For Silk City Coffee, serving the community means more than serving well-made coffee beverages and homemade pastries. Serving the community means creating a community space and giving back by supporting local programs.
MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager sat down with Silk City Coffee Co-Owner Rob May to learn more about how the business came together and how it’s evolved since it opened in October 2016.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background.
ROB MAY: Silk City’s four owners come from different backgrounds and bring different strengths to the business. Tammy Gerhard was a guidance counselor where my wife Sarah and I went to school. After graduation, Tammy remained a mentor to Sarah and we became close friends with Tammy and her husband, Glenn.
One night over dinner, Tammy and Glenn were talking about some traveling they’d done and how they visited a community-minded coffee shop. They loved the concept but knew they would need someone else to run a café.
Meanwhile, Sarah and I had been talking about how it would be awesome to open a coffee shop with high-quality coffee and simple but over-the-top baked goods, because there wasn’t really anything like that in our area. We all connected the dots and realized we could collaborate and open something together.
At the time, Tammy was still a guidance counselor, Sarah owned her own wedding photography business, and I was working two jobs, one in retail and the other doing quality control for a local manufacturing company. Glenn still has his full-time job working at Cigna.
From an entrepreneurial perspective, I knew I wanted a change; I didn’t want to stay in manufacturing and I’ve always been very passionate about coffee. Sarah is one of those creative people who’s always up for a challenge—and she’s an incredible baker. Tammy and Glenn really had the passion and skills to start a café.
We all work together and we have separate roles: Tammy is the community outreach person; Sarah runs the kitchen; Glenn does most of the backend financial stuff; and I run the coffee bar. It’s a really good balance.
NAN: Tell us about the mission “to support our community by bringing people together and empowering them to meet each other’s needs.”
ROB: We really wanted to connect the community as a catalyst for people helping people. We use our Love Coffee, Love People board, where people can post their needs and we encourage people to support those needs however they can. We also sell Love Coffee, Love People merchandise and use all those proceeds to support community programs.
NAN: What were the biggest challenges you faced when you were first starting out?
ROB: A lot of people may find it hard to have four business owners—and it has been challenging at times—but, if you can work together well, it’s a beautiful thing. And it’s been great to have a diverse perspective among us.
I’d say our biggest challenge was finding a space. I think that’s a challenge for any restaurant or café, especially if you find a location without a kitchen and you have to build one. Finding a spot that already has a kitchen would have been incredible because building a kitchen was difficult and expensive. Building out a coffee bar is a little easier, but still there’s a lot of plumbing and electrical involved. So, even though this cafe is bigger than we initially planned, we’re happy to have landed in a central spot.
NAN: You mentioned there wasn’t a café like this in the area. Why Manchester?
ROB: We all live in Manchester and really love the city. It was a perfect location because everyone wants downtown to be better, so we had a lot of people supporting us.
In the beginning, I wish we’d asked for more help and advice from other local restaurant and business owners, but now we’ve built that community. We know most of the owners of all the restaurants and many of the local businesses. We’ve also come to know the new businesses launching nearby, like Urban Lodge Brewing Co. and Labyrinth Brewing Company.
We planted ourselves right in the middle of Main Street, right in the middle of the community. Downtown Manchester was already set up as a great community. There are a lot of events and things happening to help foster the community, some are beneficial for some businesses, some of them are beneficial for others. We’re happy to be a part of it.