Coffee shop owner
This month I spoke with Gwen Mathews, proprietor of Blue Coffee Café (North Carolina Mutual building, lower level, 411 W Chapel Hill St, 919-294-4953).
Q I can remember Blue Coffee Café in its early days. How did you get started?
A I used to have an ice cream and candy store, and one of my customers heard that Blue Coffee Café was being sold. I checked it out and bought it to integrate both businesses. That was back in 2005—we’re celebrating our 10th year!
Q Was it an easy transition—going from ice cream and candy to coffees and food?
A The previous owners took me through training, and I learned all about coffee at Larry’s Beans in Raleigh. I kinda like to know what I’m doing. But did you know when I started my ice cream shop, I went to ice cream school in Greensboro? Yeah, they have ice cream school!
Q I’ll bet the last few months have been crazy! The building you were in (across from CCB Plaza) was sold, you had a Kickstarter campaign to move to a space on Church St, but somehow you ended up in the NC Mutual building.
A We couldn’t afford to be out of business once we had to leave our location on Corcoran St. In fact, we were in talks with the NC Mutual people soon afterwards and signed a two-year lease. We have bonded with the people in the building; they like having us there. NC Mutual is our corporate coffeehouse location. Our location where we plan to serve the community will be the space on Church St—so we plan to keep both locations and have both open at the same time.
Q So when will you open your Church St spot?
A I can’t say when, exactly. It’s really frustrating because there are so many unexpected expenses. It costs so much more to bring a building up to code while it’s being designated an historic building. You have to follow the rules about the changes that you make inside and out. Some of these unforeseen issues might call for additional funding. We’re still working it out.
Q You must get up early. What time do you start your day?
A Around 4am! I have to do my paperwork some time, and I’m a morning person. So my workday is from 4 to 4. Supplies have to be picked up, so sometimes I’ll get them on the way in. I also schedule deliveries of Larry’s Coffee, desserts (from Party Kakes and Favor Desserts), soft drinks, and I have to figure out what we need for special events. And we get as much as we can locally—our eggs are from Hillsborough, and we like to buy local produce and poultry products.
Q What are your hours now? And can you still use your space for parties on the weekend?
A Our official hours are weekdays from 8am to 4pm. But we can use our space seven days a week for birthday and retirement parties, receptions and reunions, seminars, and annual corporate meetings. We recently had an event with 180 people from the Community Health Coalition.
Q How do you choose your specials—and what lunchtime specials are you running this week?
A A lot of times we choose customer favorites for our specials—one different special each day. This week our specials are barbecue ribs, Salisbury steak, we always have fish on Fridays … lots of soul food like cornbread, homestyle baked chicken, and don’t forget our veggie plates.
Q I thought it was strange that Blue Coffee Café ended up at NC Mutual, but now I understand.
A NC Mutual has been our saving grace! Tell everybody to come see us—we’re here and we have the same good food and same good prices.