Sassafras answers call for coffee

Carrie Nolen serves a cup of coffee with a smile. Below, customers may pair their coffee with a sweet treat, which includes muffins.

by Reagan Zimmerman

What is better than a daily cup of joe? A cup of joe with a little sass and a smile from local coffee shop, Sassafras.

Located in downtown Green Lake, it is a place to chat over a drink or treat.

Three years ago, Green Lake resident, former nurse and stay-at-home mom Carrie Nolen went out on a whim and opened her own coffee shop.

Since her daughter was born, Nolen remained at home in order to take care of her. But when she heard about the only local coffee shop, “Sugar Lips,” shutting down, she saw it as a sign to begin working again.

When Sugar Lips closed, Nolen worried about the locals’ accessibility to their daily cup of coffee.

Having the closest coffee shops miles away in a different town was not OK, so she said, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to open a coffee shop and give it a go.”

Though she had never really thought about opening a coffee shop, Nolen always thought, “It would be kind of fun to open a cafe someday, because I like to cook and feed people.” At that time, opening her own coffee shop seemed like the right thing to do.

Nolen never expected to receive a plaque, naming Sassafras the best coffee shop in Green Lake three years in a row.

It started off slow with coffee and pastries the first year, and gradually worked up to soup and wraps, filling up its menu from just drinks to a variety of options.

Each year, Sassafras adds something new to its menu.

This year, it is salads, pasta salads and healthy grab-and-go snacks. Her motto is, “Fresh and Fast,” making her dishes easy to take with on lake days or park visits.

Produce-wise, she tries to stay local with Boar’s Head Meats for her wraps and Colectivo Coffee. Every food item on her menu is homemade.

Saturdays have recently been named “Amish Saturdays” due to the shop selling Amish doughnuts on that day.

Sassafras is a little more unique than the average shop. Part of that might be influenced by the pink flamingo perched in its front window, dressed for each holiday of the year. He has become its undeclared mascot.

With locality being the favorite aspect of her business, Nolen often can be found mingling with customers, making connections, meeting new friends and being that happy face needed on a cloudy day.

“My favorite thing and probably the most unique is it is a hubbub for people to chat.” Nolen said, adding how she feels like a mini-Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce due to the fact that people come in for suggestions on restaurants, tourist spots and events going on around town.

Even the locals sitting in the shop will chime in with their favorite Green Lake activities to help the visitors.

Sometimes people will drop something off and ask, “Hey, if this person comes in, can you give this to them?”

Even for business, Sassafras serves as a meeting place or quiet environment to get work done.

“In the summer on vacation, people come here to do business work, while their family is doing something else,” Nolen said. “They pound it out and then back to vacation mode.”
Sassafras has a welcoming ambiance with its Green Lake theme; including boats, golf courses, and the water.

Walls of the cafe also are adorned with pieces of artwork and pictures given to her by residents and visitors.

Nolen loves Green Lake and takes pride in its attractions and people.

“Whatever it is, I am proud to hang it up and show it,” she said.

Nolen also is always at the shop, doing what she loves.

“I love being here and I love seeing everybody come in to chit-chat,” she said.