New Mean Mug location serving Salisbury one cup at a time

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 3, 2023

SALISBURY — The smell of fresh coffee permeates Mean Mug while people huddle around and wait for their drink to be made. It’s the first day at their new location on West Innes Street, the second in Salisbury and their fifth one overall. By now, Evelyn Medina has gotten comfortable with the massive effort it takes to open a new store.

At first, she wasn’t sure if Salisbury was ready for another coffee shop given how many are here already, but realized there was a need for one on the West End. So many institutions are on that side of the city and Medina felt like people could not make it to her downtown store without going too far out of their way.

“I am able to serve a population that I probably am not serving well at the downtown store like the VA hospital and the Catawba population and even some of the Novant places that are around the area that have been lacking that service…I’m excited about providing that service to them that I know they need,” Medina said.

The store has their most spacious kitchen and a walk-in cooler. The two additions that Evelyn calls “game changers” is the drive thru they installed themselves and the patio out front where people can enjoy the weather and listen to live music.

“I’m very happy with the output. It looks great. Of course, my husband built the whole thing — Medina Construction, that’s his construction company. He did a great job with the drive thru concept and the branding of the exterior of the building. So, I’m very happy with the way it looks,” Medina said.

Another variable that may lead to Mean Mug’s coffee acquiring more fans is their roaster that they have on site at their new location. It will now roast the coffee for all their stores and their online and pre-packaged retail options.

“This is going to allow us to bring our coffee from Guatemala and toast it here for all our stores. Up to now, we were having to toast it in Guatemala and ship it here. Now we’re able to toast it here. It’s a big deal,” Medina said.

Medina immigrated to California from Guatemala in 1976 and moved to Salisbury from California after deciding she needed a fresh start. “I was done with traffic, I was done with smog.” She soon met her husband here and had two kids, but as they grew up, she began contemplating starting her own business that she knew could thrive in Salisbury.

“It was a little bit of a ghost town back in the 2000s, but I did see a need for more Latino/Hispanic services to be offered at the time because a lot of the Latin population in Salisbury was not bilingual. So if you were Latin and you were here, you probably only spoke Spanish for the most part. So I thought there’s a niche here to be had,” Medina said.

Medina soon thought of what her potential business could be. One of her friends owned a building on South Fulton Street and offered some of her space to her. She considered a bakery or a sub shop, but nothing felt quite right for her. She then had an epiphany.

“Then I thought coffee. I’m from Guatemala, we love coffee, we drank coffee in our bottles when we were children. How bad can you screw up coffee? I learned very quickly that you can screw up coffee very easily,” Medina said.

When she opened her first store eight years ago, Medina had ambitious ideas. She wanted to grow her own coffee, import it, and open hundreds of locations. They initially bought their coffee from a local roaster, but that changed three years ago when Medina’s husband Rigo brought up the fact that if they have mountain land in Guatemala with good elevation, why don’t they just grow their own coffee?

“I said, ‘Well, I’ve been waiting for you to come around and join me in the dream,'” Medina said. It now has been almost two years since they started bringing coffee from their farms in Guatemala. “It creates a sustainability where we’re cutting out so many people in the middle that it allows us to save so much more money, that we can offer better pay wages to the people where the coffee is being grown, to the farmers who help us take care of our farms. In the past, the pie gets divided into so many pieces that there’s just not enough money left.”

This store is the first one that Medina has had with an outside partner, who aspired to have his own coffee shop in America. They met after she purchased land from him in Guatemala. His family has assisted her with the new store and that has taken a load off of what Medina normally does. “I don’t feel like I’m doing everything by myself,” Medina said.

By simplifying her coffee business, Medina is fostering chances for people like her to succeed. Putting in perspective how far she’s come, the international impact of her achievements may never be measured, but she can take pride in what she’s done to improve other people’s lives.

“Being from Guatemala and remembering and knowing that my husband’s family and my family left Guatemala looking for work opportunities. For us to now have the ability to create jobs in Guatemala for the farmers that help us to grow the coffee, we’ve come full circle and you can’t put a price tag on that. It’s an incredible blessing,” Medina said.

Medina now has her two children in college. Her son is getting a business degree from Appalachian State, with the hopes taking her business to the “next level” after he graduates. “The ultimate goal would be that the business stays a family business and that he would grow it and that I can go back to Guatemala and just grow more coffee and live on my property down there and watch him grow my dream to whatever he wants to grow it to,” Medina said.

In less than a decade, Evelyn Medina, along with so many others, have turned Mean Mug from a dream into a staple of Salisbury. Medina has gone above and beyond to give the community a place it can call its own while never forgetting where she came from. When she opened her first store on South Fulton Street, she had a vision that has now become the thing she always wished for.

“I wanted Mean Mug to be a place where people from all different walks of life could come in and talk about life or art, passion over a cup of coffee. I wanted it to be a place that was diverse, that you didn’t walk in and you only saw one sector of the population, but I wanted it to be a place where everybody felt welcome, where everybody felt like they would belong there. I think I’ve accomplished that,” Medina said.