On any given afternoon, take a trip to one of the three coffee shops in the city of Huntington that accept Flex dollars, and you’ll undoubtedly find clusters of students there studying, chatting or taking advantage of fast, unfiltered internet.
Coffee D’Vine, Four Cups and Café of Hope are staples for both students and residents of Huntington. But three coffee shops in a small town is a lot — how do they make it work with the cost of labor, the cost of supplies and the cost of rent?
Here’s an inside look at the different missions of each café, the challenges of selling java and what they think students should know about their business.
Coffee D’Vine: The classic corner shop
Bob and Christi Sloan started Coffee D’Vine around 13 years ago in hopes of creating an environment where children and students could feel safe.
They gutted the building that had been a heating and plumbing company, and made their dream a reality.
Today, Brenda Crawford and her husband, Roger, own the building. But the dream remains the same: to build a safe and happy community.
“This is like a ministry to the community,” she said. “We’re not affiliated with just one church. It’s all churches, the university, anyone who wants to come in here.”
Crawford said there have been challenges in recent years.
“We had thought about moving,” she said, “because a lot of university students weren’t coming in anymore.”
The economy has been difficult, but since deciding to stay in the same location and not move, Crawford said business has improved and she’s optimistic about the future.
Crawford and her husband met at Coffee D’Vine and got engaged there.
“There’s a history for a lot of people here,” she said. “I want to hear about people’s lives and their history and continue that. So much has happened here.”
Café of Hope: A gift of space
The goal of Café of Hope is simple: to give back.
“We give back in more ways than one,” said Courtnie Law, manager of Café of Hope. “Obviously being a not-for-profit, any profit the café makes we give away. But it’s turned out to be another great way to give back to the community by allowing the use of our space for free.”
Café of Hope is a ministry of Life Church and opened two years ago in December. The shop has several large conference rooms that are available for groups in the community to rent out at no cost.
Law said the space at the café is used by political organizations, other churches who hold youth events there, the “What’s your I.D.?” teenage girl event after-party, karaoke the first and third Fridays of the month, a trivia party every Thursday, Tupperware parties and various Bible studies.
“We constantly hear how nice the space is and how nice it is to be able to use it for free,” she said.
Allowing groups to use the space is a win-win situation, Law said, because the groups appreciate it and sales go up when the rooms are full.
Law said news about the café seems to travel primarily by word of mouth.
Law said Café of Hope’s relationship with Four Cups is great, and noted the similarities between the two shops – they serve the same type of coffee, they are both not-for-profit and they are located on the same street.
“When they run out of coffee beans they’ll run down here and ask us ‘Hey, can we borrow a pound of coffee?’” she said. “I’ve done the same to them.”
All of the baristas at Café of Hope are current HU students, with the exception of one who is an HU alumn, Law said.
“Students have a busy schedule,” she said, “But it’s awesome because it’s a great way to spread information through them. …We like our relationship with the university, and it’s been a big boost in sales to accept Flex dollars.”
Law said she jokes that Huntington is “the city of coffee shops” because there are so many for such a small town.
“I think most people maybe have their favorite,” she said, “but I don’t think most people are exclusive. I think we each meet a different need.”
Four Cups: More than a hipster joint
When you hear the term “hipster” you probably imagine someone who resembles Kyle Metzger.
The 20-something director of Student Activities Board and Multicultural Activities Council on campus is also a leader at the 509 Community and a barista at Four Cups.
He has brown dreadlocks he sometimes tucks in a green woven hat, favors a bike as his primary mode of transportation and listens to music you may be unfamiliar with.
Metzger said he is well aware of the hipster reputation that hangs over Four Cups.
“If you come to Four Cups, you’re probably going to see a rack full of bikes,” he said, “you’re going to hear Fleet Foxes or someone you’ve never heard of, probably being played on a record.”
The labeling of people at Four Cups as hipsters is something Metzger said he feels comes from a lack of understanding of who they really are.
“That happens when you don’t know someone and you are seeking to make a generalization about who a group of people are,” he said, “as soon as you seek to get to know them you’ll see a very different side.”
Things people often characterize as hipster have practical purposes as well: riding a bike saves money and is a way to exercise, and drinking only quality, fresh coffee is no more snobbish than someone who is picky about the books they read or movies they watch, Metzger explained.
The mission of Four Cups has always been to provide very high-quality coffee and have expertly trained baristas, Metzger said. However, the mission has progressed to also include an outward focus on the community.
“There’s been a recent focus on how to make the shop appeal to everyone while still maintaining the extremely high-quality of coffee we serve and the extremely competitive prices,” he said.
Metzger said when the shop added Flex dollars a little over a year ago, there was a noticeable and large increase in how many students came in to the shop.
All baristas and mangers at Four Cups are volunteers. Metzger said this is possible because the people who volunteer have a passion for coffee and learning more about it.
“We only want people who are there because they like to make coffee,” he said.
Metzger said the challenge of this is the inability to force a sense of ownership and difficulty to get shifts covered.
Four Cups is not-for-profit and is under the umbrella of the 509, which is also non-profit. All of the money made goes towards improving the shop or goes back to the 509.
As a not-for-profit, it is never Four Cups’ goal to take business from another coffee shop in town, Metzger said.
“The three big coffee shops in town – Coffee D, Café of Hope and Four Cups – all have extremely different goals, “ he said, “They’re very different environments and we appreciate that.”