On June 7, 2018, after just five years in business, the Coffee Exchange in Pleasant Ridge was destroyed during a devastating fire. Along with longtime anchors Molly Malone’s and Queen City Comics (which both suffered varying degrees of fire and water damage), the Gas Light Café, and Everybody's Records, the Coffee Exchange was one of the first newer places that led to a boom in development along the Pleasant Ridge Business District.
Husband and wife owners Joe and Sarah Peters were eventually able to purchase a building that had about four times the space of the original location. On January 14th, 2020, they reopened to an ecstatic public. Two months later, they were forced to close again as coronavirus spread through the country.
Despite the setbacks, Joe and Sarah continued a successful carryout business, modifying the menu and safety protocols when necessary. And even during a time of economic uncertainty, they plan to expand their business in nearby Kennedy Heights with a drive-thru location, the Coffee Express of Kennedy Heights, which will take over the long-abandoned, highly controversial pony keg, the Beverage Cave. Joe was able to take a break from his busy schedule to answer a few questions from Soapbox.
Soapbox: What gave you and Sarah the idea to open a drive-thru? Was it because of the empty Beverage Cave, or did you come up with the idea first and then look for a location?
Joe Peters: I was speaking with Sister Carren Herring (Catholic educator, Sister of Mercy, and Kennedy Heights Community Council board member) in October 2019 about ways to continue to collaborate and improve the neighborhoods of Kennedy Heights and Pleasant Ridge. When I asked her about the vacant drive-thru across from the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, she told me that it had been vacant for a long time. I thought that it might make a great location for a drive-thru coffee shop. So Sr. Carren put me in touch with Jamie Carr with the Kennedy Heights Development Corporation (KHDC). After discussing the idea, we agreed that although there may be some hurdles to getting it open, it would very well-received by the community.
SB: Since this has been in the works since 2019, did COVID-19 derail your plans and, if so, how did you alter them and your expectations?
JP: The lease discussions began months before COVID hit. But the pandemic only increased the importance of opening it for not only The Coffee Exchange but, more importantly, as a way to serve the community in a safe way from their vehicles.
SB: When do you officially open for business?
JP: We just received our health department food license on September 29. So now we can look to an opening in the next few weeks. No opening date has been set yet.
SB: What will you offer? The same menu as the Coffee Exchange, a limited version, or different things entirely?
JP: The menu will be streamlined a bit in order to provide quick and efficient service, but the offerings will include all of the favorites from The Coffee Exchange of Pleasant Ridge. Espresso drinks like our Bullseye Latte, coffee cake and other treats, house blend drip coffee, and smoothies.
SB: The past two years have been really hard on you and Sarah. Can you offer some advice for business owners who are struggling due to the pandemic or any tips on how you both keep going? What motivated you to rebuild and expand?
JP: Sarah and I are very committed to the neighborhoods of Kennedy Heights and Pleasant Ridge, and when times get tough for business owners, I would suggest focusing on what they do best and keep pushing ahead knowing that those communities will support them through the tough times if that commitment to providing value is there.
We have appreciated all the support these communities have shown us in the past two years. They have watched us struggle to reopen after the fire in June 2018, and now to grind through a tough business environment in 2020. We truly can’t wait to be at full strength and offer all the things we haven’t been able to execute on yet. Wine retail, catering, a radio station, and a drive thru are all on the horizon for us and we are really excited for the future.
The Coffee Express of Kennedy Heights will be located at 6549 Montgomery Road, on the corner of Kennedy Avenue. Opening date and hours TBD.