HAMPTON—As the name implies, Firehouse Coffee 1881 is a coffee shop/café housed in the old Fort Monroe Fire Company building built in 1881—the oldest firehouse in U.S. Army history. Owners Donna and Tim Wray never intended on being the purveyors of coffee, sandwiches, and ice cream, but they said divine intervention played a part in it happening.
Donna Wray, who is originally from the Panhandle of Florida, was looking forward to moving back to the sugary beaches and crystal blue waters of her home in 2018 after her husband retired from the Navy. Fate had other things in mind.
She was contacted by an old friend who hadn’t seen her in a while. They ended up meeting at Firehouse Coffee, which had opened in 2017 as a refreshment stop for people taking Segway and bike tours around the Fort Monroe grounds. When picking up an order, Donna Wray could tell the owner was frustrated and asked how he was doing. “He threw his hands up in the air and said, ‘I want to sell this place,’” Donna Wray recalled.
The transaction didn’t happen then, but after additional talks, Donna Wray eventually went home and brought her husband into the loop.
“God is my number one man,” Donna Wray said. “I just believe he put us in situations and certain circumstances that we have no idea what’s happening until it’s in the midst of happening. I came home after a visit to Firehouse Coffee, we were having wine on the back patio with some friends, and I said to Tim, ‘How would you like to buy a coffee shop?’”
The Wrays took over ownership on January 7, 2019 and turned a basic coffee counter into a place where family and friends can meet to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the world.
“We all go through life at warp speed every day and everyone expects everything to be available at a moment’s notice,” said Donna Wray. “My life used to be that way, and I just decided it doesn’t need to be. I was missing out on so many other things. So, with this coffee shop, I just want it to be a community spot where people can come in, socialize, and make new friends.”
According to Tim Wray, you can come in and sit for ten minutes or six hours.
“I love how the Europeans do meals,” he said. “It’s not all about eating. It’s about socializing, and that’s one of the things we like to do here. So have your meal, enjoy it, and chat with the people sitting at the table next to you. We see that all the time where people start to chat and the next thing you know they are exchanging phone numbers.”
What can you expect when you go for a visit? In addition to coffees, espresso drinks, teas, hot chocolate, and smoothies, they offer breakfast and lunch. Breakfast consists of bagels, croissants, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, muffins, and scones. Lunch offers deli sandwiches, salad sandwiches, pulled pork BBQ, hot dogs, salads, and soups. Be sure to leave room for ice cream.
Firehouse Coffee 1881 is a family-friendly, pet-friendly spot located at 1 Ruckman Road on Fort Monroe.
“People just come here and sit, relax, and take in the atmosphere while the kids play,” said Donna Wray. “I have chalk, and I get the most fantastic sidewalk art. The firetruck is also there for the kids to play on, and that’s what it’s all about. Once upon a time, that’s the way life used to be and I’m hoping the idea will spread.”
Firehouse is open Tuesday through Friday from 7am to 4pm, Saturdays and Sunday from 8am to 5pm. They are open on Mondays from 7am to 4pm until August 26. For additional information, visit their website at https://firehousecoffee1881.com/.