Whitehaven

Whitehaven wants a coffee shop. Local entrepreneurs are stepping up.

When a resident of Whitehaven is in pursuit of a gourmet cup of coffee or a coffee house atmosphere, their best bet is to head to Midtown, the University District, or even across the state line to Southhaven or Olive Branch.

But the days of across-town or out-of-state coffee commutes may be numbered. The brew-centric startup, Muggin’ Coffeehouse, is slated to open next month at 1139 Brownlee Road.

On opening day, Muggin' Coffeehouse will become the only locally-owned coffee shop in Whitehaven. It will also be one of the few coffee shops in the city that is black-owned and operated.

“We were shocked to find out that Whitehaven did not have a coffee shop, given its demographics in terms of some of the incomes that are in that community,” said Eric Robertson, president of the nonprofit Community LIFT and its economic development arm, River City Capital.

Community LIFT and RCC support community development with nontraditional small-business loans, grants to individuals and community development corporations, and other resources.

Muggin’ Coffeehouse received startup capital from RCC through its Enterprise Loan program.

“We are a neighborhood coffee shop, a place where regulars and newcomers alike can go to have great coffee and conversation,” said Mary Olds, co-owner of Muggin' Coffeehouse.

Olds said they will sell premium coffee that meets specific standards of quality. Customers can expect a range of options including espresso drinks, lattes, frozen coffee beverages, iced coffee, and nitro coffee. Muggin' Coffeehouse also wants to be a place where people can gather. Olds said that too is in short supply in Whitehaven.

Plans include plenty of seating, a lounge, and a separate to-go register and pick-up counter for a tasty jolt of caffeine when speed is of the essence.

“We thought [a coffee shop] is something that could improve the quality of life for residents," said Robertson. "[Our Enterprise Loan] is a product we have, either for existing businesses or startups, that need less than $100,000. The sweet spot for us is really around $50,000,” said Robertson.

Muggin' Coffehouse may be the first but it may not be the only coffee shop in Whitehaven for much longer. Local small-batch coffee seller Memphis Grindhouse Coffee also tried to open a coffee shop in Whitehaven. It didn't pan out, but they haven't given up on the dream.

Ken and Mary Olds co-own Muggin' Coffeehouse, which is slated to open in Whitehaven in April 2020. The Olds both grew up in Whitehaven, which was one of the reasons they wanted to open a business in the area. (Ziggy Mack)

SERVING COFFEE, SERVING NEEDS

“Ken and I are coffee lovers. We started drinking it in college," said Olds of herself and her husband. "As we matured, so did our palettes as it relates to coffee. We started off drinking instant coffee and eventually transitioned to specialty and premium coffees."

The couple now co-owns Muggin’ Coffeehouse.

The Olds moved back to Memphis in 2017 and noticed there were no coffee shops in Whitehaven, where they both grew up. They saw friends and family driving to DeSoto County in Mississippi to get what they considered to be a premium cup of coffee.

The idea for a Muggin' Coffeehouse was born.

The Olds first approached a coffee franchise, but they were slow to respond. They decided to plot their own course, but as is the case with most startups, financing was a major concern.

They approached RCC with their business plan and drew strong interest. RCC connected the Olds with local startup incubator Epicenter, as well as other coffee shop owners to seek their advice and learn from their experience.

Muggin' Coffeehouse has since partnered with J. Brooks Coffee Roasters as their supplier.
 

Why doesn't whitehaven have a coffee shop? 

Whitehaven residents involved in the Memphis 3.0 planning process expressed a strong desire for more sit-down restaurants, upscale entertainment and shopping, national retailers, and higher-value home construction. They specifically listed coffee shops as a much needed amenity. 

Related: "Whitehaven Plaza is first look at Memphis 3.0 in action"

While its residents are certainly not a monolith, Whitehaven as a whole is big, suburban, and middle class. It's stable but growing and has solid resident interest and engagement in its development and other affairs. 

According to the Greater Whitehaven Economic Redevelopment Corporation, Whitehaven has more than 30,000 residents with 4,000 moving to Whitehaven each year. If it were its own city, it’d be in the top 25 largest in the state of Tennessee.

As of January 2019, their data showed Whitehaven's average annual income was $45,000 to $54,000. Shelby County’s average is $48,415.

It's the kind of place you'd expect to see several Starbucks and a few local shops.

But Whitehaven is majority-Black. 

During the Memphis 3.0 process, some residents pointed directly to pervasive structural racism as the sole reason Whitehaven has lacked the public and private investment given to majority-white suburbs that are similar in virtually every way except racial makeup.

Related: Seeing Red: "Mapping 90 years of redlining in Memphis"

Many expressed frustration that most of the investment in their community to-date focused on tourist and Graceland instead of residents' needs.

RCC provides access to capital for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and neighborhoods like Whitehaven that are considered too risky for traditional lenders.

Ken and Mary Olds look at building schematics of their future coffee shop, Muggin' Coffeehouse, in Whitehaven. The space is currently under renovation. The Olds both grew up in Whitehaven, which was one of the reasons they wanted to open a business in the area. (Ziggy Mack)

The GRIT OF GRINDHOUSE 

When its business plan was drafted, the owners of Memphis Grindhouse were set on opening a brick-and-mortar location in Whitehaven. They shopped their idea to several banks and lending institutions but were unsuccessful in securing the necessary startup capital. 

“The first thing they asked us was, ‘What do you bring to the table financially with this business?’” said Dwayne Chaffen, who co-owns Memphis Grindhouse with Rick Askew.

In general, the hurdles for borrowing money for a food service startup are generally high. Eateries and drink purveyors, including coffee shops, have a reputation for failure.  While 40% make it through the first year, nearly 80% close by year five.

The cost of opening a new restaurant varies, but it's not uncommon for the tab to run upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We only asked the bank for $100,000," said Chaffen. "They said, ‘You show us a check for $50,000, a deposit in the bank or whatever, and we’ll do a line of credit up to $100,000 ... We talked to several banks across the city, small and large, and we kept hearing the same answer."

Muggin' Coffeeshop may well have to prove that coffee is a profitable investment in Whitehaven before the lending landscape improves for others like Grindhouse.

Chaffen and Askew decided to pivot their business model and sell 12 oz. bags of coffee online. They launched in December of last year.

Their beans are sustainably sourced and imported from locations like Peru, Guatemala, and Africa. They're locally roasted in small batches by J. Brooks Coffee Roasters and packaged in Memphis to give customers the freshest product possible.

Grindhouse coffee is sustainably sourced, roasted and packaged locally, and available online. Grindhouse's co-owners, Dwayne Chaffen and Rick Askew, hope to open a brick-and-mortar coffee shop in Whitehaven. (Ziggy Mack)
To get the word out locally and build their brand, Memphis Grindhouse frequently makes their coffee available to the community.

On March 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. they'll have a public tasting at the Landmark Event Center located at 2810 Bartlett Road. The event is free but guests can RSVP here

“We are going to have soft music ... we’ll have light things to pair with the coffee like desserts," said Chaffen. "Something that complements coffee."

In addition to a gourmet experience, the startup’s brand includes a mission to fight illiteracy in Shelby County. Twenty-five percent of proceeds will be donated to literacy programs for students in third grade and below on a quarterly basis.

Since opening, Grindhouse has cultivated a customer base that extends to both coasts. They're using their website and social media to build their online brand, but they still have their sights set on seeing a physical shop in Whitehaven.

“We have people from everywhere in the U.S. that like our brand, that follow our brand. We are excited about it,” said Chaffen. “We’ll just keep working it online until we make enough money to open a brick-and-mortar. That’s the goal.”

Read more articles by Jim Coleman.

Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.
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