Starkville Cafe Owner Gets Funding to Expand His Business

Blair Edwards’ love of coffee began when he was 7 years old. He drank it every morning while living with his parents in Atlanta and became familiar with coffee roasting during his first job as a teenager.

“I’ve always worked in coffee; it was my first job at the place with the green mermaid (Starbucks),” Edwards, 32, told the Mississippi Free Press of Starkville in a Zoom interview on March 11. “It was my first job when I was 15, and I’ve worked there on and off maybe until about five or six years ago.

Edwards moved to Starkville from Atlanta in 2009 to attend Mississippi State University and study anthropology. After a year and a half, he dropped out because he couldn’t afford the tuition. Over the next few years, he would move elsewhere but return to Starkville several times. The last time he returned was in 2017.

His romantic interest in Bonnie Brumley, a ceramic artist, prompted his return to Starkville in 2017. “I came back here for a girl; it worked,” Edwards said with a laugh during Zoom, showing off his wedding ring. They tied the knot in December 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “I guessed it was the end of the world, we might as well (do it).”

Edwards began operating The People’s Cup MicroRoastery in 2017, using Instagram and Facebook pages to publicize the outfit, first posting in September of that year. From the start, Edwards emphasized the importance of ethical coffee bean sourcing. He wrote in a September 2017 Instagram post that his company’s mission was “to bring ethically sourced coffee from eco-friendly farms and micro-lots at an affordable price.”

“Americans consume 400 MILLION cups of coffee a day and import $4 BILLION worth of coffee each year. Most of the farmers who produce this coffee live in poverty – if it hasn’t already turned into a factory farm,” Edwards wrote in the post.

“With over 10 years of experience working with this magic bean, I want to…continue to support these farms. A better mug of a better bean from a happy farmer for a better price! he added.

On October 21, 2017, Edwards posted a photo on Instagram showing his setup outside and said he was selling coffee beans, affogatos and espresso. The post served as publicity for the more than 50,000 people gathered at Mississippi State University’s Davis Wade Stadium to watch its football team take on the University of Kentucky. He asked them to pass before or after the game.

Edwards moved his stand from place to place. In January 2018, he received his certificate of formation from the Mississippi Secretary of State for The People’s Cup MicroRoastery LLC, operating as a coffee and tea maker and mobile catering service.

A year later, in January 2019, Edwards opened its store at 12-½-B Lummus Drive in Starkville. He announced the decision on Instagram and Facebook. By the time Edwards submitted its first annual report to the Secretary of State in May 2019, it had shifted its business focus to coffee and tea manufacturing and snack and soft drink bars.

Edwards has described himself as a coffee roaster and visitors can witness the coffee making process in the shop. “I try to buy it direct from the farmers if possible, to make sure the money goes into their pocket instead of the importers – or at least (buy) a collective,” he said. .

He maintained his store until October 2019 when he closed to return to the previous nomadic business model, moving from location to location.

“We didn’t have the same privileges as other restaurants in the neighborhood — primarily the ability to have music,” Edwards told the Mississippi Free Press.

Edwards’ neighbor heard what had happened to him and offered him a place at 206 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive east of Starkville, but it needed work.

“They were going to open a restaurant (on site) but decided to move it to another location; so he offered me (the space),” Edwards said. “So we were working on the renovation of this old service station. It dates back to the 1930s.

He announced the new location in a January 18, 2020 Instagram post: “After closing the old store, we had the opportunity to start fresh in a number of ways. After some doubts, luck, growth and above all encouragement to move forward, we had the chance to pursue the dream! Conclusion: we have a new house! »

Initially planning to open in the new location in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic would not allow such a move. Instead, Edwards announced free shipping for its Starkville customers in an Instagram post that month.

The pandemic has caused a massive setback for sales which would have provided funds to prepare the building to open.

“We’ve missed a lot of business in those two years – at least four different festivals where we have over 50,000 more people in town,” Edwards said. “We only had the farmers’ market and online sales to survive during this, but it’s actually not enough to finish the building and reopen.”

In January 2022, Edwards was no longer sure he could stay in business, so he started looking for online payday loan sources. He discovered SOAR, connected with Communities Unlimited, and received $10,000 in loans within days. It was the first SOAR loan in Mississippi.

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Arkansas-based Communities Unlimited joined 12 other CDFIs to form the Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund to offer low-interest loans of up to $100,000 to pandemic-affected small business owners across the South.

SOAR was launched in April 2021 with $50 million from philanthropic, private and corporate investors. The original plan was to increase the fund to $150 million.

“It was actually a pretty easy loan decision for me to make when I saw the amount of effort he put into it,” Communities Unlimited loan director Bryn Bagwell told the Mississippi Free Press. .

“What we saw was that he had a product that he could sell on a cardboard table at the market – that people were coming to see it because it was so good. He was selling a product that he had spent a lot of time ensuring the quality of,” Bagwell added.

Bagwell said Edwards did most of the work on the building himself and had the support of the community.

“There’s a lot of intangibles that you can’t put on a piece of paper that we could hear,” she explained. “Normally we spend a lot of time making sure they understand the financial side of their business, and we didn’t have to do that with him.”

During his Zoom interview with the Mississippi Free Press, Edwards described the SOAR funding as a “lifeline.”

“I made $10,000 (on a loan) just to get myself out of debt that I got myself into trying to manage things with my personal finances,” he said. “I (now) do my electricity. This is the main thing I’m trying to (do) to finish my building, and I just paid off some credit card debt. That was really it.

Edwards said the building – apart from the electrical work, which is ongoing – is 90% ready and plans to open in the coming months.

“Once that’s happened, all I have to do is pour concrete countertops, close walls, basically, and pass my health inspection,” he said.

Edwards added that Communities Unlimited connected him with a team of management consultants for free. “We work on spreadsheets, projections of numbers, all of those things, basically,” he said. “They also connected me with these guys’ team for free. So that’s really nice.

This Mississippi Free Press article has been edited for length. You can find the full article online at mississippifreepress.org/22076/a-life-saver-starkville-coffee-shop-owner-gets-funding-from-communities-unlimited/.

Coffee-caramel cake with caramel icing. Betty Crocker Kitchens

COFFEE AND ICED CARAMEL CAKE
Betty Crocker Kitchens

Ingredients
¼ cup instant coffee granules or crystals
¼ cup boiling water
1 cup of water
1 box white cake mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 container of vanilla frosting
¼ cup caramel topping
3 bars (1.4 oz each) chocolate-covered toffee candies, coarsely chopped

directions
■ Heat the oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees for a dark or non-stick skillet). Grease the bottom and sides of a 13×9 inch pan. In a small bowl, dissolve instant coffee in boiling water.
■ In a large bowl, beat the cake mix, 1 cup water, oil, eggs and coffee with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, then on medium speed for two minutes, scraping down the bowl from time to time. Pour into the mould.
■ Bake as directed on box for a 13 × 9-inch pan. Cool completely, about 1 hour.
■ In a medium bowl, combine frosting and caramel topping. Frost the cake with the frosting mixture. Sprinkle with caramel candies. Store lightly covered.