The story of entrepreneur Toya Jones, Owner of Morning Brew Coffee in Downtown Roanoke, sits in juxtaposition to the success stories of the national headlines—million-dollar IPOs, merger-acquisitions, venture-backed startups. Her ascendance from 9-to-5 employee to entrepreneur is a steady, stair-step journey, a story of resilience that allowed Jones to attain her long-held vision of owning a coffee shop.
Jones started Morning Brew Coffee as a result of her love for both coffee and writing. The shop is attached to the Taubman Museum of Art. Jones has had the goal of starting a coffee shop for fifteen years, she says.
“I always wanted to open a coffee shop. I used to go to coffee shops and I’d take my journal to different locations to write. Coffee shops always inspired me. Plus I love coffee. The two together was a no brainer for me.”
Morning Brew Coffee had its grand opening in May and has been acquiring customers through foot traffic from surrounding businesses Downtown, and the museum.
“Some of the customers are from the nearby Wells Fargo Tower in Downtown Roanoke, and the surrounding Virginia Blue Ridge, students and teachers in the area, as well as the museum,” says Jones.
Though Morning Brew Coffee has been Downtown for little more than a year, Jones’ story has been fifteen years in the making. She has had different entrepreneurial ventures before opening the shop in 2018.
In April 2017, Jones opened the Vatican Bistro, a joint coffee shop and music venue. Melded with java, she brought big name musicians and acts such as Michale Graves from The Misfits and The Toasters, a New York-based band who were the original founders of ska music.
The Vatican Bistro was located in Hollins, ten miles away from Roanoke and had less foot traffic than Jones’ café at the Taubman.
Before that, Jones also opened The Dojo Grill in 2015. The food truck specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches. Jones came up with the concept in 2011 while still working a 40-hour per week job in office/retail management.
“I started doodling and came up with a concept and opened a grilled cheese food truck instead of mobile coffee,” she says.
Jones’ first foray into entrepreneurship came in 2013, when she started Vivid LLC. Vivid LLC housed several businesses, including a property maintenance company that landed a permanent contracting position with MKB Realtors.
Jones continues to run her food truck, just less often, mostly for special events, festivals and some of the local breweries, she says. The food truck is most recently the winner of the Playinum Award for the best food truck in Roanoke for 2019.
Jones gained interest in starting a coffee shop Downtown after three years of running her food truck. Jones was approached by a food truck regular, who shared that the Taubman Museum had an opening in Downtown Roanoke. The regular asked Jones if she was interested in renting the space.
“She came to the restaurant one day and said have you ever thought about opening your location in Downtown Roanoke,” she says.
Initially, Jones relented after seeing many businesses close after opening a Downtown location. Yet after overcoming her fear of failure in Roanoke’s Downtown district, Jones decided to make the move last May.
“Coffee shops never really succeeded Downtown because you have Starbucks which everyone flocks to, and Mill Mountain Coffee which is a huge staple in Roanoke. I didn’t think it would be for me. I responded that way because I was scared of having a location in Downtown Roanoke and after seeing everyone come in and fail,” she says.
The Grand Opening of Morning Brew Coffee in its new location at the Taubman Museum, housed in a $66 million building, was held May 3, 2018. Despite Jones’ fears, has since experienced a positive reception from the surrounding businesses and Downtown community.
“It’s been great, a dream come true. Everyone has been so open and accepting to having a coffee shop here,” Jones says.
Since dipping her toes into the inconsistent waters of entrepreneurship, Jones has now transitioned to full-time business owner with her thriving coffee shop. She also continues to run The Dojo Grill food truck.
Morning Brew Coffee’s reception has been bolstered by Roanoke residents and guests who frequent the Taubman Museum of Arts, which is open from 10 to 5 Wednesday through Saturday, and 12 to 5 on Sundays.
“The difference in the foot traffic from the old location to this location is like night and day. I mean, in sales terms, there’s no competition. If you could increase your sales by 100%, that’s what I’ve done by making this move,” she says.
Morning Brew Coffee, by renting this new space, also earned a catering contract with the museum. The coffee shop is contracted to cater for small events hosted at the museum with 150 people or fewer.
We get first dibs on the contract lunches for when people rent out spaces like the atrium or the boardroom for boardroom meetings,” says Jones.
“With that and other things, we do a lot of catering events for offices in the area, even for visits in the Virginia Blue Ridge. It definitely helps, and it’s definitely consistent, the catering options that we actually do get.”
Jones started her journey in with a single step. And she has trekked many miles to arrive, dreams in-tact, to the Downtown destination of her shop Morning Brew Coffee.
For this entrepreneur, her dreams—and those of anyone who wants to start a business—are valid.
“Goals are attainable. And it can seem to be the most farfetched idea. And I’ll be honest with you. If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would have a restaurant inside of a $66 million building, I probably would have laughed. Not saying that I wouldn’t believe it but it seemed a little farfetched. But here I am in one of the most expensive buildings in Roanoke. Be consistent, be persistent. And in the end, clearly it works out.”