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When you go in for a latte, but get a lotta attitude instead.

July 8, 2019

 

      Your humble correspondent here has started two businesses and seen both go belly up, so he knows the importance of having a business plan to follow. 

      That's why, as much as I hated seeing Beyu Caffe in downtown Durham abandon its popular nightclub and live jazz performances to become solely a coffee shop, I understood.

      The owner, Dorian Bolden, a former Wall Street financier and Duke University graduate, patiently explained to me one day as I sat sipping an Oprah Mocha latte in his cafe at 341 W. Main St. that as much as he regretted doing it, the tea leaves told him that the future lay in coffee.

 

 

     He was understandably exasperated, since I might've been the 992nd person that week to decry the change to him personally.

      Again, hated to hear he was shutting down the very popular Open Mic Night, but appreciated his explanation and understood the adherence to his "business model."

      Real-talk, though: Is telling customers to kick rocks, take a hike, get the $%&# out, also a part of that business model?

      That is, essentially, what a manager at Beyu Caffe told me to do two weeks after I'd lunched with Bolden.

      When a college classmate whom I'd not seen in 35 years came to town and asked for a good meeting spot, I suggested Beyu.

      While waiting for our drinks, I mentioned to the manager behind the counter how much many of us missed the jazz club, the open mic night and live performances.

      His reply?

      A terse "If you don't like it, open your own nightclub."

      He then told me where I could find some other businesses to frequent.

      I started to tell him where he could stick that latte I'd just ordered, but because the bible tells us to be slow to anger - and to never antagonize the person fixing your food or drink - I turned the other cheek.

      Surely, he was jesting, right?

      Nope. When he turned to look at me, there was nothing good-natured, joking or friendly in his demeanor. 

      That's when I turned my other cheek and asked him if his business model included insulting longtime customers for merely telling him they missed the old format.

      By now, that Oprah Mocha sitting untouched on the counter wasn't the only thing steamin'.

      It was only because my buddy Curtis was treating me to the drink that I kept my cool. By way of explanation - not apology, mind you, but explanation - he said he was simply tired of people talking about the previous format.

      Chill, homes. Shouldn't he be pleased that people reverently remember the old format?

      Bolden, the owner, is. He said he shut down the performing portion of the cafe to focus on another coffee shop, Beyu Blue, on his alma mater's campus.

      "I knew people would be disappointed," he said, "but I didn't expect the backlash and negativity" to be as vociferous as it turned out to be.

      "It was ugly," he said. "I wish I could say I haven't lost my cool at times... We deal with people all the time, especially the phone calls, and some people are not nice. I've heard all kinds of things, that I'm a sellout, I've sold my business to a white owner..."

      None of that is true, he said.

      He also said, though, that "with all of the intellectual capital, the black wealth in Durham, the musicians, it is a viable option for someone else to open a space.... We kept it going for nine years, and it was successful, but we couldn't be all things to all people."

      In previous years, Beyu was voted by IndyWeek as the best place to hear live jazz in the Triangle, Retail Business of the Year by Downtown Durham Inc. and received the Emerging Business Award by the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development.

      If Bolden feels his new business model has the most potential, more power to him. For those of us without the business acumen he possesses, though, it's sad to drive past the formerly jumping spot at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday or Friday and see it shuttered, encased in darkness, silent.

      Many, many former patrons have contacted me to decry the change. Some were mildly annoyed, some were angry. Some swore they'd never set foot inside the joint again.

      Pssst. All I can tell them is that if they do go back, don't mention how much you liked it before. A barista with a bad attitude might just tell you to go "be you" someplace.

 

   

 

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