A cheery coffee shop in West Huntsville, Alabama, called Charlie Foster’s is serving as an inspirational counter its location’s exploitative industrial past. Bursting with pinks, reds and cream colors, the shop is serving well-crafted coffee drinks, while providing training and employment for people with special needs.
Roughly half of the 18-person staff at Charlie Foster’s is composed of people of special needs, a model Charlie Foster’s Co-Owner Austin Jenkins pursued in keeping with the spirit of the Merrimack Hall Performing Arts Center, the arts education nonprofit founded by his parents Alan and Debra Jenkins.
The industrial history of the Merrimack Hall building is also an eerie but important inspiration. A century ago, the building housed a textile mill where children were exploited as laborers. Photos taken at the mill were presented to Congress in the 1930s, including a 1913 photo of a smiling boy named Charlie Foster.
“Merrimack Hall is haunted,” Charlie Foster’s Co-Owner and Austin’s wife Hollie Jenkins told Daily Coffee News. “When something would happen at Merrimack, we would attribute it to Charlie, so we would not be scared of the paranormal activity.”
The visage of Charlie — as seen on the company’s logo on the front doors, back wall, bottoms of ceramics, and elsewhere throughout the shop — is made decidedly less eerie through the bright, pink-filled color palette and a customizable LED light wall.
“I told my husband I wanted a pink espresso machine, and after working with our interior designer Susan Jones, who owns Windsor Jones Designs, we came up with red and white accent stripes as well as maple wooden trim on the Slayer,” Jenkins said of the shop’s espresso machine. “Then my husband had the idea that we design the whole shop around the espresso machine. I was all for it, because I love pink.”
In addition to the 3-group espresso setup, the shop also prepares drinks from a row of six Kyoto drip towers and a 5-cup Poursteady pourover machine.
The coffees on offer thus far have come from Canada’s 49th Parallel, including Epic Espresso for shots and cold brew, the Longitude blend for drip and rotating single-origin options for espresso and pourovers. 49th Parallel was initially slated to be one roaster among a variety to be featured at the shop, although Jenkins said that plan has since changed.
“Our original idea was to be a [multiroaster], but now we have been doing research into roasting our own coffee so the future is still undecided,” said Jenkins. “We plan to roast.”
The 1,865-square-foot shop has been welcoming a limited number of customers inside, as well as onto its outdoor patio. A grand opening is planned for Jan. 30, after which the company plans to introduce an online ordering system as well as nitro and still cold brew on tap.
Said Jenkins, “Our hope is to one day have our own roastery, along with other Charlie Foster’s locations, so we can do what we love and employ more people with special needs.”
Charlie Foster’s is open now at 3414 Governors Drive S.W. in Huntsville, Alabama.
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.