Jay Weatherly likes the “side-street feel” of his new High Five Coffee location, set to open in June on Rankin Avenue in downtown Asheville. The new site lies a few feet from the backdoor, kids entrance to one of the city’s oldest businesses, Tops for Shoes, and it’s across the street from the Rankin parking garage (with the Civic Center deck a block away). A few doors away, The Vault draws locals and tourists for cocktails. There’s a door to the upstairs condominiums and offices a few feet away, too, and customers come in and out of the Studio Chavarria hair salon. College Street — a main route through downtown — is less than 50 yards away.
Even on a quiet Tuesday morning, the flow of pedestrians and cars is steady. “There’s just something about Rankin that just feels good, and we’ll fit in,” says Weatherly.
He has to pause often during the interview as customers and friends stop to say hello and ask him what’s up. “I get my energy from interacting with people,” Weatherly says. Two years ago, he “didn’t have a plan to open a second location.” But, after successfully rebranding the coffee shop and developing the logo of a hand raised for the signature high five (his wife’s idea), he let the notion evolve.
Weatherly’s wife, Kim Hunt, worked at downtown’s long-gone but very original coffee shop Beanstreets. And he’s been a barista since his college days in the 1990s. “Coffee has been at the forefront of my life for a long time,” he says. Opening his first coffee shop, helping it grow, making sure the business embodied the essence of a “third place” where friends and strangers alike can “share the same space” and thus create “something profound” — these were key elements, and Weatherly wasn’t in a rush to expand.
“The most important business elements, for me, are the quality of the product and the community you serve,” he says. Weatherly focused on those elements at High Five and says that running the business is about connecting to the local economy and having integrity with the product you offer. “You have to believe in the community and believe in the product,” he says. Coffee’s the main product, and Weatherly sources his from Durham-based Counter Culture. “We work with them because they have similar values,” he explains.
In the back of his mind, Weatherly says, was the possibility of setting up a second location but doing it the right way. The question was where.
The Broadway location is in a new building with condos upstairs and Moog Music and Interstate 240 a block away. In the other direction lies UNC Asheville and Interstate 26. Development has been slow to come to the block, but, says Weatherly, “We’re a place that people seek.”
The main crowd is locals. The baristas don’t wear uniforms (“we’re not Starbucks,” says Weatherly), and some have been with him since High Five opened. He emphasizes the sense of community at the coffee shop — a place that’s about building relationships between customers and baristas, owner and employees.
Cross under I-240, “and it becomes a different zone,” says Weatherly. There are tourists, banks, businesses and restaurants downtown. Rankin Avenue is right in the middle of it all but a few feet off the main path. “That little zone feels good, [but] I didn’t think about downtown until I walked by that spot [on Rankin] and saw it was available and looked inside and said, ‘That would work,'” he says.
The new location is smaller than the one on Broadway. It’s in an older building, with worn oak floors that creak here and there, complemented by walls of exposed brick. Weatherly points to where tables, the main counter and other features will go. “We’ll tap into downtown workers, tourists,” he muses. The Rankin location will, he thinks, draw a different crowd than Broadway. It will be a challenge, too, as High Five doubles its staff to more than a dozen. New staff, new customers — “we’re going to start simple,” says Weatherly.
As at the Broadway location, Weatherly and crew will still make their own ice creams and coffee syrups (no high-fructose corn syrup). And they’ll stick to the basics. Says Weatherly, “Make good coffee. Be nice to people.”
For more information, visit highfivecoffee.com.