Nashville Gem: The Terminal Cafe

For several weeks we’ve been exploring local businesses across Nashville. This week, we’re telling the story of a soon-to-be-gem.

The Terminal Café.

First, let’s just state for the record that coffee is liquid magic. Imagine a Monday morning without it. Shudder

But that’s only part of what makes The Terminal Café so special. What makes them a Nashville gem is the story behind the café and the emphasis they place on treating people right.

To learn more, we sat down with co-owner, Whitney Davis.

Whitney Davis of Terminal Cafe in Nashville

How did The Terminal Café come to be?

It was my husband’s idea. He has a long history with coffee. He has worked for Bongo Java off-and-on for 12 years and helped launch Frothy Monkey. He opened his own place a couple years ago in downtown called “Coffee, Lunch,” but ended up leaving the project.

My history is that I was a social worker and then in HR. We both decided that we wanted to go out on our own – do it without a partner, or investors – just completely on our own.

Finding affordable rent in Nashville isn’t easy, and we must have looked at a dozen places. We were actually in the works on one, but it didn’t work out. Then my husband was in another deal, but it was taking too long.

Eventually, we found this location and it was just one minute away from our house. At first, we weren’t sure about it because we have always lived in East Nashville and then worked in West Nashville. We liked that separation of work and home life. But all the shop owners were begging us to come here. They wanted food but didn’t want to have to leave the complex.

We then found out that it had been a vegan bakery before, so we thought it would be easy to convert to a café. The rent, the location, and the fact that it was a bakery was too much to pass on. It was perfect.

Or… so we thought.

It wasn’t a bakery. They had no commercial equipment, just home equipment. It didn’t even have the power supply to be a café, so we had to spend thousands of dollars to get more power and update the plumbing. It’s been a huge challenge.

What is the story behind the name, Terminal Café?

The concept came from my husband and my love for travel. We absolutely love it – going to Florida and California – and do it as much as we can. Owning a business means you can’t travel as much, so we wanted to embrace that concept of travel for the café.

Another big thing is that everyone is trying to get somewhere. On a simple level, it might be trying to get to work, or getting the kids to school. We want to help people get where they are going. Even if that’s just with a cup of coffee or a delicious waffle. Whatever we can do to get them on their way.

On a deeper level, people are trying to get somewhere in their lives, and we feel the community we create in the café is a beautiful thing. The relationship we build with customers. We’ve even had some customers where we’ve flown to their wedding. That’s why I believe we’ll success – it’s the wonderful relationships we’ve built.

The terminal cafe bar

It sounds like community is just as important as the coffee for The Terminal Café?

Absolutely! I’ve been so surprised at how supportive everyone is. Even our neighbors have volunteered to put out tables and chairs so that customers can sit in front of their shops too. Our landlord has been super supportive. The Health Department, honestly – I didn’t expect them to be so flexible or accommodating, but they have been incredible. They offered to come out same day to issue a permit. They’re really great.

Even Megan Barry said she would come out and show support when we opened. I mean, it’s incredible. She’s great.

What kind of things can we expect at The Terminal Café?

There will be breakfast and lunch. With breakfast, we’re going a little on the unhealthy side – like waffle benedicts and Croque Monsieur. Lunch will be lighter with sandwiches, salads, hummus, and a tequila mac-and-cheese that is incredible.

The sandwiches are from all over the country and named after the locations respective airport code. The Cuban is the MIA. Turkey avocado is SFO.

We’re keeping the theme with our coffee sizes too, names like carry-on or checked baggage. Our loyalty club is the Mile High Club – it’s a fun way to keep the theme going.

The owners of Terminal Cafe in Nashville

What would you say is the hardest part of running a small business?

Having the responsibility of other people’s jobs in your hands. That’s huge. The only reason we wanted a café was to treat people right, because both my husband and I have seen people treated so poorly in different settings.

One thing we do is paid vacations for both out full-time and part-time employees, which is pretty unheard of. For our full-time managers, we give a free flight for their vacation. It’s a little way to bring in the theme and our passion into the benefits of the business.

In the food industry and coffee world, even if you do get a paid vacation it can still be brutal because so many of us rely on tips. If the company pays you your hourly wage, you aren’t getting much – it’s really hard to take a vacation in this industry, so we wanted to make it a little easier and help our employees enjoy life. Not be a slave to the job.

What would you say is the best financial advice you’ve ever been given?

Plan for the worst. It’s funny, all my friends are entrepreneurs. Some of them have been in business for over 10 years, and all of them said “don’t spend what you make.” You never know what taxes you’ll have to pay, what emergencies will come up, or what happens if someone were to get hurt. They really put the fear in you.

My husband is the opposite, he wants to spend – so someone has to be okay with not spending money. We balance each other out.

The Terminal Cafe is scheduled for an on-time opening for Friday, September 10th. No need to put up the tray table, have to have someplace to put that waffle. To learn more, visit their website