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Owner brewing up new plans for Durham's Blue Coffee Café

Posted November 6, 2014

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— For the past nine years, Gwen Mathews has owned and operated Blue Coffee Café at the corner of Corcoran and Parrish streets in downtown Durham.

“I was the first person down here,” she said. “All of the local eateries you see now, no one was here except Blue Coffee.”

But Blue Coffee will be leaving soon.

Developer Austin Lawrence Partners has purchased the Jack Tar Building where the cafe is located. They plan to renovate the building and build a new high rise across the street. It's part of a mixed-use project that will include plenty of room for retail, but not enough for Blue Coffee.

“Our visions never really met,” Mathews said.

Greg Hills of Austin Lawrence suggested Mathews change her business model and scale back her size and scope.

“We talked about a concept that we really want - this deli/convenience store concept,” he said.

Hills says he would have worked with Mathews on developing that business because it's something they really want to see in the space. Mathews says that's not what was presented to her.

“Our conversations never centered on us doing what we’ve been doing for the past nine years,” she said. “It was a spinoff of one of two things, either deserts or energy drinks, but it never had the breakfast, lunch, salad, soup aspect of it. I didn’t want to diminish my vision. My vision has always been to expand it to full service café and to do catering.”

Another issue was rent.

Mathews pays less than $1,500 a month for her prime location. Hill said her the rent would increase by five to eight times that amount if she wanted the same amount of square footage.

“When space was inexpensive, people took a lot more space then they needed because it was cheap,” Hill said. “Now that it's not as inexpensive, you have to be more efficient. Some local operators will understand that and be more efficient and downsize to a much smaller situation. Others will find that very hard to adapt.”

She's decided to go elsewhere, and she's asking the community for help. Using customer feedback and the social media website Kickstarter, Mathews is trying to raise $35,000 to build out her new location on 107 N. Church St., just a block and a half away.

It won't be the same corner, she says, but it will still be Blue Coffee.

3 Comments

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  • Stan Creech Nov 7, 2014
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    Take out a loan like everybody else

  • SusanandAaron Tambot-Blankenship Nov 7, 2014
    user avatar

    She'll do more business at Church st being directly between City Hall and both courthouses.

  • whatdowehavehere Nov 7, 2014

    I certainly hope she has the community behind her. Sad when big business can logically tell them why it will cost more and have no reason to keep them there. Funny how there version of the encounter is much different than hers. Obviously they know they have something to hide or lie about.