JACKSON — When Dennis and Janice Cameron moved to Jackson in the early 1990s, they longed to find an independent coffeehouse with character, one that wasn’t a cookie cutter design, and one that showcased local artists and musicians.
Soon after they settled in, they stumbled into CUPS, a Fondren coffeehouse established by Paula Parks and Melissa Joseph.
“We were happy they opened it, but disappointed we didn’t do it,” said Janice Cameron. “They had it for maybe a year or less and we got word they wanted to sell. We jumped on it and recently celebrated our 10th anniversary at Fondren.”
Cameron, who had a fine arts background but no entrepreneurial experience, almost got cold feet.
“It was a leap of faith and a desire to try something that I knew we loved because we’d been in so many unique coffeehouses and enjoyed each one,” she said. “We knew we could put our own personal touch on it.”
Cameron opened CUPS Downtown six months later, followed by a store in Northpark Mall and a coffeehouse in The Quarter on Lakeland Drive. Local artists, such as children’s book illustrator Chuck Galey, who also created CUPS 10th anniversary T-shirt design, and his son, each painted a table at the Fondren and Quarter locations. Wall art, also created by local artists, is replaced monthly.
“We’ve done that for 10 years,” she said. “When we bought the store, my vision was to change the art regularly to give local artists an opportunity to hang their work. For me, it provides a fresh backdrop each month. I feel our creative nature grows with seeing other people’s art. They’re showing their soul by hanging their art, and that gets us in touch with ourselves. It’s all very positive.”
Cameron has never taken a commission on art sales “because the artist is giving us so much by displaying their art and we have the opportunity to give them money to reinvest in themselves,” she explained. “I think we all gain from that.”
After encouraging artists for years to display their work in her stores, Cameron displayed her own art — charcoals and pastels of faces — during the month of June, when she turned 57.
“It was a great month to give myself a birthday present,” she said, with a laugh. “It takes a lot of energy to move a company forward, but that’s one thing I set time aside for. I finally set up a studio in one of my bedrooms, decided to pursue it again and am appreciative my company is doing well and I have wonderful people working for me.”
Every month, local musicians play for tips at the Fondren coffeehouse, “another way to reach people and share a healthy, enjoyable time together,” she said.
Because of an increased demand for tea in the last couple of years, Cameron has increased the variety-loose tea and tea bags, and white, black and green teas. About 10% of CUPS customers are tea drinkers.
Three months ago, she introduced CUPS automatic customer and gift cards, and activated a company website, www.cupsespressocafe.com, for Internet orders.
“I actually had my feet in the mud over giving up our little paper cards but that’s old school thinking,” she said. “Going automatic really helps us track accurately and gives us a better idea of who our customers are and how to serve them.”
Last year, Cameron’s husband, Dennis, an engineer with Mtel and co-founder of AIR2LAN, helped establish wireless Internet service in all four locations. “Having wireless has helped grow the business,” she said. “More people are coming in and using laptops, especially downtown.”
The company, which has 35 employees, has a roasting and baking operation in Ridgeland, managed by master roaster Shawn Rogers, who has worked for CUPS for six years.
“There’s an art to roasting, and I suppose there’s an art to coffee,” said Cameron, whose favorite coffee flavor is cr
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