SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — A new Black-owned coffee shop will soon make its debut in the Hostess City.
Ashley “Elbi” Elm, a 2019 BizPitch Savannah winner and founder of The Culturist Union, is currently in the process of bringing the unique space to downtown Savannah shortly before summer.
“In my head, I already have my outfit picked out!” Elm laughed as she excitedly envisioned the coffeehouse’s future grand opening event. “I see it very clearly.”
The former SCAD performing arts student hopes for an official opening date of Juneteenth, which falls on Saturday, June 19. It won’t be the first, but when it opens, it will be the city’s only existing Black-owned coffee shop.
“There are no Black-owned coffeehouses in Savannah, there are no Black-centered marketplaces in Savannah,” Elm told WSAV NOW.
“We will be able to serve both of those needs and be able to help cultivate other entrepreneurs and other Black artisans to actualize their dream in that space,” she said.
In 2019, Elm established The Culturist Union, which she describes as a marketplace centered around cultural empowerment.
“We’ve hosted over 30 events, we’ve had over 10,000 participants in those events, virtual and in-person,” Elm said. “Our last event was in December, we did the Black Artist Series Market, [where] we served over 15 artisans.”
Four of those artisans sold out of their products as around 300 community members supported the initiative, she shared.
The founder’s initial plan following her win of the BizPitch Savannah entrepreneurial competition was to open a co-working space in the city. However, lack of capital resources made it a difficult challenge, she explained.
“We had to go back to the drawing board and pivot, and we realized that although we couldn’t do a co-working space, we could definitely do a coffeehouse or marketplace that had the same elements of gathering together, social clubs and networking, but in a smaller, more manageable space,” Elm said.
She says such a space is necessary for local entrepreneurs and creators looking for a place to showcase their work and connect with like-minded people.
“When you’re around the people that have the same ideas as you and have the same drive or purpose that you have, it makes you want to go that much further and do more good work,” Elm said.
Elm is currently in negotiations to secure a home for her future coffeehouse, which she says will be located in downtown Savannah.
To raise money for the space, she’s crowdfunding through a program called I Fund Women.
“I really liked that program because they do mentorship and give you a lot of resources to be able to grow your business without putting on a lot of debt,” Elm said.
After conducting market research in the community, she and her team realized that a coffee shop was the best option for their goals.
“Once we decided that people love coffeehouses, people like gathering at coffeehouses, people like centering themselves and being at a place at two o’clock in the afternoon and working, we realized that was the way that we needed to go,” Elm said.
The Culturist Union recently received a $25,000 grant from American Express to go toward opening the space. They were also awarded grant funding from Facebook.
So far, Elm says they’ve been able to raise around $45,000. “The goal is to be able to open up this place, hire full-time employees [and offer] a workable living wage without going into debt,” Elm said. “Any sort of support is always welcome.”
The amount of community support she and her team have gotten has been overwhelming, Elm shares.
Local businesses including Cup to Cup Cafe and Ashford Tea Company have offered both support and resources.
“I really hope that we have a huge crowd of supporters and that people just keep coming through those doors to patron and support these Black artisans with their products in the store, come and have a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy the space and be a part of our community,” Elm said.
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