AUBURN — When Doug Weed's grandfather Leland ran New Hope Mills, he'd often grab random people and take them on tours of the flour production facility.
That same desire to connect New Hope Mills to its community is why Doug, who's been the company's CEO since 2013, oversaw a recent renovation of its Auburn cafe and retail store.
"Our mission is to help families make memories around the table. We wanted to expand that," he said Wednesday in the cafe over banjo music and the bustle of about 20 breakfast guests.
Doug is the third generation of Weed to run New Hope Mills. Charles Kellogg began the flour mill on Bear Swamp Creek in the Niles hamlet in 1823, and Leland and Howard Weed bought it in 1947. The company ground flour until 1996, when its focus became pancake and other mixes. Today, it employs 45 and produces 4 million pounds of mix a year, Doug said, including 17 pancake flavors.
The cafe and store opened aside the New Hope Mills Auburn plant shortly after it opened in 2004. The dominant color was white, Doug said: a white suspended ceiling, a white floor, white shelves. A couple years after he bought the business from his father, Dale, Doug decided it was time to make the cafe and store look like the old New Hope Mills.
"I wanted to really express the brand in a more direct way," he said. "I want to connect on a very deep level to the historical aspect of the business."
Work began in August 2016, Doug said, when friend Paul Cammilleri sketched a renovation plan. After he saw it, Doug said he wanted to get to work the next day. He called it "a giant art project."
The result: Exposed ceiling joists, barn red siding and wooden beams by Gary Baldwin along the walls. Atop the beams, and occupying the new clearance, are several antique flour production machines. Doug said his family has been buying them from other mills for years, and storing them at the New Hope factory. They include an 1867 flour dropper, a wheat scalper and more.
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"We tried to build everything in a way that reflects the workmanship and design and characteristics of the equipment we have," he said.
Though the space's square footage is the same, the renovation bumped up the cafe's seat count from about 15 to 40, Doug said. Those extra patrons can order from an expanded menu that includes breakfasts like pancakes and oatmeals, as well as lunches like jalapeño corn tacos and sourdough sandwiches. New items will be showcased, for half price, at weekly Try it Tuesdays, Doug said.
The project also included the addition of a vestibule and front porch. Doug said the city of Auburn was helpful with the latter, as its Code Enforcement Office suggested cost-saving measures.
"We've never regretted moving to Auburn," he said. "They've been so great to work with."
New Hope Mills will celebrate both its connection to the Auburn community and its new cafe and store space with a grand opening celebration there all day Friday and Saturday.
The event will feature live music by Lock 52 Jazz Band, Stevie Tombstone, The Cadleys and Rebecca Colleen, games like "flapjack stack" and "flyin' flapjacks," and a "medieval-looking" dunking booth Doug built. There will be a ribbon-cutting with pancake hors d'oeuvres at 4 p.m. Friday and dancing with Old Time Hoedown from 5 to 6 p.m. At 10 a.m. Saturday will be a pancake eating contest.
Aside from contractors who demolished the old porch, Dale said, the year-long project was completed by family and friends. One brother and one sister work with him at New Hope Mills, and two more brothers work with Dale at a gluten- and allergen-free food producer he started in Savannah. The Weeds also operate Schoolyard Sugarbush, which provides New Hope Mills' maple syrup.
With the renovation behind him, Doug hopes to continue growing New Hope Mills as it turns 200 years old. He noted that 60 percent of its production is for other companies, and said he would like that share to carry New Hope Mills' name some day. Ultimately, Doug said, he would prefer that none of his family business's product carry another name.
"That's not why I put the sign on the front of my building," he said. "That's not why I did this expansion and want to connect to my customers more."