In 2011, James Yoder and his wife, Miracle, opened up the first Not Just Coffee in Area 15 in Optimist Park. After spending four years in Europe working on a nonprofit, the couple had an unexpected move to Charlotte.
After living in Italy, the family was struck by how coffee shops and cafes were ingrained as part of daily culture for people. So for years they new they wanted to open a coffee shop, and this time seemed right.
“It seemed like something kind of crazy at the time, but we figured we didn’t have anything else we were planning on doing,” said Yoder.
They started out with 150-square-feet in Area 15 and partnered with Counter Culture Coffee, a company they still partner with. And after eight months, Yoder was approached to join 7th Street Public Market. He said they were doing very low volume at Area 15 but, “we started to make a splash because we were doing coffee a different way.”
“I was working another full time job at the time, trying to get the coffee shop rolling,” said Yoder. “But as soon as I walked into the space I said, ‘I gotta talk to my wife, we need to do this.’”
Today, Not Just Coffee has five locations across Charlotte. The growth was quick, though Yoder said when they first started, having multiple locations was never on his radar.
“For us, the timing was essential. We didn’t know it when we started Not Just Coffee that there was a big void for it and that we were on the cusp of sort of a new thing in our industry,” he said. “Unbeknownst to us, we were new to Charlotte, and when we opened it just seemed to resonate because people didn’t have a lot of options yet. I think was a mix of just a really passionate pursuit of quality, customer service and hospitality.”
Yoder’s newest location of Not Just Coffee in Dilworth is between 1,200 and 1,300-square-feet, with 36 seats and has a food and bar menu—quite the upgrade from 150-square-feet in an incubator.
“Our concept has evolved, and I think us being willing and interested to let that concept organically evolve, and I think that’s proven beneficial,” said Yoder.
It has definitely paid off, if the line out the door during the newest location’s opening is any indication. With the expansion of a menu and a dining area elevating Not Just Coffee from just a coffee shop, Yoder was faced with an interesting challenge: laptops.
“When I came in and saw the line out the door and I saw every one of our banquette seating had someone with a laptop at it and a lot of customers waiting on food, some of them holding their food looking for a place to sit, and I knew some of those people had been there for many hours on the laptops we realized we needed to make a change,” Yoder explained.
The change was to shut off the wifi starting at 5 p.m. on weekdays, and to not turn it on at all on the weekend. About thirty minutes before the deadline, Yoder says staff inform the customers of the no laptop policy.
“No one got furious,” he added. “In the evening it’s a very different vibe. It’s distracting to have a bunch of screens everywhere.”
As with every new thing in Charlotte, the coffee scene is going through a bit of a boom.
“Obviously I’m watching that expansion carefully. Anything specialty there’s a limited market to it, but also the market is increasing because awareness. People’s expectation for coffee and quality has gotten significantly higher,” said Yoder.
“At the end of the day for me, it’s about our team and the moving parts of our business.”