Entrepreneur Ayele Akibulan is reviving his father’s business legacy in Soulsville with some new twists. Kemet Nu, a bookstore that served nearby LeMoyne-Owen College for nearly 25 years, could be re-open for business by mid-summer as an internet cafe.
Kemet Nu, located at 900 Mississippi Boulevard, had been a fixture in the neighborhood as an event center, bookstore and coffee shop from the 1980s until 2006 when Akibulan’s father, Edwin Brittenum, retired. Since then, the 1,500-square-foot freestanding building, which the family owns, has sat dormant.
“The business has been a historical staple in the community, and we just want to make sure that we play a part in the revitalization of the Soulsville area,” Akibulan said. “It was a cultural center here in the city that was pivotal for many students of LeMoyne-Owen being able to study there. So I just want to piggyback off the legacy that he started by making it into a cultural center.”
The reopening of the business, which is located around the corner from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, is another step towards revitalization of the area. Akibulan recently received a $25,000 loan from the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis & Shelby County (EDGE) to help with building improvements like a new roof, a new HVAC unit, a jazzed up façade with new glass and doors and electrical system work. Renovations will begin in April.
Ayele Akibulan (submitted)
“I wanted to be able to offer a benefit to the community, so I came up with the idea of starting an internet café because a lot of the people in the community don’t have access to Wi-Fi, so they’re limited in their ability to apply for jobs and things of that nature,” Akibulan said.
“EDGE is deeply invested in blight reduction and new commercial development in South Memphis,” said John Lawrence, EDGE senior economic development specialist. “But Kemet Nu is also a rare opportunity to bring together neighborhood residents, LeMoyne-Owen students, and visitors to the area.
EDGE’s Inner City Economic Development (ICED) loan program, which is generated through the City of Memphis Payment-In-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT) personal property fees, is designed to spark the revitalization of Memphis inner-city neighborhood business districts through small, three-year, forgivable loans of up to $25,000 to assist with façade and other building improvements.
“Kemet Nu will provide a new dining and entertainment alternative to the area, increase customer traffic and visibility, and hopefully bring new attention to stable anchors like the Four Way Grill,” said Lawrence.
Akibulan brings 18 years of experience in the human resources field, working with Adecco Staffing, Ranstad and Shelby County Schools, as well as 18 years of experience in the restaurant industry. His revamped vision for Kemet Nu expands the scope of his father’s business.
He will provide LeMoyne-Owen, Soulsville Charter School, the Memphis Slim Collaboratory, the Stax Museum and other area businesses and employment agencies the opportunity to use Kemet Nu as an employment hub where people can apply for jobs, have on-site interviews and use facilities like the web, printer and fax machine.
“Kemet Nu will span the gap between home access and the public library, being a centrally located facility within walking distance and on a bus route,” said Akibulan, who earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from LeMoyne-Owen followed by a master’s degree in human resource management from Webster University.
“We’ll also be doing basic computer and job readiness classes, and we’ll have a general meeting space for businesses that need conference room space as well.”
One thing that will carry over from his father’s original business is Kemet Nu's offerings of spiritual, cultural, self-help and motivational reading material.
“We’ll still provide that service as a legacy to my father,” said Akibulan. “He didn’t sell food items like I plan to sell, and his scope was not as broad as mine as far as community involvement and engagement. As well as being a cultural event center, we’ll be looking at doing things like poetry readings and movies on targeted nights, and we’ll also have what we will call The Thought Exchange, with people coming out from the community to have a conversation about prevalent topics in today’s times.”
The café’s grab-and-go style menu will feature hot wings, burgers, veggies, desserts and coffee, with catered lunches available for group meetings.
The business will start out with two employees.
“As it grows I plan to add more, and we’ll look to get resources from the community,” he said.