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Wichita coffeehouse provides sense of community for downtown patrons

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at 11:40 p.m.

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Name: Mead’s Corner

Address: 430 E. Douglas

Phone: 316-201-1900

Website: meadscorner.com

It’s a bitterly cold – but clear – Friday morning in downtown, a day after Wichita’s second-biggest snowfall on record.

Outside Mead’s Corner at Douglas and Emporia sits a fire department rescue truck, a small pickup and two cars.

Inside the nonprofit coffeehouse are nearly a dozen people, including two firefighters who belong to the squad outside. They turn from the cash register, each clutching a white 20-ounce paper cup.

At a window-side table, a middle-aged woman reads an introductory physics textbook.

Near the entrance, a man in a dark blue suit pecks away on his laptop’s keyboard.

In another corner is a 20-something man with a shaved head, glasses and white ear buds. Elsewhere a couple of gray-haired men in jeans are locked in conversation.

It’s a scene that plays out almost daily at the coffeehouse that was started more than three years ago by First United Methodist Church.

A downtown expert said the coffeehouse plays a role in making the city’s core appealing to residents and visitors alike, an achievement that wasn’t exactly the stated purpose during the venture’s somewhat rocky start.

A manager of Mead’s Corner – the name of which comes from the Wichita pioneer who built the building, J.R. Mead – said last year was the first year it had a profitable month each month.

“I can honestly say … our third year going into our fourth year was absolutely the best year we had,” said Jeremy Hanna, assistant manager of Mead’s who has been with the shop since its opening in November 2008. “I mean, we didn’t have one month that was in the red versus the first year and second year. We had some gnarly months in the first two years.”

The idea for Mead’s came from First United as an outreach effort and to build on its “Life. Downtown” theme. The church is at 330 N. Broadway.

Its mission statement is to be a place where the church and community cross paths, Hanna said.

It also has become a place where people develop relationships with people whose paths might not otherwise cross theirs, he said – people with varied backgrounds and ages.

Van Franklin, a Mead’s regular for two years, said Friday it’s about the only place around Old Town with live music that he’ll allow his 15-year-old son to come and listen to on weekend nights.

“He comes in here with his friends every once in awhile,” said Franklin, who estimates he patronizes Mead’s four or five times a week. “It’s a Christian atmosphere. I know he’s going to be safe here. I know the music he’s going to listen to is appropriate.”

Karin Linenberger, a regular at Mead’s since it opened, said she visits the coffee shop two to four times a week, usually on her way to work at the Arnold Group, before 8 a.m. On the Friday and Saturday nights she comes to Mead’s, the crowds are younger. But “I can come in here and I don’t feel the least bit awkward,” she said.

Hanna said that since opening, Mead’s has had an average annual revenue and sales growth rate of 20 percent. He said there has been only one time since opening that Mead’s raised its prices on a “handful” of menu items.

“Some of the menu items are the exact same price they were (when we opened).”

Any money Mead’s makes beyond covering expenses is donated quarterly to charity, including to the DeBoer Family Foundation, Park Elementary School and sometimes other organizations, such as the United Methodist Committee on Relief, he said.

“None of the money goes back into the church,” Hanna said.

The store also raises money for charity through its tip jar. In 2012, he said, Mead’s donated $10,000 to charity from the tip jar.

It’s taken a couple of years for the shop to get to what Hanna said has been a consistent monthly profit. Time and an expansion of hours have helped, he said.

Hanna estimates that, over time, Mead’s has added nearly 20 hours to its week by opening earlier and closing later. On Fridays and Saturdays, its busiest days of the week, it is open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.

When managers first approached the board about extending Friday and Saturday hours – closing at 1 a.m. instead of 10 p.m. – it “was a big risk,” Hanna said.

They weren’t certain they would see enough business to justify more hours. Hanna said the managers had a pretty good idea that it would work based “on how many times we had to kick people out at 10 o’clock.” Eventually, the expanded hours worked. But shortly after Mead’s began operating later hours, “the board of directors freaked out when the numbers weren’t there to prove it was worth it,” he said. “We really pushed forward and said, ‘Trust us.’ ”

Since opening, the coffeehouse has also adjusted its original business plan, which called for two or three paid staff members who would manage the business as well as volunteer workers from the church.

It has 15 employees, which include Hanna and general manager Gina Buster.

‘Attractor’

To be sure, Mead’s coffee and other drinks, as well as its salads, wraps, pastries and breakfast items, are its main draw.

“It has the best coffee in town,” Franklin said.

But that’s not what drew him to Mead’s. The sales executive for Coffee News said his first visit happened because a colleague from one of his business networking groups wanted to meet there. “And I just fell in love with it.”

He said that soon afterward, he made it a regular place to conduct meetings when he was working in business development for Indian Hills Ace Hardware. “This is a great place to have meetings.”

Linenberger said business isn’t the primary reason she comes to Mead’s. She’s there for the coffee, the atmosphere, the camaraderie among the group of people who stop by on the way to work, and the employees.

“I like the personalities here,” she said. “There are interesting people here. And the employees are interested in their customers. They always have interesting stories to share.”

David Dixon, the city’s downtown master plan consultant from Goody Clancy in Boston, said he has noticed in his past few visits the activity at Mead’s.

“I was intrigued by how many tables were occupied by people who were working on something,” he said of a visit there earlier this month. “I had never seen so many people there doing that before.”

More than just a place for people to do work and conduct meetings, Mead’s plays a part in the broader context of redeveloping downtown.

“Things like it are real attractors” to young professionals who are seeking an urban lifestyle, Dixon said. “It has authenticity. It’s cool, a place to hang out and meet people, to go out for music.

“There are lots of cities that would like to have it, frankly.”

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@bizjournals.com.

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