Tucked in the very back of the Bean Hollow, a cozy coffee shop at the base of Ellicott City's Main Street, there's a black and white table with thunderbolt designs and a side panel that, when removed, reveals a not-so-secret trove of notes and drawings from dozens of anonymous customers.
Now, Bean Hollow owner Gretchen Shuey is moving the art out of its hiding place.
Last month, she put up the first round of what she hopes will be an ongoing exhibit highlighting her talented customers' works.
She won't run out of material for quite some time: by now, Shuey has accumulated enough doodles to fill a crate with 11 notebooks and upward of a hundred free-floating brown paper napkins.
The tradition started out small. In 2008, Shuey discovered a group of friends, who called themselves by colorful codenames – "Me," "Other," "The DON," "Third," "Cute Couple" and "Four Sticky Muffineers" – had been leaving messages for each other in the table's secret drawer.
She decided to join in. She wrote them a note of her own and put some paper under the table to encourage the conversation. Eventually, others caught on and she began supplying the drawer with notebooks.
Though Shuey knew people were using the drawer to stash their work, just how much napkin and notebook art was stored in there flew under her radar for a while.
"Then one day, I… started going through the notebooks, and realized that we had a lot of amazing artists and poetry in the notebooks," she said. "People were writing things that were inspirational, they were writing about their struggles, they were writing about spending the day in Ellicott City with their family or their friends."
She decided it was time to share their "crazy talent" with the rest of the community.
Sifting through all the art she's collected over the past six years, Shuey, who has owned the Bean Hollow for a decade, started picking up on some dominant themes: "love, friends and family, struggle and inspiration, random miscellaneous thoughts, love for Bean Hollow staff and the café itself."
Much of the art, she said, gives the "sense of what it means to have a place to come and spend time with friends and family and neighbors."
Local artist Amy Albright started coming to the Bean Hollow on a regular basis because of the community vibe.
"It's always been kind of a little oasis basically within Ellicott City," she said.
Shuey has activately cultivated that atmosphere by bucking the trend of free WiFi in coffee shops, opting instead to encourage customers to tear their eyes away from a screen and connect with others one-on-one.
"It's one of the few remaining places where you can actually have a conversation," Albright said. "Not just with your friends, but you meet people there."
The Ellicott City resident said she found Bean Hollow's secret art drawer "by surprise.
"When I opened it, I thought it was the coolest thing," she said.
Albright has made multiple contributions of her own to the drawer over the past few years.
One of her first – a jaguar she drew on a napkin in 2010 – is now on display.
Albright, who works part-time at an animal hospital, often uses animal subjects in her art. The jaguar drawing was an homage to a paper napkin drawing she herself had grown up admiring.