For six years, Chris Innis has traveled 6 miles almost every morning from his home near Coolville Ridge Road to Donkey Coffee and Espresso.
When he gets there, he often heads straight for the green, cushioned chair in the corner — one of the most coveted seats in the coffee shop at 17 W. Washington St. If that seat is occupied, he finds another place up front where the light from the window can illuminate his daily copy of The Columbus Dispatch, which he reads while sipping from his personal mug filled with daily roast coffee that he takes black. He also just likes to be near the door.
“I like to sit up front because I like to watch people come and go,” Innis said.
Some of those people are other regulars whom he has come to know and prominent local figures like Athens County commissioners and Mayor Steve Patterson.
Innis stays in Donkey Coffee for a few hours each morning — long enough to refill his cup a few times.
“Anything past that I think I would be overstaying my welcome,” Innis said.
Innis was recently featured on and Facebook accounts as one of “The People of Donkey.” Ben Ziff, a barista and social media manager at Donkey Coffee, started the project to highlight some of the familiar faces people might see in the shop.
“(Chris) is one of our most regular regulars. … He’s just a really nice guy,” Ziff, who has worked at Donkey Coffee for about five years said. “It’s interesting to see people who know him outside of Donkey.”
Innis first started frequenting Donkey Coffee when it opened 16 years ago. At the time, he was working for the Welfare Department, now called Job and Family Services, in Athens. He dealt a lot with training new people for ever-changing positions and served as the middleman between the state department and Athens’ surrounding counties.
Instead of going to the coffee shop in the morning, he often came around lunch time.
“I remember when Chris and Angie (Pyle) started the business,” Innis said. “It turned out really well for them.”
Innis moved from Granville, about 70 miles north of Athens, in 1978 when East State Street had only a bar, a couple car dealerships and when the airport was where Kroger now exists. The Athena Grand had yet to be built, and none of the big box stores had taken up shop.
“I love the rolling hills,” Innis said. “I’m an old hippie, so there are a lot of people like that.”
Granville was a known as a wealthier area, and seeing the poverty in Athens was difficult for Innis, especially working for the Welfare Department.
Innis was familiar with Athens before the big move to the area in the ’70s. He graduated from Ohio University with a degree in English in 1978. Some of his time at OU was during the Vietnam War.
He recalled having classes on College Green, where outsiders with megaphones would come to talk about the war. He said someone threw a brick at former OU President Claude Sowle during a speech.
The way the young people banded together to incite change in the ’70s is applicable today, Innis said, especially with the steps the teenagers from the Parkland shooting are taking.
“Sometimes, the youngsters have to make the old people wake up,” he said.
Innis has lived on the same 30-acre farm he bought in 1978 with his wife, Darleen. They own three dogs, two cats, and two donkeys named Danny and Sadie. Innis once filled a Donkey Coffee mug with donkey feed and gave it to one of his donkeys, a picture some of the employees talk about.
Innis has seen a lot of employees come and go through the years, but he stays connected to some of them through Facebook.
“It’s always hard to see people leave, but that’s the nature of a college town,” he said.
When it comes down to it, though, the coffee and company is always good.
“It’s a good place to drink coffee,” he said.