Eaton and the ‘Pony’ provide more than just coffee￼
Walking into Pony Expresso, customers are welcomed by friendly staff, the pleasant aroma of coffee and goodies, as laughter and conversations fill the room. Whether patrons stop in daily, a few times a week or are first time visitors, they’re treated like family, and that is just how owner, Amy Eaton, likes it.
“I love when customers tell me the shop feels like ‘home,’ as that is exactly the feeling we are going for. It’s also especially pleasing when visitors say, ‘I wish I had a Pony in my hometown’; I feel blessed to have heard this many times through the years,” Eaton said. “One of the greatest rewards is seeing customers who I’ve known since they were young come back, bringing their young families in tow and embracing the nostalgia of their favorite local coffee spot. They’re like ‘hey look, this is where I used to hang out, this is where I met your momma’ etc. to see their growth into adulthood and be a part of their history is something I feel very honored by,” added Eaton.
Eaton came to the Mariposa from the Bay Area around 2002, and credits her journey and much of how she conducts herself to her former employer from Morgan Hill, Sue Walker of WB Electric. “She was fair and honest, a generous employer as well as a ‘real’ person who always made everyone feel valued. She saw past your education, or lack thereof, and more at who you were and what you were capable of,” remembers Eaton.
Having the opportunity to have one-on-one time with Amy, I quickly saw that she is very much family oriented. Her family is at the shop almost daily and her staff is close knit. Amy takes great pride in being a member of the Mariposa community and thinks of her customers as friends and family. “I’m a nurturer by nature, I want to literally and figuratively feed, support and nurture people. I have recently realized, in some cases, to my own detriment. With big, recent changes in my personal life, I am learning to nurture myself and hope the shop, staff, and customers are all benefiting from it,” a reflective Eaton explained.
Nurturing Mariposa is evident in some of the ways that Easton and the ‘Pony’ has supported the community over the past 16 years. Perhaps the most well recognized is the ‘Giving Tree’, which has been a Pony Expresso Christmas tradition for 13 years.
The ‘Giving Tree’ serves foster youth and families that have experienced a tough past. Amy and her team work with the CASA program and generous members of the community to provide several gifts per child, every year. Some years have topped 300 gifts. Other years they have collaborated with Mountain Crisis and ICES (Infant Child Enrichment Services), as well. This community outreach hits a personal cord with Eaton as she remembers growing up in a single parent household, and experienced times when her and her brother could have been a tag on a ‘giving tree’.
“Some parts of your life you are the bug and other parts, you are the windshield. It’s up to us to reach out with kindness and help where and whenever we can. That is what builds community and helps to raise empathetic humans. I believe it takes a village. Much of what ‘Pony’ does is community service and has nothing to do with ‘running a business’. I think it’s par for the course and if it’s not, no matter, it’s a part of my course (in life), and the part that fulfills me,” added Eaton.
It is that empathy and reflection that is evident in other community outreach that Amy has provided and/or spearheaded. In the aftermath of the Detwiler fire of 2017, Amy held Friday night complimentary dinners at Pony Expresso for a couple months as a way to support the people who lost homes as well as provide a place where Mariposa Human Services and other government agencies could sit down comfortably with the fire victims and get pertinent information to them.
Eaton and her coffee shop are also no strangers to fire. She is well aware of the trauma, emotions and hardships caused by a fire that destroys everything. It was nine years ago when a fire in Pizza Factory completely destroyed her shop as well as the rest of the block that housed the Pizza Factory and other small businesses.
That fire was a crossroad opportunity for Amy. Tough decisions had to be made. Taking about six weeks off to deal with the insurance and all of the emotions attached to losing her business unexpectedly, there was a “reset” as Amy called it. The fire provided some ‘outside the box’ thought processes. Moving away from downtown for a business that relied on foot traffic was a bold move but she saw the potential in the “49er Complex’ at the opposite end of town.
Nine years later, it proved to be the best decision for Pony Expresso. Amy says “it was a blessing in disguise, for Pony. A horrible disguise, but a beautiful blessing.” Amy’s ability to turn trauma and obstacles into positives are key factors to her success, the success of her business and the community outreach that means so much to her and those that are on the receiving end.