous times before.
“Because it’s so nice,” Ames said. “I think Grand Mesa is one of the most unrecognized, beautiful places in Colorado. I mean, it’s stunning.”
As further proof she’s invested in the community, Ames has purchased several other properties in town through the years, renting homes to both long-term tenants such as Griswold but also vacationers looking to enjoy nearby Powderhorn Mountain Resort in the winter or Grand Mesa’s countless recreational opportunities in other seasons.
After all, her background is in real estate, and Ames is still licensed in Chicago and Colorado. In fact, she spends about one week a month in Fort Collins — Laura is a sophomore at Colorado State University — working in the Coldwell Banker office.
Both Sudler and Ames’ stepfather also have purchased land in Mesa.
Four years ago, Ames joined the Mesa Water & Sanitation Board, assisting in the application of $720,000 in grant money from the Department of Local Affairs for the addition of a new water tank, water lines and fire hydrants. The board is currently upgrading the water filtration system and removing sludge from retaining ponds with additional DOLA and other organizational grant money, Ames said.
Although not a western Colorado native, Ames found a home in Mesa thanks to some glowing words from a few Colorado River guides.
“It’s a little ranching community,” Griswold said of Mesa. “And the coffee shop is really a special kind of place ... It’s a huge piece of the town, and that’s a lot of what motivates (Nathalie). She cares a lot about the town of Mesa and the area.”