Black & Brew Chosen to Open Library Coffee Shop

ChrisMcArthurWhen the owner of Black & Brew Coffee House & Bistro told the city librarian what it would take to get a company like his to open a coffee shop in Lakeland’s main library, he had no idea he would be the one to eventually do it. 

City commissioners this morning approved a contract with Black & Brew to operate a coffee shop planned for the entrance area of the library on Lake Morton.

Bistro owner Chris McArthur said he warmed up to the idea when the concept expanded from a coffee nook for library patrons to an outward-facing shop with an outdoor patio serving the neighborhoods around Lake Morton.

After opening Black & Brew nearly 11 years ago, “I spent the first seven or eight years planning for expansion. None of those worked out, but the one I shrugged off is the one that will happen,” said McArthur, 34.

Disclosure: Chris McArthur is a member of the board of Linking Community Now, the non-profit organization that publishes lkldnow.com. The board is largely advisory, and board members play no role in deciding which stories are covered.

The expansion outside his downtown base makes sense on a few levels, McArthur said. First, he is nearing capacity at the original Black & Brew, which just underwent an interior redesign and rebranding with new logos.

Second, he said he’s excited about being part of the redevelopment of the East Lake Morton neighborhood, which is seeing residential renovation as well as new homes that reflect the district’s historic feel. Across Palmetto Street from the library, Red Door Wine Market remains open while expanding the restaurant’s front porch.

For the city, a coffee shop increases traffic to the library and increases its visibility as a community gathering spot.

library schematic
This somewhat blurry image shows the coffee shop to the right as patrons enter the library.

At a relatively small 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, the library location will maintain a lighter menu, focusing on a coffee selection identical to the Main Street location. McArthur said he hopes to bake fresh pastries on the site as well as offer macarons from Katara Confectionary and possibly ice cream sandwiches from A Cow Named Moo.

Lunch will be a grab-and-go affair with a small selection of pre-packaged sandwiches and salads, he said.

When the city put out a call for coffee shop proposals, just two companies attended a mandatory meeting, McArthur said, and his was the only one submitting a proposal.

McArthur expects the new shop to be open by next summer. Planned hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and closed on Sundays.

The early hours and large parking lot the library shares with the Polk Museum of Art will make the new shop a good place for running and bicycling groups to convene early in the morning, City Commissioner Don Selvage said when the contract was discussed on Friday.

Commissioner Jim Malless, who lives less than a half mile from the library, quipped that he’s happy to have a coffee shop he can walk to from home.

McArthur formed a separate limited liability corporation last month to operate the library coffee shop.

The coffee shop is part of a library renovation that also includes a “learning commons” that will include classroom space for “technology and life skills topics.” The current administration offices will be moved to make room for the coffee area.

Patrons will enter the main entrance on the east side of the library and turn right immediately to enter the coffee shop. Rest rooms will be shared with the library.

The City Commission is being asked to pay for the coffee shop and commons with $700,000 from a library reserve fund that’s set aside for construction projects.

Commissioners are also being asked to set aside $58,000 for design services by KCMH Architects, a Lakeland firm whose work for the city has included the Lakeland Linder Airport terminal and the Fire Department’s administration building on Lake Mirror.

A contract before the commission calls for Black and Brew to pay rent of $1 per square foot, or up to $1,200, a month for the first year, with annual increases of between 3 and 4 percent. The three-year contract includes two five-year renewal periods.

Black & Brew is responsible for equipment and furniture and its upkeep.

The expansion to the library represents McArthur’s second new venture since last year. In 2015, he opened Patriot Coffee, a small-batch coffee roaster in Dixieland that supplies local restaurants and other coffee shops. In addition, Patriot coffee is available at local retailers and online.