Secret Ingredient

Cafe Eclectic repeats successful formula for third location

By Andy Meek

Cafe Eclectic has found itself in an enviable spot since the cafe’s first location opened five years ago in Midtown.

Just five years after opening its first location near Overton Park, Cafe Eclectic has opened a third location, inside the Stratum Building on the Highland Strip near the University of Memphis campus. 

(Daily News/Lance Murphey)

After opening that first location at 603 N. McLean Blvd., the owners didn't have to necessarily go hunting for additional spots. For Cafe Eclectic's second and third stores – the newest of which opened at the end of June near the University of Memphis – owners of those spaces came instead to them.

“We’ve been really blessed,” said Rachel Boulden, a manager at Cafe Eclectic and daughter of owner Cathy Boulden. “Gary Garland came to us for our Harbor Town location, and the folks at the Stratum came to us and asked us to be in there for our new location.”

The Stratum on Highland, at 510 S. Highland St., is the site of Cafe Eclectic’s newest location the business is referring to as the “middle” location. The store in Harbor Town on Mud Island is referred to as “Little” Cafe Eclectic.

The newest version of the restaurant, coffee bar and pastry shop occupies 2,500 square feet of The Stratum’s ground floor retail space. The owners saw plenty to like in the university-area location, including its proximity to the university and how it fit the profile of the other two cafe neighborhoods, which are in areas where people live close enough that they can walk or bike to the cafe.

Plus, the demand is already there in the university area for similar items. On a recent weekday morning at Brother Juniper’s nearby, for example, the wait to be seated was nearly one hour.

The low-margin restaurant business can be a fickle one, but Cafe Eclectic’s secret sauce appears to be find a niche, be sensible and slow about growth and offer a mix of what’s expected as well as premium products.

Gariston Kinder serves Anna Cook, seated from left, Sarah Poteet and Carly Cook at the new location of Cafe Eclectic inside the Stratum Building on the Highland Strip.

(Daily News/Lance Murphey)

Regarding growth, Cafe Eclectic’s pattern has been a new location every two to three years. After the first opened in 2008, then came Harbor Town in 2010, followed by the U of M store this year.

What’s more, Cafe Eclectic also still has a proverbial “Now Hiring” sign on the front door. The business, which employs more than 60 people across the three stores, is hiring now for positions that include baristas, servers, cooks and front of the house managers.

On the menu at the new store is everything from French toast to salads plus lots of breakfast sandwiches. Boulden said the coffee served at the cafe – Illy coffee, a premium brand – is a point of pride for the business.

The cafe started with a simple vision. Cathy Boulden told The Daily News in 2010, soon before opening the second store, that the way she’d imagined the first location, “I just wanted a place where people from the neighborhood could walk, where they could get freshly made coffee – great coffee – fresh food and fresh pastries the old-fashioned way where it’s all prepared there.”

The new university store will get longer hours once the school year gets underway. Right now it’s open Monday through Saturday, from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For that location, the cafe also has added touches like “a nice, big patio” and sandwiches like roast beef paninis, Boulden said.

With a new store still only a few weeks into its official existence, the owners and employees not surprisingly have their hands full. And any more stores, at least for the moment, aren’t in the cards.

“It’s not part of the plan for any more locations right now – though you never say never,” Boulden said. “We’re very happy, and I think three is the perfect size for us.”