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As Other Businesses Close, This One Is Actually Expanding

Owner Brian Helfrich and retail director Dora Callahan of Summit Coffee in Davidson are opening a new location in an old drive-through bank.
David Boraks
/
WFAE
Owner Brian Helfrich and retail director Dora Callahan of Summit Coffee in Davidson are opening a new location in an old drive-through bank.

Many restaurants and bars in North Carolina have closed since the governor banned inside dining Tuesday amid the coronavirus pandemic. But a popular coffee shop in Davidson is doing the opposite - opening a new location.

Brian Helfrich owns the 22-year-old Summit Coffee Co. in Davidson. On Wednesday morning, he was  checking out the new site - a former Wells Fargo drive-through bank in Davidson.

The old teller window at Summit Coffee's new pop-up store, which is expected to open Saturday.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE
/
WFAE
The old teller window at Summit Coffee's new pop-up store, which is expected to open Saturday.

"We are standing outside of an old Wells Fargo drive-through in Davidson, which, after a few phone calls, the town of Davidson, (and) the developers, have let us inhabit as a pop-up location for the next 60 days," Helfrich said.

The small brick building is on South Main Street, a couple of hundred yards from Summit's main location, on Main Street.  Summit also has shops in west Asheville and on the Davidson College Campus. With Davidson College shut down, Helfrich closed the campus location and laid off 10 student workers this week. But he still has another 40 employees on reduced hours, serving coffee and snacks for takeout only.  

For him, this new location is about saving some jobs. Two people will staff the pop-up store.  

"I told my staff last night that I feel like I owe it to them to do whatever I can to safely keep them employed. You know, we're in the middle of a global health crisis and a global economic crisis and trying to navigate it is fascinating. There's no book on how to do it," he said.

But is opening a new location the way to survive a massive economic downturn?

This old drive-up bank is closed now, but soon Summit Coffee will be serving drinks and snacks from  here.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE
/
WFAE
This old drive-up bank is closed now, but soon Summit Coffee will be serving drinks and snacks from here.

"Yeah, it's a wild idea. I mean, on Monday, we were sort of facing the reality that we were going to have to lay off almost our entire staff. Sales have been plummeting quite precipitously," Helfrich said.

Then Tuesday, as he walked to work, he passed the abandoned drive-through, which Wells Fargo recently sold to a developer. He thought, why not? 

The town of Davidson doesn't actually allow drive-through service at restaurants. But amid the coronavirus scare, other businesses are being allowed to offer curbside service. It took some persuading, but Helfrich succeeded in getting permission for Summit Coffee to set up what he calls this "auxiliary delivery option."

"Ultimately I pleaded our case that I'm just trying to preserve jobs and stimulate the economy a little bit. And if there were ever a time to, you know, allow something like this, now is probably the time," he said.

Helfrich plans to open as early as Saturday, March 21, selling drip and cold brew coffee, coffee beans, and snacks. The plan is to open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. seven days a week. And through a partnership with the now-closed Kindred Restaurant nearby, they'll have chef Joe Kindred's milk bread doughnuts - a favorite among local diners. 

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