It can be challenging to navigate an ever-changing business world, but one Shawnee coffee shop succeeds by taking everything in stride.
Comma, formerly known as The Gathering Place Coffee Co., has re-launched their brand with a new name that better reflects their mission: to provide a space that helps people pause during their day. Comma was designed to be a place where the community can rest, work and play, according to the founders.
Business partners and friends, Jesse and Callie Ingram, and Jonathan and Rebecca Hilton, purchased their business in November 2020 with assistance from the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation.
Customer response to the re-launch has been positive.
“We’ve got tons of people who were really excited. They love the new look. We’re continuing to offer more food and new drinks, and everybody keeps showing up for that as well,” Callie Ingram said.
“People are very receptive. The feedback that we get is it’s brighter, (there are) more spaces to sit, and it functions a little bit better than it did before,” Rebecca Hilton said.
On a sunny fall day, students chatted at tables, and businesspeople met along the expanded wall seating or made themselves comfortable near the new bookshelf area.
Fall menu and Saturday brunch
Along with the changes to the layout and seating, they added small bites to the menu. Customers can choose from the Caesar salad with house-made dressing and gluten-free croutons, or a hummus bento box with house-made hummus, veggies, pita crisps and an egg.
Guests who are looking for a nutritious snack may choose from small bites to complement their drink order, Hilton said.
Breakfast burritos or oatmeal are available to order each morning.
The drink menu also has flavors to accompany the change of seasons, like pumpkin spice latté, maple sea salt latté and apple cider slush.
“We do a seasonal menu, so four times a year, we change the menu. But the fall one is always a classic, and everybody waits for it. We’re getting to a point where people are excited because they know what’s coming. And we’re pushing out new food, too,” Callie Ingram said.
Customers have been enjoying brunch on the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon. The menu features a different breakfast item each month like waffles, bagels or biscuits.
“(Brunch) is a time for us to be really creative and really intentional with food,” Ingram said. “We always pick something and make a whole menu around it. We see mostly the same people here every Saturday, every brunch day, and it’s like a rhythm of their life that they’re enjoying (with us) here.”
Thriving on connections
New to the space is a large, handmade bookshelf where customers can browse and purchase from a curated selection of books for adults and children. The shop now hosts Comma Club, where readers can meet for book discussions. Club members recently read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and viewed the movie. They plan to read and host a screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone next. Customers can also order books if they are looking for something special.
Rebecca Hilton said they are happy to see regulars returning after several pandemic restrictions have eased.
“It feels really nice. (People are) relating to each other, which our business thrives on connection and connection with people,” she said. “(The pandemic) was very hard because it definitely shifted the entire way that our business functions and (how we) invite people in. Now we’re back into the rhythm of having people in our space.”
Community Development Corporation support
Comma has made progress since their beginnings in 2020. The Ingrams and the Hiltons welcomed the support of the CPCDC to build their business.
The CPCDC supports Native Americans’ fiscal education, entrepreneurial spirit and economic growth through access to capital, financial literacy, capacity building, community development and more. It offers resources to Citizen Potawatomi Nation members nationwide and members of any federally recognized tribe living in Oklahoma.
Jesse Ingram is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
“We’ve always felt encouraged and really grateful for the opportunity that we have to be here at all,” Callie Ingram said. “(Working with the CPCDC) really set us up to be the business that we are, with our business plan so detailed and thought out.”
Rebecca Hilton said they consulted with other financial institutions before purchasing the business in 2020, and the services the CPCDC offered stood out.
“It’s such a different model for getting into small business because we’ve definitely talked to other banks in the process of trying to get our business, and we were just really blown away by the system that (CPCDC has) for building community and helping support businesses that want to bring something to Shawnee and otherwise may not be able,” Hilton said.
Ingram’s advice for other entrepreneurs who are considering starting or expanding a small business focuses on building relationships.
“Make sure that you have good partners. You want to make sure that your community is solid because it is something that, whether you’re a sole proprietor or you are a partnership, it takes a village,” she said. “You need friends and a community to uphold you when it’s hard and to support you when your ideas are really good.”
Weathering the challenges
Having persevered through the coronavirus and a 2021 lawsuit involving their previous name, The Gathering Place Coffee Co., they are grateful for the support of their hometown and the CPCDC.
A Tulsa park filed the lawsuit alleging trademark infringement in September 2021, but it was dismissed a month later when the two parties came to an agreement. However, the park received public backlash as online petitions supporting the coffee shop sprung up.
The Gathering Place Coffee Co. was originally opened November 2017 by CPN citizen Aaron Hembree. The Tulsa park opened September 2018.
Rebecca Hilton said they experienced a brief spike in business following the lawsuit. Some Tulsa residents drove to Shawnee to purchase coffee or food and show their support for a small business, she said.
After settling into their newly remodeled shop and welcoming customers back for fall favorites, Comma hopes word-of-mouth will entice new customers.
“I think our biggest desire now is just to keep getting people through the door,” Rebecca said. “We are excited and have a lot of momentum and our team’s excited. Our main hope is that we do all of this work, and it’s really beautiful and worth it when we get to see people enjoy it. That’s our greatest desire, people come through our doors.”
“We have this space, and we want people to enjoy it. We want people to be able to sit here and do whatever it is they need to do in that moment of their day, whether it’s catching up with a friend or getting work done. We work really hard to make sure that the space could accommodate all of those different kinds of people,” Callie said.
To celebrate the re-brand and invite customers to try their new menu items, Comma is offering a special discount for Hownikan readers. By mentioning the Hownikan, customers can receive a 20 percent discount on their order through November 14, 2022.
Visit Comma at 415 E. Main St. in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Contact them at 405-617-2997 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is comma.cafe, or follow their social media accounts on Facebook at @Commacafeshawnee or Instagram at @comma__cafe.
The CPCDC is a tribally chartered nonprofit corporation that provides capital and technical assistance for projects that create a healthy tribal economy through a commercial loan program tailor packaged to help Native American businesses become more competitive and profitable. The program can assist Tribal members who are lacking financial resources and readiness with business development and planning, managing finances and marketing, and contracting. The CDC also works with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Central Oklahoma to help individual Native Americans and Tribal employees develop financial literacy skills when budgeting and managing credit obligations. Learn more at cpcdc.org or on Facebook at @CPNCDFI.