Need a chai latte to spice up a chilly morning? How about a harvest apple panini made with homemade apple butter using apples from the Urban Food Project? How about a unique gift for your friend’s birthday? Here’s how:
You can get those and much more at East 59 Vintage and Cafe in East Lake. Stephen Tolbert tells us about the family business in this week’s edition of Small business Monday!
It’s a family owned business. I’m Stephen Tolbert. Two families opened the place. My wife, Amber, and I, along with her family, the Glenns, opened the business. Amber and I are the general managers and run day-to-day operations. We opened in March of 2015. We wanted to see this area come back and we wanted to open a small business. It’s always been one of Amber’s dreams to own a coffee shop and Amber’s parents already had a vintage furniture business they were running from their home. The idea to combine the two businesses was pretty natural.
We’ve expanded the business. Our second location is the cafe that serves the Hoover library. It’s also called East 59. They opened up bids to change the cafe at the library, so we submitted a bid and we were chosen over six or seven other cafes. That location opened in January of this year. There’s a lot more daily foot traffic because it’s a captive audience.
Most people know us by the “59’er” which is actually good for this time of year. It’s a Thanksgiving sandwich: ham, turkey, cranberry relish, red onions, mayo, havarti cheese, that you can get hot or cold. Basically what you’d make at home the day after Thanksgiving. The second most popular is the turkey club, because club sandwiches are popular. Most of our business comes from box lunch catering.
As far as drinks go, you can get a cup of coffee for 1.50, so we’re known for having an affordable cup of coffee. We do a lot of specials, like for Halloween we do a lot of Harry Potter themed drinks. We change up the specials pretty often.
On the vintage side of our business, we are in the process of changing up our model a bit. We opened with antiques and “smalls” you can buy, dispersed throughout. We are moving to doing more events in here. We have discovered that people really like this space, not only for taking pictures, but also for holding events. We didn’t realize how popular that idea would be. There’s really good lighting and Amber’s mom who is also one of the owners, has done a great job of decorating. So now, that side will be event center for parties, weddings, birthdays. We’ve already held five or six events. We can do full service where we cater the food, as well. We will keep the booths along the side each with a piece of furniture and some smaller items, changing them up for party themes and times of the year. We have talked about putting a stage up here and are in the process of getting a liquor license. Right now we close at three because our business is breakfast and lunch. We are hoping that once we get our liquor license and open up the retail side we can move towards music at night and maybe some dinner service at some point in the future.
The best thing about having our own business is the flexibility it provides. My wife and I have a one-year-old child, so one of us can be home while the other one is here. One of us is always here. It’s a lot of hours, but lots of flexibility in being the boss.
The difficulty of being a business owner is that everything falls on you. We have two locations, so we have two staffs for a total of about 10-12 people at any time. If someone calls in sick, nine times out of ten, you’re the one filling that shift. If something breaks, you’re responsible for fixing it. Every month, something goes down. Our building in East Lake is pretty old, so we have issues with that sometimes.
Birmingham in general is doing really well. The last ten years, especially downtown we’ve seen this major boom. I don’t know if it’s more people my age or the generation younger than me, really being interested in living in a city. Our parents’ generation wanted to leave the city and that’s when all of these suburbias popped up. The last ten to twenty years people have been moving back into cities. Avondale and Woodlawn have been seeing big things. The development is coming this way slowly. If I could have one thing about Birmingham fixed, it would be the school systems, because that affects everything else.
For more information, check out https://www.facebook.com/East59/
Check out another East Lake food destination! https://bhamnow.com/index.php/2017/06/27/small-business-monday-spotlight-downstairs-diner/