I’m currently grieving the fact that my husband and I have polished off a sample bag (okay, two bags) of some of the most extraordinary coffee we’ve ever had, and it may be a couple months before we get more of it.
The coffee was a promotional sample from the guys at Mugs Café, which will open this summer in the Argenta area of North Little Rock, giving the popular neighborhood its first true coffee shop hangout. Exactly how I got said sample is part of a bigger story. Hang with me.
A small group of quiet, (mostly) long-bearded dudes, led by proprietor Michael Carpenter, are gearing up the site at 515 Main Street, next door to Argenta Market in what had previously been the Allied Printing building, with the aim of becoming the neighborhood’s “Third Place.”
Third Place refers to the writings of sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book The Great Good Place, who described the importance of neighborhood gathering spots that came only behind home and work in their frequency and length of visits.
Carpenter said he hopes the café will be “like Cheers, where everyone knows your name,” with customers both coming and going as well as hanging out in the way that Oldenburg described. “We’ll be able to stick our finger in the chest of the isolation most people feel and say no more, welcome, pull up a chair, eat, sip some coffee, tell us about yourself.”
The tentative menu listed on their website includes a pretty serious-sounding coffee collection, as well as pastries, sandwiches and desserts from basic to somewhat upscale. For breakfast, you will be able to build your own three-egg omelet or indulge in a breakfast bagel with fried egg, bacon and smoked gouda. Lunch offers a variety of salads, sandwiches and such, including cranberry turkey sliders or a chipotle chicken wrap. The proposed selection of gelato also caught my eye, including chocolate jalapeño and salty caramel flavors.
The coffee I sampled, named “Immaculate Percolation,” was honestly nothing short of astounding, and I’ve had a lot of coffee. When I asked Carpenter to describe it and its origins for me, he waxed on like a sommelier in a fine dining restaurant.
“The coffee beans are roasted by Bongo Java in Nashville,” Carpenter explained, “who imports high-quality, organic green coffee from small-scale farmer organizations to build long-term relationships and foster fair and equitable trading practices. Immaculate Percolation, the coffee you tried, is a dark-roasted bean that comes wrapped in generous amounts of natural dark chocolate and molasses flavors. The smoky aroma compliments a heavy, syrupy body and slightly dry finish.
“We will also serve a single origin, mild, light-bodied coffee from Guatemala that is both sweet and citrusy. And, of course, we’ll have an extremely complex and rich espresso whose flavors are as potent as they get, sweet and syrupy with a heavy body and notes of malt, berries and chocolate.”
Yeah, exactly what I was thinking. All I know is that it was amazing, and I’ll be first in line for more when the time comes.
If you haven’t guessed already, Carpenter isn’t exactly what you’d expect, in a number of ways. And this is what brings me to how I got the sample.
He’s a restaurateur, having experience with a similar coffee shop concept in Lebanon, Tenn. before moving to North Little Rock.
Oh, and he’s a minister, too.
In fact, Carpenter and his crew of bearded co-horts aren’t just businessmen, they are church leaders with the Southern Baptist Convention. The coffee shop will serve as a meeting place for The Church at Argenta on Sundays, which is currently meeting in homes in the area. My husband and I received samples at our church here in North Little Rock, which will be partnering with the “Argenta boys,” as we call them, in their endeavors.
Don’t freak out. Stay with me, here.
“People ask us if this is a coffee shop or a church, and the answer is yes,” joked Cliff Hutchison, who will serve as the church’s worship pastor.
If that’s not exactly your cup of coffee, though, don’t worry; they don’t plan on proselytizing to customers.
“We’re not gonna hand people their coffee yelling, ‘Jesus loves you!'” explained Hutchison. “The coffee shop will be a way for the church to make enough money to be self-sustaining and pay the staff.”
Carpenter added, “When I’ve been a part of something like this before, we got everything from a guy yelling at us because he’s an atheist, to a lady just breaking into tears because she felt like she could talk with us about some things that she couldn’t share with anyone else. We’re simply going to be here for the community and just be who we are.”
Curious? Meet the Argenta boys yourself at an open house they’re holding on Thursday, April 4, starting at 4:30 p.m. Drop by after work and try some coffee and samples of upcoming menu items.
Mugs Café (formerly Allied Printing building)
515 Main St.
North Little Rock, AR