On a sultry day in late May, John Borgquist and Sophia Milli Leichtentritt sit at a table in Milli Coffee Roasters, at the corner of Preston Avenue and Ridge McIntire Road. Outside, traffic swooshes by in the glaring sunlight, but inside it’s dark and quiet, except for the intermittent buzz and whir of power tools—the shop is getting a touch-up. A wide strip of black-and-white photographs, portraits of customers taken by Borgquist, line the walls.
It’s impossible not to feel the heaviness of the mood, which is also written in Borgquist and Leichtentritt’s stoic expressions. The two have known one another since 2012, when Leichtentritt’s brother Nick and his wife, Nicole, opened the coffeehouse, giving it Sophia’s middle name. She was just 12 at the time, the youngest of the six Leichtentritt siblings. Nick was the second oldest of the tight-knit family, a charismatic figure who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on February 17.
“He was a lot of things to me,” Sophia, 19, says, her eyes glistening. “He was a mentor—that gave him some room to be hard on me. But he was also soft, like a big brother should be.”
Milli’s closed after Nick died, leaving hundreds of devoted customers without the gathering place they had come to love. But Borgquist—who first visited the coffee shop less than a month after it opened and quickly became a regular—decided to fill that void. In a video posted on Milli’s Facebook page two weeks ago, Borgquist, 37, stood beside Nicole Leichtentritt and announced that he would be buying the business.
“The best decision for the shop was to keep it open and keep Nick’s vision alive,” says Borgquist, who plans to reopen Milli’s on June 1.
“It is difficult,” Sophia says, remarkably keeping her composure. “But John is a phenomenal person. I don’t think there’s anyone better to pass the baton off to.”
Nick was open and generous with his emotions, and with Milli’s he created a nurturing haven. You can learn this by reading the comments on the GoFundMe page, Jesse’s Bright Future, created for Nick and Nicole’s 4-year-old son. As of May 24, donations had reached $24,766 of the $30,000 goal.
“Milli Coffee Roasters was pretty much my second home and the place where my friends and I became family,” one donor wrote.
“I was always struck by the obvious love and affection the Leichtentritt family exudes,” wrote another.
Those feelings drew Borgquist to Milli’s, where he became a thread in the fabric of the coffee shop’s culture. In addition to his gig as a photographer, Borgquist is a freelance writer under contract with a financial publisher. He often worked at Milli’s, sipping coffee with his laptop propped open on the table.
Borgquist says he’s planning a few changes: Milli’s will offer fruit smoothies and blended coffee drinks, and exhibit local artists’ work, starting with a show of Paige Speight’s paintings.
“The shop is certainly going to develop over time,” Borgquist says. “But Nick was a good friend of mine, and I don’t want to mess up the spirit of Milli’s.”
Milli Coffee Roasters, 400 Preston Ave., 270-9706
Updated 9:21am May 30, 2019: In an earlier version of this story, the sister of the late Nick Leichtentritt, Sophia Milli Leichtentritt, was misidentified. We regret the error.