Can you all tell me about yourselves and your business concept?
We were born and raised here in Memphis. This is home for us. We grew up together and started dating when we were 16. We were high school sweethearts and got married in college when we were 21. We’ve been married for a couple years now. Individually, we had wanted to start a business for years growing up. As we grew up together, the idea of starting something together really formed and became a dream of ours. The concept of Comeback Coffee was started out of wanting to give back to the city that raised us. We love Memphis and we love the community that we have here. We would not be the same people without this city and the people in this city. We just wanted to create something to give back to the community. I started in coffee a few years back in college and fell in love with the industry. Amy walked alongside me in that. As we were really starting to dream and chase the idea of starting something, coffee was the way we drifted. The concept really is that we want a place where people feel like they belong and can stay as long as they want to. Whether that’s a few minutes, grab and go on the way to work, or a few hours to escape from or to sit down and do work. We want to be that place for them.
When you were choosing locations for your business, were you thinking that you wanted to be in the Medical District. What specifically drew you to the Medical District?
We kind of fell into our location. The story behind it is that we were freshmen or sophomores in college and we were home on break. We were driving around Memphis and just dreaming of potential places to start a business. We found ourselves in the Medical District and fell in love with the architecture and older buildings in this District. We saw the one that we’re in now and were peaking in the windows, checking it out. We were like, “How cool would it be if we start something on the first level and live on the third floor!” We thought it was never going to happen, and we ended up going back to Amy’s parents’ house. That night we told them about what we’d been doing. In the middle of the conversation, Amy’s dad told us that he had been looking at properties in the District as well and was looking to invest in some real estate here. His eyes had coincidentally been on this building for years. It had been on the market for a while, but it was always way too high. It was a weird feeling; we knew it was a sign. That conversation kind of died and it sat for a while. A year later, we got a call from her dad and he said the price dropped significantly on the property. He told us, “I think I’m going to get it.” We said, “Awesome, we have an idea!” That’s when we stepped in. He purchased the property and didn’t quite have an idea for it at the time. We stepped in and said, “Look, we have this dream. We have a plan for it. Can we rent from you?” That started the relationship of us being down here in this building.
In a lot of your interviews, you discuss your love for the architecture and the history of the Pinch neighborhood as well as a desire to be a part of the neighborhood’s revival. What drew you to the Pinch District specifically, and how do you plan to incorporate your appreciation of the history of the neighborhood and its culture in your business?
We love this District. It’s both our work and our home. All of what we are is in this District. When it comes to the actual architecture of it and why we fell in love with it, it was kind of love at first sight. This is an area of town that had kind of been kicked to the wayside. It had been written off a little bit, but this area is part of the beginnings of Memphis. The city began here, and it hurt us to see these building just sit and become dilapidated, falling apart. It’s kind of a trend in Memphis that neighborhoods with a lot of history and meaning to them later become dilapidated. When we were able to come and step into the project, our idea was to preserve as much as we could. We fell in love with this place for a reason. It was already beautiful; it just needed some TLC. That’s what we wanted to do is preserve some of that. All of the brick in this building is original. We had to do some replacements on the floors and some of the structural stuff, but we tried to keep as much of the original building as we could. Being a part of its revival is kind of funny because our goal was never to be a part of anything special. I still hesitate for that because all we wanted to do was create a space. We never thought that it could become something so special and supported, and that’s what we found out since opening. People are so excited about Comeback Coffee and so excited about the Pinch now. It’s weird to think that. To have people like St. Jude come alongside of us, work with us, and also be a part of this revival is exciting for us.
What is it like living where you work?
It can be stressful. It’s a lot, especially in the construction phase. It’s also been fun. We’ve been here for two years and we’ve gotten to know our neighbors and the District at a really intimate level. It’s been really exciting to be a part of that. Before any construction for the upcoming projects at our building and around us at St. Jude, we got to be here night and day to watch it. It’s stressful, but it’s nice because in this phase of life for us, it makes sense. We’re starting a business that needs our attention pretty much 24/7. It’s nice to be able to run downstairs, the commute is nice, and if there’s an emergency, we can be there. We’re here working. That’s important for us. We want to be a part of our shop, working in our shop. This will continue even as our business grows. We love making coffee, the coffee industry, and our community. We want to be a part of that—making the coffee and perfecting our craft. We think it’s important for a business owner to be super plugged in to the business, especially in the service industry, because if you’re not understanding and knowing who’s coming through your doors, you can’t fully have a successful business in my opinion. You’re also missing out on so many connections if you’re not right there.
What specifically spurred you both to be a part of the coffee industry and open a coffee shop?
Coffee is inherently a community thing. Coffee shops are there to be centers and hubs of community. That’s what we love about it. It works really well with our vision for the space, but the industry itself is filled with so many unique personalities and viewpoints. That’s why we fell in love with it. We nerd out about every step of the process from the farming and sourcing to serving the coffee. Hayes started working at a place called Midnight Oil, in Searcy, where we went to college. He started getting into the part where he was nerding out about the coffee. I would go to the shop to hangout, and I just fell in love with watching people who didn’t know each other sit down together, have a cup off coffee, and talk about everything from happy, to sad, to serious. I started learning all the processes alongside of him when I could, and we both just fell in love with the industry and the social atmosphere of it.
What has your experience been like being young entrepreneurs and following your passions? What is your advice for other young entrepreneurs in Memphis?
It’s exciting, scary, nerve-wracking, terrifying—so many emotions in one. We’re super privileged to be able to do this at our time of life and have the support systems that we have. We’re very thankful for that, and for us, it’s been mixed emotions. It’s been cool to be able to do this at the age of 24 and start something that has had an impact on the very large projects soon-to-come in the Pinch. There’s a lot of pressure for that and a lot of people who look at us at our age of 24 and think that’s absolutely ridiculous, there’s no way people our age could possibly build something with it. That kind of sucks, to hear that type of negativity when you’re young. It’s like when young people are doing big things, that often comes alongside of it—people doubting them because they’re young and less experienced. It’s also been really cool to see so many people come out and support us and get excited to see young and fresh faces be a part of this transitional time in Memphis. For us, we’re just excited to be here. It’s fun to think that at age 24, we’re doing this. At 30, 40, 45, we’re excited to see what’s to come from people like us that are just going for it. I think that’s our advice for other young entrepreneurs: just go, hustle, do it, don’t hold back just because you’re young. The city especially is super encouraging of young, fresh faces. That’s one thing that we have learned so well. People want that. It’s just getting over that nervous hump of should I do it or should I not do it. For a long time, we debated. We were like, “Maybe in 5 years we’ll get started.” That was always in our mindset. When we’re 40 years old, we can do this because that’s what we’re always told. You can’t start a business, you can’t do this until you have experience or you’ve worked in this field for a long time. That’s just not true. Yes, it’s a learning experience every day. Yes, we mess up. Yes, it’s not perfect, but I can’t imagine us waiting. If we waited, it would have been a blown opportunity. Young entrepreneurs need to go out there and need to just do it. It’s needed in the city right now.
Have you received any supports from Memphis Medical District Collaborative in opening your business?
Yeah, huge help! We love Vonesha! MMDC has been so supportive of us from the beginnings of this whole process. We have not received financial help, but the emotional support, presence, and contacts of MMDC have been just as helpful as the money side. They have connected us to incredible people. To consistently see a support group here in Memphis that comes through our doors, e-mailing us and coming to check in on us has meant more than we can ever express.
Will you be hosting any event in this space?
It’s funny you say that. In two weeks, we’ll be working with World Relief to do an event here. Our idea is that this space is not Hayes and Amy’s space. It’s not even Comeback Coffee’s space. It’s Memphis’ space. We want people to use it and take advantage of what we have here. We have a very unique spot in Memphis, so we don’t want it to go to waste. We’ll have plenty of events here—concerts, arts and crafts fairs. We’ve talked to so many people about so many different things from birthday parties, to celebrations of life moments. In May, a bunch of teachers are hanging out here to celebrate the end of their school year. The idea is that we don’t necessarily want to profit from that either. We don’t feel like that’s fair because this space is more than just us. For the vast majority of the events that we want to do here, we want to host them for free or at very low cost.
Do y’all have any specials that people can look out for?
So, our whole menu and everything that we do here is seasonal. We’ll be changing it up every season that we can. That’s everything from our drinks to the food that our chef Cole is putting out right now, so just keep an eye out for that. That’s the biggest thing. As far as rewards, we don’t have a punch card system or anything like that. If we see that someone is coming in everyday or we see a face often, we’re going to throw in either a discount or a free drink for that person. We’re trying to make it really personal.
I know it’s only been three weeks, but what are your signature/most popular menu items so far?
The coffee soda is a big thing. That is definitely a signature beverage of ours. We have people that come in everyday just for the coffee soda. It’s something that we’re looking into expanding. It’s been a big hit. It’s an in-house coffee soda that we make. Food-wise, our chef is killing it with the pastries. We typically sell out of all our pastries within the first few hours. The turkey sandwich has become the hot sandwich here as well.
How can people get in touch with you all and your business?
Social media. Folks can reach out to us through messaging on Instagram and Facebook. Our e-mail is on our website and all social media as well. Come into the shop and just talk to us! We like to talk with people personally as well.