When Adam King, DigitalC Director of Neighborhoods, Equity and Communications, first approached Jackie Larkins, owner of Café Phix in South Euclid, with a business card and potential prospect, she wasn’t sure what to make of the offer. However, after a brief conversation with King and DigitalC CEO, Dorothy Baunach and some discussion with her sister, she decided it just might be the opportunity she was looking for.
What started as a brief introduction, has bloomed into a beautiful partnership, friendship and the launch and grand opening of Café Phix in the MidTown Tech Hive. Today, we caught up with Jackie as she recalled her South Euclid shop, journey to the MidTown Tech Hive and her and her passion for coffee and community.
Erin: Jackie, thank you for sitting down with me to talk about Cafe Phix. For folks who don’t know you, could you tell us who you are and what you do?
Jackie: I’ve owned the coffee shop, not this particular iteration, but Coffee Phix Cafe for about 7 years. I initially bought an existing cafe, which was Phoenix Coffee, from two other owners and eventually closed that location, moved a block away and I was there for three years until Dorothy recruited me to move my business here. It’s been a long wait to finally get this thing going, but I’m excited.
Erin: I want to go back to what you said earlier, that Dorothy recruited you to move Café Phix. How did you develop your relationship with DigitalC (and the Midtown Tech Hive) and decide that this was really the place you wanted to set up shop?
Jackie: I’ll tell you the story. Adam King, who lives in South Euclid had been in my shop before. He didn’t drink coffee so I didn’t take a good notice to him, but he came to visit me. He was the one who approached and told me, “Hey, I’ve been in your shop before and I want to talk to you about an opportunity,” and he went into his spiel. He told me about Dorothy and about DigitalC and the MidTown Tech Hive and how they wanted to put a coffee shop into the space, but they were nonprofit, and they really didn’t want to be in the coffee business. Everything he’s telling me sounds amazing, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “There’s got to be some type of catch.” He could see that look on my face and he said, “Look, here’s my card and here’s my boss’s card, Dorothy. Give us a call and she’ll tell you more about the program,” and he left.
It was about an hour before I closed, and the shop was really quiet so I called my sister. She reminded me that the first thing I said to her was, “This guy came in here with this amazing offer. I think there’s a catch to it, but if it’s for real, I think my life is about to change.” And that’s exactly what happened; my life changed.
Erin: Once you knew you were ready to set up shop, how did you get started?
Jackie: Jumpstart was very instrumental in helping me get here. When I went into business, I didn’t have a lot of mentors, I just sort of jumped into it.
When I came here, I had helping hands. The process has been a lot easier. I attribute that to Jumpstart’s help and assistance. They assisted me with back office stuff, accounting, what kinds of items we can consider putting on the menu and even what events we can consider having here. Any person that could advise, has advised. Jumpstart is going to play a huge part in Café Phix’s imminent success.
Erin: Let’s talk a little bit more about design and overall atmosphere. What was the idea behind the design and what should people expect when they first walk in?
Jackie: I actually came in after the design had already been set-up. I met with the consultants to modify those areas that weren’t conducive to a coffee shop. So, while I contributed to it, the overall design was all theirs.
Now in describing the cafe, this space is about, 700 square feet. You’ve got the black against the brick, the tall windows in the front and we will eventually have signage, the track lightening and the silver rails are art rails. Eventually we will be bringing in a new, local artist each month. At the end of 30 days, the art will come down and new artists will come in which will constantly give the cafe a new look.
As for our customers, we’re constantly working to make their experience something that stands out - greeting the customer when they come in, engaging the customer; we’re always making sure we’re providing good customer service.
At the South Euclid location, we also had programs like open mic night and another program called “Author, Author” where we featured local Cleveland authors. Basically, we would invite three or four authors at a time on Saturday - they’ll come in, we’ll give them each an hour, they’ll talk about their book or they talk about their process and they invite their friends. It’s a good event for us, every hour we’re seeing a new group of people, and it’s giving each artist a platform.
Erin: Going back to what you said earlier, this is not your first iteration of the shop. You obviously have a passion for what you’re doing, so what is it about coffee and coffee shops that made you want to open a shop to begin with?
Jackie: My sister and I talked about it for a long time. Earlier on in my life, I hadn’t been in very many coffee shops. We were younger so we weren’t drinking a lot coffee, but we liked the idea of a coffee shop. As I got older, I started going to more and more places, different types of coffee shops, and that’s when I decided, that’s what I wanted to do. I spent 20 years in the military, and I did 13 years in corporate. I was in my early 50s and I was telling a girlfriend, “I really want to do this,” and she was telling me, “What are you waiting on? You need to go out there and get this started.”
I have a passion for the vibe, the environment, the atmosphere of a coffee shop. I love to hear the voices in the background. The best thing for me, and not just because it’s good for the cafe, is having a shop full of people and hearing the voices and all the “coffee talk” while I’m working.
I think it’s just a wonderful feeling for the community. You know you’re doing something good when you’ve got customers in the store who don’t know each other but are engaging with each other while standing in line. And that atmosphere; that’s what I really love about it.
Erin: I know you mentioned earlier that you had programs like open mic and Author, Author. I know Angry Ladies of Improv and the Socrates Café were also programs that you had at the South Euclid location. What kind of events can we expect to see at the Tech Hive location?
Jackie: Yeah, the Angry Ladies of Improve were one of our regulars. Every Sunday they came,
and they did improv.
The Socrates Café has been meeting at this café for 15 years. They were with Phoenix before it became Café Phix but they stayed with it. They’re a philosophical discussion group. They come in (there’s usually about 15 of them), they put about three subjects in a hat, they pull one out and that’s the topic of conversation for the night. I haven’t reached out to them since I opened this café, but I suspect that they will come right back.
Erin: What awesome events should we expect to see at Café Phix this year?
Jackie: I don’t know. One thing for sure is, I am very grateful for this opportunity from the Midtown Tech Hive and DigitalC and their community-based programs. I have access to different people, who specialize in different things. One young man would come to the café and meet with individuals and help them find a job, give them advice on resumes and cover letters and instruct them on how to sit in an interview. So, we’ll probably have events like that, as well as direct book signings along with our Author, Author program. I am going to try to access some of the people here and together we can come up with community-based ideas. That’s my way of giving back, my way of saying “Thank you!”
Erin: Let’s talk menu. What types of coffee and yummy treats are available?
Jackie: This is a small place and we aren’t licensed to prep any food here. But I was thinking maybe we can use the vendors that are here in Midtown to source our food. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We are using pastries from Bloom; we are building a relationship with Southern Sweets. Eventually when they move over here, Cleveland Bagel will be supplying our bagels; Bite will be supplying some of our food. We have Urban Kitchen right here on Chester that also provides some of our food. So, it’s going to be a hodgepodge, a taste of Midtown.
We also have a very extensive specialty coffee menu. We of course have lattes, cappuccinos but we also have something different like the Turmeric Ginger Chai. You’re not going to find that in very many places. Our Chai Lattes, Chococinos, Frappuccinos, White Chocolate Mochas and regular Mochas, our Mexican Hot Chocolate, all of those are like drinking your dessert!
Erin: So standard question I have to ask, what’s your favorite everyday go-to coffee?
Jackie: My favorite is the Chai Tea Latte. We do use a branded mix to prepare it but, we also put our own spin on it. It really is quite amazing! I think it’s the best thing that we serve here.
Erin: Do you have any seasonal drinks?
Jackie: We do. When we were in South Euclid, every holiday, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, whatever it was, we would come up with a signature drink. I’ve been out for a while and I haven’t practiced that, but one thing that I have going for me, is I have a very experienced barista, Frank Sperandeo (Frank waves and says “Hello”). He has a mind for these types of things. He’s going to be very helpful on the creative front. The drinks will be made from our ideas, so we’ll try to come up with something original.
One Christmas, I had a drink called “A Bad Santa.” It had a mocha base with a little chocolate, a little peppermint and a little red pepper for the bad. So, we’ll come up with something for each holiday. I think it will work out great.
Erin: I know I can get a delicious cup of coffee here, but could you give us a quick and easy recipe for when we’re snowed in at home?
Jackie: Yes, I can. You have to have the products at home, but you can make a Mexican Hot Chocolate. We do our hot chocolate with real chocolate syrup and milk, but you can use a powder mix. You’ll add the hot chocolate, a little bit of nutmeg, a little cinnamon and a little bit of red pepper. This is perfect for when you’re at home on a snowy day in front of the fireplace watching an old black and white movie.
Erin: You’re really setting the scene for us! So, Jackie, when you’re not in the shop, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Jackie: I spend a lot of time with my sister and my brothers who are all here in Cleveland. We get together for family gatherings. My sister and I meet for dinner once a week. I like to go to movies. I don’t go to clubs or bars because I don’t drink. Mostly, I just like hanging out with family and friends, just having a good time.
Erin: Jackie, thank you for sharing journey with us today. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Café Phix.
If you’re looking for your next “phix,” why not stop by Café Phix for a decadent White Mocha Latte or the infamous Chai Tea Latte. Café Phix is open Monday through Friday from 7:30am to 3:30pm.