“Pandemic Pivot”: 11th Hour's new spa-café concept combines coffee, calm and CBD – The Middlebury Campus

Francesca Krempa

By Olivia Mueller

Tucked away in the middle of the Marbleworks, 11th Hour Botanical Wellness is a hidden gem. It is a cozy but quirky space with a lot going on; colorful Nicaraguan art lines the walls of the espresso bar area, and there is a spa section near the main windows displaying botanical skincare products. However, looking more closely at wares housed in the round-top display case reveals yet another aspect of the business –– CBD tinctures, edibles, and yes, (THC-free) joints. Passersby may wonder: what exactly is going on here at this “spa-fé?” 
“This is my pandemic pivot,” explained owner Jenn Buker from behind the espresso bar in her newly refurbished space.
A marine-biologist-turned-aesthetician, Buker formerly operated Pro Skin Studio, the popular spa and skincare side of her business, out of the same space. 
“I was the person that would have people book [appointments] a year in advance, because if you want to guarantee a spot then you need to,” Buker said. 
Then, when the pandemic hit, she made the difficult decision to temporarily close due to the risk of offering in-person services. The time off gave her an unexpected opportunity to branch out into other business ventures, including growing hemp for CBD products at her Lincoln, Vt. home.
Buker met fellow Lincoln residents and experienced hemp farmers Erica French and Todd Curtis around Memorial Day of 2020 and worked with them to grow her first seedlings. While Memorial Day is a typical planting time, due to the timing of only recently befriending French and Curtis, Buker did not get her plants into the ground until July — truly the eleventh hour for planting, and hence, the name of her new business was born.
“We had some of [the cannabis] turned into our [CBD] tincture,” Buker said. “And the guys that processed the tincture for us were like, I’ve never seen anything this good.”
Although she is not a smoker or consumer of THC cannabis products, Buker has been using CBD products for years as a means of managing chronic pain caused by a connective tissue disorder. Knowing she had a quality product on her hands that was safe to sell during a pandemic, Buker decided to expand her business model. Thus, out of Pro Skin Studio, 11th Hour Botanical Wellness was founded. 
“It was just this very organic thing that happened,” Buker said.
When the Bristol coffee shop Almost Home closed last year, Buker was able to purchase a lot of their espresso equipment. She now serves local espresso from Earthback Coffee Roasters, a small-batch Vermont roaster, as well as CBD-infused blends from the Colorado-based brand Strava. The café side of the business adds to the friendly community environment Buker hopes to cultivate at 11th Hour.
“I wanted to have a place where somebody like me could come in and ask questions,” Buker said. “I just wanted a place that was… accessible to the entire community. I guess that’s really the heart.” 
Because it is a cannabinoid, CBD carries a certain stigma, but unlike THC products, CBD does not cause a “high.” Rather, CBD taps into the body’s endocannabinoid system, and many people use CBD without smoking to help manage pain, sleep better or reduce symptoms of anxiety as an alternative to prescription drugs. Along with slinging espresso and continuing to provide spa and wellness services, Buker hopes to be able to share her knowledge of CBD with the community. 
But opening in January 2021 in the thick of the pandemic brought its challenges. Unexpected plastic cup shortages, the nationwide staffing shortage and occasional customer grumbling about masking requirements have all been roadblocks along the way. These added to the existing challenges of opening a new business in a small town.
“The hardest thing in the world is getting customers to know where you’re at. I’m a one woman show,” Buker said. 
She added that she’s now more engaged with the community as a whole, compared to her previous days of only scheduled appointments. 
Buker noted that the community’s reception of her new business has been positive.
Despite the challenges of the spa-fé’s location in Marble Works, Buker has made efforts to make 11th Hour attractive and apparent to the community, providing plenty of colorful outdoor seating to allow for safe gathering. Middlebury College students get a 10% discount if they show their student ID, and with the option to pick up a CBD-infused treat or add a few drops of tincture to their morning latte, curious customers can simply dip a toe into the world of CBD products before fully committing.
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