After a successful online Kickstarter campaign raised more than $35,000, Blue Coffee Cafe, which has become a downtown landmark, will be able to stay in downtown Durham.
Developer Austin Lawrence Partners will be renovating the Jack Tar building where the popular coffee shop is located and building a new high-rise across the street.
The company suggested Blue scale back to a smaller deli/convenience store and stay at the corner of Corcoran and Parrish streets, but owner Gwen Mathews preferred to move and keep serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
She found a 2,500 square-foot location at the corner of Church and Main – 107 N. Church St. – that meets her requirements – except that it has no kitchen.
“It’s just a shell,” she said.
So, Mathews started the Kickstarter campaign to put in a kitchen, as well as another bathroom and a bar and take-out counter.
As of Sunday morning the effort had raised $36,629, enough to successfully fund the move.
“We want to stay downtown, and our customers want us to stay downtown,” Mathews said. “These people think Blue Coffee has a story, and this story belongs on Main Street.”
Blue Coffee’s place in Durham lore grew in 2008, when Barack Obama, who was campaigning for president, made a stop there.
Obama was at a nearby voter registration drive that day, Mathews said. She had already gone home for the day, but when she got a call from the Secret Service, she headed back.
Obama showed up 10 minutes later, and spent about an hour signing autographs and visiting with folks.
“He’s very down to earth,” Mathews said, “and was concerned that my business was getting everything it needed.”
Blue welcomed another famous visitor in 2012, when Vice President Joe Biden stopped in.
This time she had more warning about the visit. Biden was conducting a contest called Cup a Joe with Joe in which Biden spoke to winners from all over the country at the Durham Armory and then came over to Blue Coffee for a while.
“We’ve always been deemed the community coffee shop,” Mathews said.
Mathews has owned the shop for nine years. She originally moved to Durham from Northern Virginia as a Verizon employee.
She accepted an early-retirement package from Verizon after moving to Durham, and operated a candy and ice cream shop in northern Durham for a while.
When the cafe’s original owners decided to sell, she put in an offer and came away the new owner.
The shop was named for the owners’ daughter, but since Mathews middle name, Azure, is a shade of blue, she decided to keep the name.
Blue Coffee has steadily expanded its food offerings, offering breakfast, lunch and after 5 menus. The shop sells a variety of sandwiches, as well as hot dogs, hamburgers and blue plate specials such as macaroni and cheese, meatloaf and barbecue chicken.
“We’ve evolved into a full cafe,” Mathews said.
Amanda Smith, a regular who lives a block away in the Kress building, was one of the first to donate to the Kickstarter campaign.
“She’s invested in Durham,” Smith said of Mathews, “and it makes sense to me that Durham should invest in her.”
Smith, who has lived downtown since 2008, said Blue Coffee was one of the few bright spots downtown when she moved there. There were a lot of boarded-up storefronts at the time, she said.
Blue has to leave its current location by the end of the year. Mathews plans to reopen at the new location in January or early February.