Caffiend closes; Firestorm stokes the fire

The current economic situation is taking its toll on local small businesses, and even the coffeehouse model so well rooted in Asheville is not immune. But while one local beanery is shutting down, another is taking a community-based route toward survival.

Calling all caffiends: In response to the credit crunch, Firestorm Cafe and Books is rallying its customer base for new equipment funds. Photo by Jonathan Welch

As of June 18, the 2-year-old Caffiend is no more. The 24-hour Merrimon Avenue coffee outlet closed its doors amid a farewell show that featured local music and even puppetry.

“If I had any way to avoid this, I would,” owner Matt Hebb told


. “This economy has just not been very easy. [The shop] needed more money than I have.”

Although the shop had gained a reputation as a haven for goths, punks and other up-all-nighters, Hebb says the business was actually common ground for all comers. (It was also home to the conservative Asheville Latté Republicans, for example.)

“We had a massive community of regulars,” noted Hebb. And it was the crowd that defined the shop's atmosphere — a development that Hebb says he welcomed. “The shop hasn't really been mine for a long time,” he observed. “Yes, it sucks for me, but what really bothers me is that there are people who come here who really don't have anywhere else to go.”

Meanwhile, for the 1-year-old Firestorm Café and Books, an economic challenge is merely another opportunity for the community to rally around a common need. Up till now, the worker-owned business on Commerce Street has focused on offering a downtown meeting and performance space. But that has left the café “just scraping by,” reports Radio Goldman, who handles bands, media relations and such. Firestorm worker/owners pay themselves about $3 an hour, she says.

To pump up revenues and draw more customers through the door, the shop is trying to focus more attention on its café. A refrigerated display case, notes Goldman, would give that effort a serious assist, helping define the café area and making it more inviting to people unfamiliar with the space. It would also make the food more presentable (shortly before this interview, the icing on a freshly baked batch of cupcakes had melted).

“But what we're short on is capital,” she says. “And that's something we can't get through traditional loans. Banks are strapping down.”

Instead, the shop is reaching out to the community in hopes of raising a few thousand dollars toward a display case. To get there, Firestorm is selling gift certificates that are worth 10 percent more than the purchase price. For example, $50 (the lowest denomination offered) gets you a $55 gift certificate. All of the proceeds from the certificates goes into an account dedicated to the display case; they've raised about $400 so far, says Goldman.

For more information, stop by the shop (48 Commerce St., one block south of Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville) or go to


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33 thoughts on “Caffiend closes; Firestorm stokes the fire

  1. Matthew Hebb

    I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who notices this posting for all of the support while we were open. It should also be noted that while I wish Firestorm all the best in this troubled economy, my store was a very unique location and I couldn’t endorse the transfer of my clientele to them from where I sit. My store was an anomaly, for better or worse it was all its own. I hope that the community created at Caffiend continues to hold together in different ways. It just seemed odd to combine my story with one of another store as though one crowd might ebb to another. I have been to Firestorm, and while I respect the establishment for what they choose to be, it is an all together different place (with many loyal customers whom I assume are part of their community). I don’t doubt the existence of several (in fact I know of) crossover customers, but generally these stores only have a handful of things in common. I hope however, going forward, that other independent coffee shops in Asheville have a greater fate than mine and that the community that we built at Caffiend can find its home.

  2. John A. Smolkin

    Firestorm is low on “capital”? That is rich! I have checked the place out,and it is way way leftwing revolutionary with plenty of books on communism, firearm ownership, raging against the machine, etc. Almost to a person, I got a very un-Asheville vibe…like big northern city angst. Unfriendly,overly serious, bordering on hostile. It’s funny that a place that is so opposed to capitalism, and traditional American values, needs “capital”. I would’ve much rather had Firestorm close and seen Caffiend continue on.

  3. Thad

    1. You find it odd that a maverick business philosophy has a challenge to overcome? That is rich!

    2. Asheville is diverse. I don’t know what part of Asheville you’ve chosen to define as this entire town, but I do know that there is an inordinate number of proletarian revolutionaries around here for a town this size, and those people are the part of Asheville I prefer to call my home.

    3. And Firestorm is proud to be a fixture with a future in a southern town. Scott and Eli are from Waynesville. Nable and Alex are from Florida. Kensey is from Columbia, S.C., I’m from Hickory. Radio is from Charlotte, and Firestorm has a 10-year lease. Your assumption about northern big-city influence is just plain dumb, and Firestorm ain’t going away anytime soon. Firestorm is part of Asheville now, and if you don’t like it, you can lump it. But yes, we do indeed like guns. They help defend people with opinions that make their neighbors want to drive them away.

  4. Majik

    Well, “THAD” That little outburst certainly makes me want to patronize your establishment…NOT!

    Oh, and what happened to your 501c3??? Bogus try to use the system,huh?? LOL!!!

    Maybe some communist countries have 501c3’s. Why don’t you move there?? HAHAHAHA!!

  5. Thad

    Yeah. There are lots of people who don’t want to patronize Firestorm, but in comparison, you folks are a small minority in Asheville, thank God. Most people here realize that Firestorm serves a community need, and they respect the people involved in the project because they often pride themselves in holding uncommon but rationally defensible social philosophies. They respect the radically democratic business structure. They respect all the extra work it takes to ensure equality among all workers. You and your kind do not have respect, I gather. On a more practical level, Firestorm is a great community space that has some great, cheap vegan food and some of the best events around. Firestorm also has books on its shelves that you’re probably not going to find in any other bookstore in the entire western half of this state. The workers are mostly anti-political and believe strongly in progress from the ground up instead of from the top down. Furthermore, Asheville is my home. I love it here, and I’m never leaving. I have every right to stay here until I grow old, and I plan to do just that. And so are many of my friends. And you obviously don’t have any idea what you’re talking about regarding the 501. Firestorm is not a non-profit. Firestorm has never attempted to become a non-profit. Not even at its inception. It has never claimed to be a non-profit. You have been grossly misinformed. Thank you for your outburst.

  6. Majik

    There was an article published when you first opened and one of your “owners” explained how you modeled your business after another cafe somewhere in another state and said you were 501c3. i will be HAPPY to research that article and publish where it can be found. So don’t lie. In any case, why the hell would anyone want to go to an establishment where they could potentially be SHOT because “They (guns) help defend people with opinions that make their neighbors want to drive them away”…Oh! I forgot it’s the Commie way! You are the weakest link…goodbye!

  7. Piffy!

    I went to Firestrom, and I was like hey give me a muffin and a late and they were like, okay that’ll be 5.75, and i was like, hey!, whoa! I thought this place was all about to each according to their own means, and i mean to get me a muffin and a late, and they were like, pay up brother, or we’ll strap you to a chair and read from random sectionsof “Off the Map” to you, and i was like, you call yourself communists!?!?!, communists are’nt supposed to make money and i was like later out of there.

  8. Rob Close

    No, their non-profit status seems entirely legit to me; especially since they’ve been working for $3 an hour for so long now.

    What’s laughable is their $11.35 estimate of future pay – I think they’d be happy with $8 in the coming year. Which is really just sad, so c’mon, stop picking on them.

  9. L

    From the Firestorm website: “The ownership structure we require precludes us from applying for 501(c)3 nonprofit status; however, we are committed to a not-for-profit model and we will reinvest 100% of our earnings in the community once we are able to pay a living wage.”

    Ambitious, but possible. Keep going, Firestorm.

  10. Dionysis

    Well, someone is either confused or dishonest. This is what it says in the article:

    “Firestorm was officially established on May 1 as a nonprofit, worker-owned LLC.”

  11. Thad

    Someone is just confused. From what I understand, though, by state law, a company has to be either an LLC or a nonprofit. I don’t think you can be both. You have to file as either one or the other. However, I see now how this whole rumor got started.

  12. I just had the best sandwich I’ve tasted in the last month at Firestorm. Communists, anarchists, Rosicrucians, I don’t care, they make a yummy sandwich.

  13. Piffy!

    someone please remind me to give ‘majik’ an atomic wedgie if i ever meet him.

  14. Heh. PFKaP, if there was ever a “get to know the person behind the avatar” event for the posters on the MountainX comment boards and forums, I imagine it would get violently nasty rather quickly.

  15. Mysterylogger

    So if I read this correctly This coffee shop wants people to donate money so they can fix their store up, on top of Buying products?

  16. Thad

    No, that’s not what the article says, and that is not what the people at Firestorm are doing. They are simply selling gift certificates so they can get a boost in revenue now. It is like customers are paying now for what they will consume in the future so that what they will consume will be better in some way because of the refrigerated display case. Plus, customers get 10 percent more this way, so it’s actually a better deal for them, too. Also, gift certificates are often a great option for folks who tend to buy things with debit or credit cards, because 50 cent card fees apply to any purchase under $10. Gift certificates are kind of like buying with cash. It’s really a win-win situation.

  17. W/E

    Charging a fee for a credit card transaction under $10, or any amount for that matter is illegal. I know of businesses who got in a lot of trouble for doing that. I think people pay enough credit card fees as it is. And what happens to the gift certificates if you close down?? just saying. :(

  18. Piffy!

    W/E- you do know it costs an establishment money to run one of those machines, right?

  19. Thad

    I’m not an expert on legalities. I know that some states have such laws, but I don’t think North Carolina is one of those states. There is no Federal law regarding these fees, and I know Minnesota law specifically allows such fees.

  20. W/E, Firestorm is going pretty strong, and has a loyal following. There are a many more businesses in Asheville more likely to close than Firestorm in the next year or two.

  21. xvelouria

    “Charging a fee for a credit card transaction under $10, or any amount for that matter is illegal. I know of businesses who got in a lot of trouble for doing that.”

    If that’s the case, somebody had better let UNCA know:

  22. Piffy!

    “I know of businesses who got in a lot of trouble for doing that.” ”

    i guess that business wasnt in NC, huh?

  23. Mysterylogger

    Soooo what happens when everyone cashes in Gift certificates at once? I mean the unemployment rate is going up in Asheville. I never heard of many people buying a gift certificate for personal use. If you got the money to buy something then buy it.

  24. Joseph Stalin

    I hope all the non-spending kids who used to hang out at Caffiend now adopt Firestorm as their new hangout. And I do hope the employee-owners do serve them free coffee. -g)

  25. Piffy!

    im just saying, REAL communists wouldnt charge for a late. i mean, its the Peoples drink, yes?

    These firestorm kids are obviously some new breed of socialist, one hell bent on co-opting the capitalist paradigm for their own remixing purposes. It’s like noam chomsky and jay Z on the same track.

  26. Scott

    Just to be clear, Firestorm Cafe & Books is not a “communist” establishment. There is no Firestorm Party Line and those of us who work there hold a diverse range of social/political/economic views.

    You’ll find more copies of “The Communist Manifesto” at Barnes and Noble – we don’t stock it.

    If our failure to fit neatly into the capitalist/communist box confounds you, stop in sometime and we’ll be happy to chat with you about who we are and how we operate.

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