While I chatted with Jay Weatherly at his business, High Five Coffee Bar, he cheerfully greeted half a dozen people as neighbors and friends. He petted their dogs and asked about their days. It was clear that Weatherly has created the type of environment he was after – a community-centered gathering place that puts values into action.
Borrowing a term from sociology, he mentions “third places” – social spots that are separate from home and work. “At a coffee shop, you can cross paths with someone for years and they become part of your community because you share a couple minutes a day,” says Weatherly. “Things happen in that space that promote progressive social change – ideas of commonality that don’t happen anywhere else – because they happen spontaneously.”
High Five has been in the Asheville coffee scene for several years, but you may not recognize the name. Until December 2012, it was called the Dripolator. Weatherly purchased the then-BIltmore Avenue business in 2007. Looking to open a café and taking a Mountain BizWorks business planning class to prepare, he jumped on the opportunity when the Dripolator came up for sale. A loan from Mountain BizWorks helped.
But the Dripolator had a sister business in Black Mountain, owned by Amy Carol. When Weatherly moved the business to the Pioneer Building on Broadway in 2009, customers assumed that both Dripolators were still under the same ownership.
So last year, Weatherly decided to announce his business’ evolution with a rebranding. “It felt like the right time,” he says, “a way to clear some confusion and to express that we’ve grown – not just that we’re different from the Black Mountain Dripolator, but that we’re different than what we were five years ago.”
So Weatherly and his wife, Kim Hunt – who is also co-owner – came up with the new name: High Five Coffee Bar. “We picked [it] on my back porch after months of discovering what names were taken,” he explains. “It was an intense, long process to come up with a name and to pay heed to intellectual property rights.” He wanted a name that was friendly and welcoming, not serious or pretentious. “And I like to give high fives,” he says, grinning.
He hired Asheville-based Atlas Branding to turn the name into a new logo and brand.
Weatherly saw the change as an opportunity to update the menu and the space itself as well. “We honed in on… the options we offer… with our coffee; they’re going to be crafted at the same level as our coffee.” For instance, instead of using flavorings containing corn syrup, High Five staff now make all of their flavorings in-house.
To upgrade the interior as well, Weatherly solicited feedback from his loyal customers. “I sent out a questionnaire asking, ‘What do or don’t you like? What would you change?’ And one of the suggestions was more seating.” He removed some of the two-top tables and built two bars, which added six more seats. “Bars encourage a communal seating atmosphere – you can sit down and do your own thing, or you can have a conversation with someone you don’t know. Philosophically, that’s what a coffee shop is there to be.”?
What has not changed during the rebranding is Weatherly’s commitment to quality and fairness. As a product of working in coffee shops in the 1990s, when public awareness of the fair-trade coffee industry was blossoming, the integrity of the coffee production chain is one his top priorities. “Our roasting company, [Durham, N.C.-based] Counter Culture Coffee, works directly with producers to make sure the condition of the farm has a sustainable view of how it’s growing down the road – it’s a ‘seed to cup’ perspective. That’s why I choose this coffee, and train my people the way I do.” Weatherly applies this value of fairness not just to coffee beans – but to his employees as well. “I would rather pay my people well and provide a product that costs more, than pay people less with a cheaper product and make a larger profit.”
After all, one of the reasons Weatherly felt Asheville was a good place to open a business was its deep sense of community. “I think Asheville is one of the few places with a collection of locally oriented businesses that truly have a care and intent for what they do and the products that they offer, instead of getting into business just to make money.”
It all comes back to Weatherly’s business mantra: “Care about what you do.” As he finishes off his espresso, he references the “triple bottom line,” which measures business success as a combination of financial, social and environmental performance. It “isn’t just a good way to do [business]; it’s the way it should be done,” he says. “Regardless of what your industry is, let’s do that!”