Memphis’ Pinch District is getting a much-needed addition to its business community with the opening of Comeback Coffee at 358 North Main Street, which will celebrate its grand opening on March 29.
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Originally the location of Memphis’ business core, by the turn of the 20th century, the Pinch became home to the city’s immigrant community. Following World War II, many of its residents moved east to the suburbs. The neighborhood declined over the decades, leveling off at its current stagnation. A few businesses moved in over the years, with little success. Later, with the addition of the Pyramid, there were hopes that the district would see a revival, but that too failed to materialize. With the $1 billion expansion of neighboring St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, there is renewed interest in the neighborhood as a multi-use district with a mixture of commercial space and residences.
“We both are born and raised here. We left, went to college in Arkansas. When we came back we both wanted to start something of our own and wanted to start an adventure in coffee,” said Hayes McPherson, who co-owns the coffee shop with his wife, Amy. Both entrepreneurs are 24 years old.
Trips home from college would include explorations in Downtown areas like Pinch, where they eventually found the site of their future business.
“We stumbled upon this place, and we just fell in love with it. All these building down here we think are just gorgeous — 1800s, early 1900s. We saw this one and it was for sale, and we were like ‘How cool would it be if we could get in here. It just wasn’t obtainable,’” McPherson said.
During a conversation with Amy’s father, they found out he had been looking at properties Downtown as an investment. Coincidentally, he had his eye on the 2,800-square-foot property as well.
Interior of Comeback Coffee, a coffee shop opening in March in the Pinch District. (Kim Coleman)
“We kind of stepped in and said, ‘Look, we have this really great idea. It would be good for the district, can we rent from you?’ He said, “Let’s do it,’ So, we have been able to partner on this. Our dreams came true and it’s been able to help him in the end too by building on the district with us,” McPherson said.
Now, after years of dreaming and planning, the pair are eager to put their stamp on the district.
“The Pinch is so unique, its demographic, because we are surrounded by so many different types of people. We have the Downtown core, we have Uptown, we have Mud Island, we have St. Jude. We want this to be a place where all those people can come together and rub shoulders, and convene together and share life with each other,” said McPherson, who shares the upstairs living space at 358 North Main Street with his wife.
It’s the surrounding hub of activity in these other areas that provides a potential customer base for the new coffeehouse, which will feature Methodical Coffee from South Carolina as the house brew. Other coffees as well as teas will be on hand, too.
“We fell in love with their coffee a while back. Their team is incredible. They’ll be on bar all the time. And then we’ll cycle in some others alongside them every month. We want to be able to expose some new options of what is happening in the world of coffee to Memphis,” said McPherson.
There will also be nitro teas and coffees brewed on drip. After brewing, they are flashed chilled and then flushed with nitro. The end result is a creamy texture without any cream or milk.
“It’s really smooth and easy to toss back. It takes away a lot of the bitterness that you often get in cold coffee, or just coffee in general. So, it is perfect for summertime drinking,” according to McPherson.
There is also an inhouse coffee soda on tap. Black drip coffee is added to a strawberry-lime syrup and sent through a CO2 system to add carbonation.
“It is really simple. It has a little bit of a coffee kick to it, but it is not going to overwhelm you. We are definitely doing a different take on it. It’ll definitely be different than any other place. I think it is the first of its kind here in Memphis,” said McPherson, who also said Comeback hopes to make the soda available at other locations around town.
The view from the front windows of Comeback Coffee, the Pinch's first new business in years, includes the iconic Pyramid. (Kim Coleman)
Along with coffee-friendly staples like pastries and baked goods, the menu will feature lunch fare like soups and sandwiches. Fresh ingredients are provided from local farms. All items are cooked in house by chef Cole Jeanes, who created the menu.
“He is super talented. The menu that he has made is unique to Memphis. Unique for a coffee shop in Memphis, especially,” added McPherson.
Although the idea has been years in the making, to prep the former home turned business for opening day, the McPhersons received a grant for $50,000 from the Downtown Memphis Commission. The money they received helped pay for outside work on the facade and alleyway, among other things.
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“Attracting new investment to the Pinch District is a high-priority for the DMC. Adding new ground-floor commercial activity along North Main Street and supporting the renovation of historic buildings are key strategies in the Pinch District Redevelopment Plan. The Comeback Coffee project also transformed the underutilized alley into a neighborhood asset,” said Jennifer K. Oswalt, president of Downtown Memphis Commission
Money also went to upgrades and repairs like sidewalk repairs, lights, greenery, seating, signage and the exterior of the kitchen buildout.
“I don’t think we would have been able to do this without that grant money ... I mean it has helped us incredibly. Financially-wise, that is our biggest partner, the Downtown Commission,” said McPherson.
The Memphis Medical District Collaborative has also been helpful by connecting Comeback Coffee to other businesses, organizations and individuals in and around the district.
“Comeback Coffee will provide a much-needed product and service to that part of our city that was formerly unavailable, or you'd have to go some distance to get. This new business is indicative of what is possible and projected to happen in the Pinch,” said Vonesha Mitchell, program manager with Memphis Medical District Collaborative.
Besides a chef, Comeback has hired two baristas with Hayes and Amy both planning to be on the bar. They also will support local artists by rotating original works into the space every three months and holding concerts in the courtyard whenever they can schedule them.
With their dream about to come true, the McPhersons don’t want to try to rush any new adventures or expansions. They want to enjoy the opening the coffee shop and investing in their neighborhood.
“We want Comeback to be a place where you feel like everybody has a place here. We want people to feel they can stay as long as they need to, whether that’s three minutes grabbing their cup and go, or three hours sitting and working; escaping from whatever they need to escape from. We want to help build that place for those people,” said McPherson.