Bluff City Coffee has been on a tear lately – expanding conservatively while letting its customers decide what menu items reign supreme.
Upon leasing a new 3,000-square-foot commercial kitchen in Pembroke Square in January, the eatery has greatly enhanced its pastry offerings at its 505 S. Main St. retail shop, from tie-dye cream cheese sugar cookies, coconut lime sponge cupcakes and orange cinnamon rolls to healthy options like honey oat scones and granola bars.
“There aren’t a lot of places in town with high-end pastries,” said Bluff City Coffee owner David Adams. “It just augments what we already have in place – that morning stop for coffee. Now you can grab a homemade pastry or take a box back to the office.”
Bluff City is also the sponsor of the Memphis Farmers Market coffee cart, which until this year was 100 percent volunteer run. Bluff City is the only booth allowed to sell “take-away” liquid drinks – including coffee, orange juice and bottled water – that are not made on-site.
The coffee and snack shop averages a couple hundred patrons in its store on any given Saturday, Adams said, while the Farmers Market can see a crowd of up to 3,000 in its six hours of operation. But by being a sponsor rather than a vendor, Bluff City is able to have a lasting effect on the nonprofit’s Downtown presence.
“What we wanted to do was to support what they were doing,” Adams said. “By being a sponsor, we could do that financially, versus being a vendor that’s just selling product and going that route. People come from way out East to go to this Farmers Market. Because we’re around the corner, we really wanted to support the impact that has on Downtown.”
“There aren’t a lot of places in town with high-end pastries. It just augments what we already have in place — that morning stop for coffee.”
–David Allen, Bluff City Coffee owner
Bluff City opened at 505 S. Main St. in 2006. Adams purchased the 1,300-square-foot business about two and a half years ago with no restaurant experience.
“I sold computer applications and software for 25 years and I wanted to do something different,” Adams said. “I’ve learned a lot.”
Adams said the key to running the coffee and snack shop is listening to the customer. That’s why he lets his two new full-time pastry chefs – Jason Doty and Theresa Peeples – have a couple of “play days” a week where they’re not responsible for production “just to see if there’s a market for certain creative pastries.”
Doty and Peeples have been hard at work solidifying Bluff City Coffee’s new bread line, which will be launched Sunday, May 6, at Project Green Fork’s Spring Supper at 6 p.m. at Chickasaw Oaks Plaza. Bluff City will serve its walnut and Gouda braided loaf – one of nine breads that will be available at the shop starting Monday, May 7.
Offering bread in the Downtown area is an untapped market with plenty of demand, said Project Green Fork founder Margot McNeeley.
“It’s just another opportunity for Memphians to be able to purchase locally baked and prepared food,” McNeeley said. “We have Café Eclectic, which also does their own bread and sells coffee, but in the Downtown area, it’s been awhile since we’ve had a bakery where you can actually buy homemade breads, pastries and even donuts while you’re enjoying a cup of coffee. I think it’s good for Memphians, I think it’s good for the economy, it’s good for Downtown, and it’s definitely good for Project Green Fork.”
It’s also a way for Bluff City to expand its product line and appeal to more customers while looking for new retail locations Downtown and in Midtown.
“We’re looking for facilities, but we’re working slow because of the changes with the pastries,” Adams said.
Adams said his goal is to continue to allow the public to “paint the picture” of what Bluff City truly is. In the future, there won’t necessarily be less coffee, but more baking. The name “Bluff City Bread” has even been tossed around.
“We need lots of accessibility, counter space, showrooms and sit-down areas for breakfast and lunch,” Adams said, adding the challenges of build-out costs and landlord exclusive-use clauses for nearby sandwich providers. “To find a spot that meets our criteria, we have to sort of wait for things to happen.”