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Metro-area coffeehouses cater to wide range of clientele

According to the National Coffee Association, 49% of Americans age 18 or older drink some type of coffee beverage daily. The café segment of the specialty coffee market, including cafés, drive-thrus, roasters and sidewalk carts, generated more than $8 billion worth of business in 2003.

Metro Jackson is home to numerous coffeehouses, and the market is notable for the number of independents — those not connected to any national chain. Starbucks has only two free-standing coffeehouses in the metro area, one in Ridgeland, and another in Clinton. The others are located in the area’s Target stores.

The area’s coffeehouses each have their own distinctive appeal in the market. Cups-An Espresso Café dominates the market, with six café locations and three kiosks. Gravity Gallery Coffeehouse & Café evolved in the shadow of Mississippi College and Clinton’s Olde Towne historic district.

The original Coffee Roastery opened when Dogwood Festival Mall debuted in Flowood, Fusion draws a mix of business professionals and high school student from their location on Highland Colony Parkway, and JavaWerks, a Hattiesburg-based chain, bought three Jumpin’ Bean facilities, a café and a drive-thru kiosk in Highland Village and a drive-thru in Brandon.

Fusion

Tripp Douglas, who opened Fusion 19 months ago, said the idea for Fusion began while he and his partner, Darth Bledsoe, were still earning their degrees at Mississippi College during the late 1990s. “For us, it was about creating an atmosphere and a sense of place that wasn’t available around here,” said Douglas.

Their coffee comes from a microroaster in New Orleans.
“They get it right off the boat at the Port of New Orleans,” said Douglas. The facility offers four drip coffees every day, including their own Fusion house blend and a rotating flavor-of-the-day. The whole range popular coffee drinks are available, as are whole beans for the customer to take home.

Trendwatchers know that the coffeehouse-as-social-scene reemerged in America about 10 years ago, and those same social amenities are what drive people to Fusion, Douglas said. A new jazz series recently premiered on Sunday nights, Linux and Mac computer groups take advantage of the free wireless Internet connections, and church groups take advantage of the atmosphere for gatherings.

Fusion’s popularity with the high school crowds startled Douglas at first, although he admits that in hindsight, he should have realized how ideal his location was for them.

“With us being close to Madison Central, St. Joseph’s, St. Andrew’s and Ridgeland High, we get a lot of the high-schoolers coming by after school,” Douglas said.

But don’t think Fusion just comes alive after 3 p.m.
Professionals from the Parkways’ surrounding office complexes make up the bulk of the daytime clientele. A limited menu of light pastries, entrée salads and sandwiches make it a popular place for a quick lunch.

Fusion’s success has Douglas and Bledsoe already thinking over the possibilities of expansion, but they want to move slowly.

“We’ve got our eyes on expansion. My five-year-plan is that I would like to have three Fusions around the metro area that we directly oversee, Douglas said.

Gravity Gallery Coffeehouse & Café

Change has come to Gravity since it was founded by Suzanne Vivier in the late 1990s. It changed hands in April 2003 and moved to from its original location to the historic Potter House down the street in June 2005, according to owner Johnny Courson.

A children’s menu and a bigger kitchen have broadened the offerings, Courson said.

The new location retains the bright colors from when it was Colorwheel Art Gallery and seats about 70 now, Courson said. Catered meals, parties and college students coming to hang out still make up the bulk of the clientele.

Established traditions still continue. Beignet Saturday with live music still runs, even though beignets are available all week long now in the café. But the live music has been expanded to bluegrass gospel once a month, a 1960s/1970s/blues night on Thursdays, with occasional surprise musical guests at other times, Courson said. “We had a group come in last night on tour from Tallahassee. They found us on the Web and called us up and wanted to come.”

JavaWerks

Pam Hill, who founded JavaWerks in Hattiesburg with her brother Kenneth, found out that three Jumpin’ Bean locations were available and decided that opportunity fit right in with the pair’s expansion plans. The drive-thru kiosk, fashioned out of one of Highland Village’s trademark red buses, particularly appealed to Hill.

“It’s a very unique type of drive-thru,” she said.
The café location next to Organizers in the shopping center seats about 20 and attracts shoppers and professionals in the center’s office areas for morning coffee as well as for lunch.

JavaWerks offers several varieties of panninis, an Italian-style sandwich. The Hills transplanted the menu from its Hattiesburg location.

“We visited a lot of coffee shops all over the United States, and I had eaten something similar in one of those,” Hill said.

The Jackson location also attracts students, particularly due to their proximity to Jackson Academy and Jackson Prep. Business increases at both drive-thrus when parents are pressed for time when dropping children off to school.

“When school comes back in, we always have a pickup,” said Hill.

The press of competition is moving in on its Brandon location, with Cups opening a full-size café one block away and a Seattle Drip location coming to the intersection of Crossgates Boulevard and U.S. 80. But it doesn’t worry Hill very much right now. “I think what Seattle Drip is going to do is expand the market a little bit,” noting that Seattle Drip locations is known for a darker roast than hers in their kiosks.

Franchising JavaWerks may not be far away. Hill said they were contemplating some new locations but had not finalized plans. Are they worried about market saturation? “There’s still a lot of room for growth in Central Mississippi for specialty coffee,” Hill said.

Coffee Roastery

Debra Griffin opened Coffee Roastery in Flowood the same time Dogwood Festival Mall opened for business in April 2002. She received a quick lesson in selling coffee in Mississippi.

“One thing I have learned is that coffee is a seasonal business, “said Griffin.

It’s a lesson she took to heart in opening her second location on U.S. 80 in Pearl in February 2005. “You can sell coffee in the spring and summer, but you do more business in the cooler months.”

Griffin opened the shop in Pearl with her sister, Lori Griffin, as manager and co-owner to take advantage of the business traffic coming to Pearl.

“I think Pearl is a good market — it’s a sleeper market. The Pearl location as I drive along has lots of thriving businesses,” she said.

The business also benefits from the economies of scale with a new location. Griffin roasts her own beans at the Flowood location and can buy it more cheaply in bulk for both locations.

The Flowood location doesn’t lack for atmosphere and amenities; newspapers, comfortable seating and gospel music in the background make for an inviting environment for mall customers to come by and take a break from shopping.
An art group meets regularly in the space every Sunday afternoon, bringing paints and easels to create their canvases.

However, Griffin doesn’t see herself as just a café owner. She’s focused on her coffee beans as product for those who enjoy coffee in their own homes. “Coffee is a commodity just like any other.”

Cups-An Espresso Café

Cups was one of the first coffeehouses in Jackson, opening its doors at the original Fondren location 12 years ago. Six months later, Dennis and Janice Cameron bought that location and embarked on an expansion plan that brought locations to the AmSouth Plaza, The Quarter on Lakeland and Northpark Mall.

The first Cups franchise was opened in Madison, with franchise kiosks in St. Dominic’s Hospital and Central Mississippi Medical Center following in its wake. Cups in Crossgates, its first Rankin County location, had its grand opening on September 2.

Debra Cameron, daughter of the owners, was 18 when she first moved to Jackson. She came in to the family business 10 years ago and now works as director of marketing and franchise relations.

In the process, she’s seen her parents’ goals for the coffeehouse business be realized, she said.

“It was their dream to own a place where they could be passionate about coffee and the arts,” Cameron said.
The Fondren location serves as a rotating art gallery, with artists hanging their work free of charge and without paying commission to Cups, Cameron said.

One Jackson Prep student, Casey McGraw, hung her early work in the Fondren location and has gone on to win awards for her art as a student at the University of Mississippi, Cameron said. The artsy interiors, from the custom tables and bar to the industrial ceiling, give it a more urban feel that most other locations, Cameron said.

Cups also roasts its own beans and bakes its own pastries in a facility up in Ridgeland, which is also home to its corporate offices. The growth has been controlled but welcome, Cameron said. “It’s been exciting to see a mom-and-pop store grow into something so unique for the community,” said Cameron.
It’s a trend that’s evident in the metro area coffeeshop market, and one that will likely continue to grow.

“As the coffee culture in a given market increases, the demand just grows,” Douglas said. “The Jackson area is still at the very beginning of the curve of this market.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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