The Edge District

A year with Wonder / Cowork / Create

A typical day at the office isn’t necessarily exciting, but for freelancers and solo entrepreneurs who spend most days working alone, an office and coworkers can be the stuff of dreams.

“I find when I’m at home I just get distracted really easily. I do laundry, I do dishes, I do everything. Then I realize it’s 3 p.m., and I haven’t started any work yet,” said Serrie Fung,

Fung is the founder of Zest, which specializes in branding and communications for nonprofits. She moved to Memphis in February and quickly began looking for a coworking space. In addition to focus, Fung hoped coworking could build new personal and professional networks.

“I have a lot of questions, whether it’s setting up a business in Memphis [or] where to go to get something printed,” she said.

Fung initially chose Wonder / Cowork / Create because of its affordable prices and convenient location on Monroe Avenue at Danny Thomas Boulevard in The Edge. But she was unsure if Wonder was a good fit for her. Wonder is geared primarily towards creative entrepreneurs, which can include fine artists, graphic designers, writers, and filmmakers. Fung didn’t consider herself a creative.

“Coming here and meeting some of the other members, I realized, oh, it’s not just for designers. All of the work that we do is creative,” she said.

Wonder celebrated its first birthday on September 4. Owners Cat and Nick Peña said it has grown steadily and organically, primarily through social media and word of mouth.

Moving into its second year and beyond, the Peñas would like to add a barista and more dedicated desks. They’re also looking to host more events including musical performances and poetry slams. In the next two to three years, they expect to outgrow their current space and will decide whether to expand or relocate.

Their next event is December 20 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. It’s both a holiday party and opening reception for Memphis-based artist Scott Carter’s exhibit, “Absorbing Bodies.”

Fung said that though she had her doubts when she joined, she’s stayed a Wonderer because of the culture the Peñas have created and will continue to create as Wonder progresses.

“These are like my colleagues now,” she said of her fellow coworkers.

“Being able to ask, ‘Hey, does anyone know a good photographer?,’ or ‘What nonprofits do you know that are doing great branding that I can learn from?,’ has been hugely beneficial as opposed to me sitting at home and just Googling stuff,” she added.

Wonder / Cowork / Create is located on Monroe Avenue at Danny Thomas. It offers communal space, dedicated desks, and small office space. (Cole Bradley)

Wonder What It’s Like?

Walking into the space, the atmosphere is decidedly relaxed with a cozy yet industrial feel. A
quaint kitchenette, the smell of rich coffee, and a comfortable couch and chairs sit in contrast to bare brick walls and concrete floors.

The Peñas said the coworkers, known as Wonderers, span races, socioeconomics, professions, religions, and more. They’ve found the diversity of people and talents has significantly added to the knowledge sharing and collaborations among its membership.

“I just think that [the Peñas] do a really great job of bringing in a really diverse and interesting group of people,” said Fung. “Especially in the past two months or so, every time I’ve come there’s been new members or people there for meetings. So I’m constantly expanding my network here, which has been really nice.”

Fung said she also appreciates that the Peñas have taken a DIY approach to the space.

The Peñas and co-founder Eric Clausen designed and built Wonder’s desks, cubicle walls and other space divisions, and its large exterior mural. 

The name, Wonder / Cowork / Create, reflects the values of the space.

First and foremost, it’s a space for Wonderers to ponder and create professional projects both individually and together. The Peñas wanted to serve people who wonder ‘what if…?’ -- people who feel there is something calling them to create and think outside of the box. The name is also a nod to the old Wonder Bread factory, which is located directly across Danny Thomas.

Wonder What They Offer?

Wonder is an evolving concept that's grown based on input from its Wonderers.

Cat Peña said they currently have around 20 coworkers who come very frequently and around 30 active memberships at any given time. An average day sees around 10 people throughout the day and a busy day sees double.

Wonder offers dedicated work spaces, communal work spaces, a conference room, and kitchen stocked with locally roasted coffee. They host creative events and monthly community potlucks and offer the space for popup shops and other events.

Coworker can purchase a day pass, monthly membership, or a punch card for those who don’t want a monthly members but do want a bulk discount. Dedicated cubicles rent for $250 a month and the two small office spaces for $500. The conference room rents for $30 an hour.  

The two private spaces have served as a popup market, studio, and office space. One is currently office for Ranked Choice Tennessee. In February, a local cleaning company will move in and use the space to help launch their new product line.

Wonder recently began featuring local artist in a rotating exhibit.

The Peñas said that while they plan to continue evolving their space and offerings, they want to
ensure they don’t lose the voice of the creative community that's steered Wonder’s growth. They hope to maintain the authentic community, character, and experience of the space.

The Peñas said their primary goal is to connect, build, and enhance the lives of those who come to wonder, cowork, and continuously create.

Cat and Nick Peña launched Wonder / Cowork / Created in September 2018 with co-founder Eric Clausen. (Cole Bradley)

Starting to Wonder

The Peñas moved to Memphis twelve years ago.

They weren’t looking to start a business but did want a space for creative entrepreneurs to work, share, and socialize together. They also wanted to bridge the gap between established entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs still building their brands.

“[Our goal was to] find a community that had a creative edge to it and to continuously collide, meet, and share with others to continue the never ending conversation that gets people involved,” said Nick Peña.

As they got to know Memphis’ creative communities, they built their own careers.

Nick Peña is a gallery artist and art professor at Christian Brothers University. He teaches a number of subjects including printmaking, graphic design, illustration, and digital photograph. Cat Peña is a public art consultant who's worked with the Memphis Medical District Collaborative, City of Germantown, and others on public art displays. Her work includes the blue tasseled installation at the intersection of Marshall and Monroe avenues in The Edge.

In spring 2018, Mike Todd approached the Peñas about leasing his building at 340 B Monroe Avenue. 

Memphis has several coworking spaces, but none were geared towards creative entrepreneurs like illustrators and designers. The Peñas saw an opportunity to create the space they wanted to see for creative entrepreneurs.

After researching their business model and viability, they approached the MMDC, a community development agency working across the Medical District, for a pre-development grant. The grant funded focus groups to assess if the idea was viable within the creative community and paid for graphic marketing like Wonder's website and drafting the layout of the space.

The Peñas also saw The Edge as an opportunity. It could easily serve Downtown, Midtown and The Medical District and offered close access to the interstate for commuters. The Medical District includes The Edge and several other distinct neighborhoods like Madison Heights.

“Individuals in The Edge need a place to work too,” said Nick Peña. “Some have pushed out of the Downtown area but still have hopes and dreams and need a place to explore, research, and plan them.”
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Read more articles by Deborah Robertson and Cole Bradley.