To say that I know very little about coffee would be an understatement. I take mine black with two ice cubes, not because I love to taste the roast but because I hate to burn my tongue and no matter how diabetic you make it with sugar, I still don’t like the taste.

The irony is that every morning, I find myself stopping somewhere to get my cup of joe fix. A love of Netflix and a lack of sleep are what binds the two of us in this daily ritual. I may not know very much about the caffeine nectar of the gods, but we are lucky here in Rowan County to have many places that are there to lend their expertise.

One such place is Mean Mug, newly relocated and opened on North Main Street in Downtown Salisbury. I first started visiting Mean Mug when they were close to my home in Fulton Heights on Fulton Street in Salisbury. Owners Evelyn and Rigo Medina operated the shop for the past few years as my neighbors before moving downtown. One thing I always enjoyed about the place was the welcoming atmosphere, as well as their openness to support local artists, musicians, and causes. Mean Mug is now helping the local youth with involvement in the Skills, Opportunity, Awareness, Readiness (S.O.A.R.) program!

The Back Story

Although I hated to hear that they were leaving the neighborhood, I was excited to hear that they were not closing, but were going to be reopening at a new location. You may have driven or walked past the new shop and seen the awesome exterior and signage. What you may not know is the story of how the shop came downtown, or the beauty that is working behind the scenes. I recently stopped in to speak with Evelyn about her new shop and talk about the special things that they had going on.

She says she always knew she wanted to be downtown. She loved her shop on Fulton Street, but she always felt if she could be downtown, she would pick up a ton more foot traffic, as well as be a bigger part of the community.

“People will travel somewhere to eat at a particular restaurant like Mambo Grill when it was next door. Going to a destination out of your way to get coffee in the morning when you are in a hurry is a different story,” she said. Now that they are open, Evelyn describes how business from her local customers, as well as people just walking by, has really picked up.

A Plan Comes Together

The hold-up on moving downtown was always finding a location that would work and was reasonably priced. That’s where this story goes from good to great or from happy-go-lucky to possibly fate.

Evelyn was approached by her now landlord, Pete Bogle, about a location in downtown Salisbury. She let Pete know that she thought rent downtown was too expensive, but he countered: What if he could make it affordable?  Shortly after, he made an offer she could not refuse.

He also brought to the table the idea of working with a local program that he had experienced through his church. Skills, Opportunity, Awareness, Readiness (S.O.A.R.) is a community college program designed specifically for adults with intellectual disabilities. Pete’s idea was that the coffee shop would be a place students in the S.O.A.R. Program could intern and learn on-the-job employment skills, so that’s when they graduate they could gain employment with Mean Mug or other local businesses.

Finding Opportunity with the S.O.A.R. Program

What Pete did not know was that Evelyn was already very familiar with the program because her brother Harold was part of the S.O.A.R. Program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC).

“This was almost like fate that this opportunity fell into my lap,” Evelyn says.“When we first moved here and had trouble finding employment for Harold, we wanted to do something like this. This was our chance.”

Evelyn’s goal is to help prove that these students are differently abled, not disabled. She hopes to prove that if given a chance, graduates of the S.O.A.R. Program can be assets in our community. And she hopes that with success, she can inspire other local businesses to become involved.

This story really hits home for me as well because my mother, a retired teacher of the Rowan-Salisbury School System (RSSS), (I won’t say how many years she taught… I got you, Mom) is now a S.O.A.R. Instructor on RCCC’s South Campus. Although none of her students are currently interns like the students at Mean Mug, I still hear every day about the awesome things they are doing in the classroom and how much she enjoys going to work each day.

There are currently 10 students from RCCC that rotate working at Mean Mug.

Evelyn welcomes everyone to stop in and see the new location, as well as ask about the program. After spending some time with and seeing the passion for her and her staff’s faces, I can personally say I’m proud of what they are bringing to Rowan County. I anticipate there will be quite a few less gas-station coffees in my future and more meaner mugs of Joe.

Student of S.O.A.R working at Mean Mug    Nicholas a S.O.A.R student working at Mean Mug

Soaring to New Heights with Rowan Business Partners

The S.O.A.R. Program also has a partnership with Morgan Ridge Railwalk Brewery & Eatery of Salisbury and Morgan Ridge Vineyards of Gold Hill. Owner Amie Baudoin says that Morgan Ridge’s locations have been participating in the S.O.A.R. Program for approximately 5 years.

“Through a mutual agreement with the program, we were one of the original businesses to participate,” said Amie. She went on to say, “I saw it as an opportunity for people like my son to have self-worth, be in an environment to learn and use job skills, and help them get a job outside of the program.”

“My participation in this program is a way to give back for all the things that I have been blessed with. I felt like I had the perfect opportunity to give back to these individuals and let them shine. There are no words to describe how it makes me feel to have them come to the winery and brewery. They are such hard workers and they bring such a positive spirit to our business. I have even gone on to hire some as regular employees.”