More than a year ago, Gardine Wilson, co-owner of The Coffee Cup, was fighting to keep his restaurant from being demolished. Today, the historic eatery is thriving in two new spots with plans to continue growing and improving.
Originally located at 914 S. Clarkston St., The Coffee Cup, which has been around since the 1940s and was one of the first integrated restaurants in the Southeast, now has a home in the middle of Uptown and in the University area.
"We were at the point of being completely torn down, and now look where we're at," Wilson says, raising his hands up and glancing around the University area restaurant that specializes in soul food. "It makes you happy to be an American."
In 2005, a builder purchased the original location with the intent of developing townhomes and demolishing The Coffee Cup. After an outcry from the community, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission recommended the City Council designate the restaurant a historical landmark. The building still stands.
"The major corporations actually helped support us in our fight," Wilson says. "A lot of the city and county employees, they all helped bring attention to what The Coffee Cup represented to the city. From that point, city officials really stepped up and voted to make sure the restaurant itself had a solid place in Charlotte."
In the interest of growth, The Coffee Cup closed its Clarkston Street location and opened a bigger location off J.W. Clay Boulevard in the University area last November. The Coffee Cup Uptown opened in January in the Bank of Granite building at 301 S. McDowell St.
Now that everything has settled down, more changes are in the works.
One new element coming to the University location is Coffee Cup After Hours on Saturday evenings. "We'll be doing live jazz from 1 to 4:30 in the morning, with two seatings," Wilson says. The menu will feature an "upscale brand of soul food" and will include dishes like salmon alfredo and oxtail ravioli.
They also plan to start offering a Sunday brunch from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For the Uptown location, a lighter-fare menu is coming. "What we're finding is that the lunch that we do traditionally is heavy for a lot of the people who are kind of in and out and in that run-around mode Uptown," he says. The new menu will feature a soul food salad, sandwiches and an assortment of wings. "The interesting concept about flipping the script downtown is that we've always been known for heart- and artery-hardening food."
The Coffee Cup is also working with KoKoMos Coffeehouse to create a special coffee blend dubbed The Coffee Cup's. The new beverage will be introduced with the breakfast menu. KoKoMos will also have a presence in the University location.
"We're going to incorporate each business into one location to provide the ambience and the experience of both," says Tiwanna "Koko" Hagans, owner of KoKoMos Coffeehouse. "We both offer the same things but a different experience. One customer can experience both at the same time."
After returning from the brink of closure, Wilson says they've been forced to grow up. "If it were not for the community, we would not be where we are. Because so many people have ownership of what this place is. So many people will remind me, say if their toast is too dark, they'll say, 'Look, I signed your petition.' 'OK, you're right, I remember your signature.' That represents quite a bit. We really are your neighborhood restaurant because so many people are a part of the success that we've had," he says as he waves goodbye to an elderly couple leaving the restaurant.
"Our job is to give it back. A lot of the love that we've been given, that's what soul food is about, is that we give it back."
Visit The Coffee Cup's Web site for location and hours: www.coffeecupsoul.com.