Wheeling Coffee Remembers Owner Mary Ann Lokmer
By ALEX MEYER
When Mary Ann Lokmer visited the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington, D.C., she didn’t want to hear about what was in the museum. Instead, she told the people there about all the different things that Wheeling has to offer.
“She was the best ambassador to Wheeling that I think that it’s ever had,” said Stephanie Lokmer, her daughter. “I would go ‘Mom, you’re supposed to see and learn all this stuff.’ But no, she didn’t want to know about that. She told them all the things Wheeling has.”
Mary Ann, a Wheeling native who ran the Wheeling Coffee and Spice Company for decades and started its coffee shop, died Jan. 23 at the age of 81. She expanded the business and welcomed all into the shop, from passersby to politicians.
“Her goal was to make this place comfortable,” Stephanie said of the shop, 13 14th St. in Downtown Wheeling. “A lot of people referred to it as ‘Cheers but with coffee.’ It’s homey and it’s about the whole idea of everybody getting together.”
Wheeling Coffee and Spice began in 1896 with the same building and coffee roasting equipment it uses today. For decades, the business solely functioned as a wholesale distributor of coffee with the brand name “Paramount Coffee.”
Mary Ann’s husband, Joseph Lokmer, purchased the company in 1977. The couple, who previously ran a motel and restaurant business together, were vendors of Wheeling Coffee until Joseph was approached by its owners, who were looking to sell their company.
“So my father walked out not only with the coffee but with the prospects of the whole company,” Stephanie said. “That’s how this all started”
When Joseph died in 1981, Mary Ann started running the business. In 1993, she opened a coffee shop in the front of the building and enlarged the space into a second room in 1999. She designed and furnished the space herself, Stephanie said.
“Her hospitality background played right into it,” she said. “My mother had a flair for style. I think that flair somehow infiltrated the shop.”
Today, the company offers gourmet coffees in a variety of flavors from beans slow-roasted in the original roasting machines that were installed in the building in the 1880s.
Since it opened, the coffee shop has been a meeting place for many, from its local “regulars” to national politicians. Local officials, senators, governors and presidential campaigns — such as Al Gore’s campaign in 2000 — have used the shop for meetings, Stephanie said.
In a statement expressing his condolences, Sen. Joe Manchin said he visited Mary Ann and Wheeling Coffee whenever he was in town.
“Mary Ann represented the very best of West Virginia, which is saying quite a lot,” Manchin said. “I had the pleasure of visiting Wheeling Coffee … and can attest to the warm and welcoming atmosphere that made it a favorite among residents and visitors alike.”
The company’s office manager, Mary Jo Martin, served as Mary Ann’s “right hand person” for 19 years and said she treated everyone who walked into the shop with kindness.
“Mary Ann never met a stranger. She got to know people right away,” Martin said. “She found out where they were from, where they were going, why they were going there.”
Bill Hogan, 90, of Wheeling, considers himself a “regular” of the coffee shop and spoke of Mary Ann’s warm character.
“She was well-liked and well-respected, but above that, Mary Ann had a big heart. She never turned anybody out of here,” Hogan said. “People feel comfortable because they’re wanted and loved, and she extended that to them.”
Another employee, barista Fran Jaquay, said Mary Ann was the “best boss I ever had.”
Moving forward, Stephanie, who normally lives and works in Washington, D.C., will run the company for the time being, but noted a plan to sell the company to another family is in the works.
“Mary Ann was able to select someone to move the company forward, who promised that they want to keep Wheeling Coffee running the way it is because they see the incredible energy of the customers and employees here,” Stephanie said.
Wheeling Coffee will keep roasting beans and welcoming people into its coffee shop for years to come, which is what Mary Ann wanted, Stephanie said.
“At the end of the day, she said ‘I have a great life. When I’m gone, I want a party. Be happy. Just enjoy life.'” Stephanie said. “And she enjoyed hers.”