After you start two businesses and watch both go belly-up, you learn the importance of having a business plan.
That’s why, as much as I hated seeing Durham’s Beyú Caffé abandon its popular nightclub and live jazz performances to become solely a coffee shop, I understood.
The owner, Dorian Bolden, a former Wall Street financier and Duke graduate, patiently explained to me one day as I sat sipping an Oprah Mocha latte that, as much as he regretted doing it, the tea leaves told him that the future lay in coffee. He was understandably exasperated, since I might’ve been the 992nd person that week to decry the change to him.
Again, I hated to hear he was shutting down the open mic night, but I appreciated his explanation and adherence to the business model.
Real talk, though: Is telling customers to kick rocks, take a hike, get the $%&# out, also a part of that business model?
That is, essentially, what a manager at Beyú told me to do two weeks later.
Let me break it down for you: When a college classmate whom I’d not seen in thirty-five years came to town and asked for a good meeting spot, I suggested Beyú.
While waiting for our drinks, I mentioned to the manager behind the counter how much many of us missed the jazz club, the open mic night, and live performances.
His reply? “If you don’t like it, open your own nightclub.”
He then told me where I could find some other businesses to frequent.
I started to tell him where he could stick that latte I’d just ordered, but because the bible tells us to be slow to anger—and to never antagonize the person fixing your food or drink—I turned the other cheek.
Surely, he was jesting, right?
Nope. When he turned to look at me, there was nothing good-natured or joking in his demeanor.
That’s when I turned my other other cheek and asked him if his business model included insulting longtime customers for merely telling him they missed the old format. By now, that Oprah Mocha sitting untouched on the counter wasn’t the only thing steamin’.
It was only because my buddy Curtis was treating me to the drink that I kept my cool. By way of explanation—not apology, mind you, but explanation—the barista said he was simply tired of people talking about the previous format.
Shouldn’t he be pleased that people remember the old format with reverence?
Bolden, the owner, is. He said he shut down the performances to focus on another coffee shop, Beyu Blue, on his alma mater’s campus.
“I knew people would be disappointed,” he told me. But he says he didn’t expect the “backlash and negativity” to be as vociferous as it was.
“It was ugly,” he said. “I wish I could say I haven’t lost my cool at times. We deal with people all the time, especially the phone calls, and some people are not nice. I’ve heard all kinds of things—that I’m a sellout, I’ve sold my business to a white owner.”
But none of that is true, he said.
Bolden also added—seeming to back up his manager—that, “with all of the intellectual capital, the black wealth in Durham, the musicians, it is a viable option for someone else to open a space. We kept it going for nine years, and it was successful, but we couldn’t be all things to all people.”
In previous years, Beyú was voted the Best Place to Hear Live Jazz in the Triangle by the INDY’s readers, Retail Business of the Year by Downtown Durham Inc., and it received the Emerging Business Award by the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development.
If Bolden feels his new business model has the most potential, more power to him. For those of us who just wanted to hear good jazz and local performers, though, it’s sad to drive past the formerly jumping spot and see it shuttered, encased in darkness, silent, by 9:00 p.m.
A score of former Beyú patrons have contacted me to decry the change. Some were annoyed, others angry. Some swore they’d never set foot inside the joint again.
All I can tell them is that if they do go back—psst—don’t mention how much you liked it before.
That barista might just tell you “be you” someplace else.
Barry Saunders is a former News & Observer columnist who, over his two decades at the paper, wrote extensively about Durham and other things. He now publishes thesaundersreport.com.
Next week: Local attorney, podcaster, and criminal justice reform advocate (also Twitter celebrity) T. Greg Doucette.
INDY Voices—a rotating weekly column featuring some of the Triangle’s most compelling writers and thinkers—is made possible by contributions to the INDYPress Club. Visit KeepItINDY.com for more information. Comment on this story at firstname.lastname@example.org.