WHEELING — While some daring people take the risk of diving head first into new business ventures, others raise the bar by doing that same thing at the exact moment a global pandemic is breaking locally.
But a with a clear vision behind it, determination to bring success to fruition and a growing grassroots customer base, Wheeling’s newest cafe — Mugshots –has found itself in a position to prosper, especially when looking ahead to a post-COVID-19 world.
“We opened here a week before the governor issued the stay-at-home order,” Grant Coleman said. He and his wife, Devan, opened Mugshots at 1109 Main St. in downtown Wheeling during the first weeks of March after months of planning and hard work.
“Our first week was insanely busy and slammed, and we had an overwhelming amount of support,” Coleman recounted. “It was way more than we could have ever imagined. But then the pandemic hit. The following Monday, we had maybe five people in here the entire day.”
The first-time brick-and-mortar business owners struggled through spring with curbside pickup and off-and-on carryout orders while having no established customer base. When the summer months arrived and limited capacity dining was permitted, the vision of Mugshots started to come into focus for some regulars.
“The first two months were terrible, because much of it is about atmosphere and connection,” Coleman said. “We were confident in what we had set up here. We just didn’t have customers at first.”
With social distancing, a limit has been placed on that key component of what makes Mugshots so special — a fun and comfortable social atmosphere. So under the circumstances, the business has relied on the strength of its offerings — great gourmet coffees and unique specialty lunch menu items.
“Obviously we have all of the gourmet coffee drinks — lattes, cappuccinos, 50 different flavors to offer, and some unusual things like Italian sodas, steamers and cremosas,” Coleman said. “We also have a full lunch menu — we have specialty wraps like the Mediterranean eggplant wrap — and the chicken bacon ranch wrap is very popular, I think because it’s something that’s familiar to everyone. We have big specialty salads, signature paninis like A Sandwich of Ice and Fire and the Monte Christina, and house-made soups.
“I’m absolutely proud of everything on the lunch menu, for sure.”
Ohio Valley natives, the Colemans have made sure Mugshots delivers a sense of hometown pride and local vibe. In fact, almost everything the place — the decor, reclaimed and revitalized furniture, mugs, coffee beans, bread and bakery items, tea, the logo design and the live music — all have local ties or are either produced or distributed locally in Wheeling or regionally in the Pittsburgh area.
“Everything that we do, we try to keep local,” Coleman said. “We love Wheeling. We’ve just been passionate about the community and the people who live here. It’s a great city with a lot to offer, and we really think it’s on the rise.”
The Mugshots theme has served the new business well — brewed from the obvious combination of coffee “mugs” and “shots” of espresso, the use of jail house booking mugshots in its logo and decor has made for a quirky, interactive and memorable motif.
“It’s just a fun theme,” Coleman said. “It’s a fun name and a fun way for people to be a part of it.”
The decor inside includes a wall of framed celebrity mugshots, as well as black and white celebrity mugshots on all of the tabletops. There is a mugshot wall where customers can have their own booking mugshot taken, and they can post it online to help promote the business. Real customer mugshots are then selected to hang on a designated wall inside the cozy cafe’s indoor lounging spaces.
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hinder most businesses and restaurants from moving ahead full steam with new ventures, Coleman said he is looking forward with big plans that he hopes to bring to fruition in the future.
“Coffee shops are getting hit as hard as anybody, because it’s really about atmosphere,” he said. “People like to come in and sit down, relax, do their work and have WiFi available to them.”
A longtime former social worker who also worked part-time as a barista at a now defunct local cafe, Coleman noted that he and his wife met in the coffee shop where he worked and literally started their courtship by staying connected after they closed the doors at the former cafe for good.
“So many people get connected in an environment like this,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to provide. Yes — we’re going to offer good coffee and good food, but the idea of having a space with good music and comfortable furniture that’s in a comfortable atmosphere where everyone can feel comfortable getting together and talking to each other is really what I’m trying to provide here. Community is the absolute key. It’s not home, it’s not work, but it’s another space that you can be a part of.”
Mugshots is currently open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; they are closed on Saturdays.
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