At the turn of the millennium, Don and Geri Pratt opened a little coffee shop on Prince George Street called Aromas. More than 16 years later, that business has grown into Aromas World Specialty Coffees, Gourmet Bakery and Café, with additional locations in Earl Gregg Swem Library and Newport News, Virginia.
The Pratts also expanded to other business ventures, opening The Hound’s Tale restaurant in 2015 and the animal-themed Corner BARkery along with it earlier this year.
However, these Williamsburg institutions are starting a new chapter: The Pratts announced Sept. 10 that Michelle and Steve Sieling will become the new owners of these establishments starting Oct. 1.
“We’re so excited to be part of the university,” Michelle Sieling said. “It’s a wonderful town, it’s wonderful students, and we’re very, very excited to be part of Williamsburg and the College [of William and Mary]”
The newly created company operates the three Aromas, The Hound’s Tale and the Corner BARkery. While the Sielings are the new owners, the Pratts are not going gently into that good night — they will remain active in daily operations for the next 18 months and are also company board members.
The transition into new ownership, as Michelle Sieling describes it, was entirely natural. The Sielings moved to Williamsburg from Chicago, Illinois, after the cold winter they experienced there in 2015. Michelle Sieling started working as a bookkeeper for the Pratts about a year after she moved to Williamsburg, and the two couples became friends. When the Sielings mentioned to the Pratts that they were interested in starting a local business, the Pratts suggested they just take theirs over.
“I’d been talking to my husband about wanting to start a business here in Williamsburg,” Michelle Sieling said. “It’s a daunting task to start a company new from scratch and I really enjoy hospitality. I love good food.”
One day, Michelle Sieling mentioned this dream to Geri Pratt, who suggested that instead of starting a business from the ground up, the Sielings should look into buying the Pratts’ businesses, and the rest is history.
“I came home and talked to my husband, like ‘You’re not going to believe this,’” Michelle Sieling said.
While Michelle Sieling has experience with administration and bookkeeping, hospitality and restaurant work is something new for the Sielings.
“I’ve always thought about owning my own restaurant,” Michelle Sieling said. “It’s been something in the back of my mind and it’s become more of a thought and reality. We’ve gotten settled here in Williamsburg and we just love the town and it’s one of those things that we’ve talked about, but it never came to light until talking to Don and Geri.”
To Michelle Sieling , Aromas is the quintessential neighborhood coffee house, and she and her husband frequented it long before they considered buying it.
“It’s so cute and quaint and cozy and you go in there and staff always greet you with a smile and it just feels warm and homey,” Michelle Sieling said. “You always feel welcome when you go in there, and the baked goods are absolutely delicious, they’re fresh and creative. And, of course, the coffee’s outstanding.”
Michelle Sieling said that she also sees the important role Aromas especially plays within the College of William and Mary community.
“Being located at the library and across the way, [Aromas] is a casual, warm, comfortable setting where you can come in with your laptop and do your work, and meet with other students and work on papers and projects together,” Michelle Sieling said. “It’s very affordable, which can be very helpful when you’re in college.”
This welcoming environment for students at Aromas is something Michelle Sieling said she hopes to continue, and even work to improve.
“Don and Geri have done an amazing job in making aromas part of William and Mary and being so accessible and open,” Michelle Sieling said. “It’s wonderful to have a nice Aromas café at the library for students and that is a huge benefit. I look at my husband and I who both went to university of Iowa together, we’re like ‘Oh my God, we’d die if we had something like this at college.”
The Sielings and the Pratts insist that despite the change in management, all three Aromas locations, The Hound’s Tale and the Corner BARkery will remain largely the same as they have been.
“The goal of this transition is to make it be as seamless as possible,” Michelle Sieling said. “My husband and I, being younger, we’re excited to invest and keep this around for another 25, 30 years.”