It’s not unusual for people to return to their college town after graduating. Few, however, open a business a few blocks from campus.
That’s what Jennifer Mattox ’00 has done—and a lot of Longwood faculty, staff and students couldn’t be happier.
"We’ve had 500 Facebook likes in six days, which is amazing," said Mattox about 10 days after opening. "We haven’t advertised; it’s all been through word-of-mouth and Facebook. We’ve been very pleased."
The shop, whose exposed brick walls are adorned with archival Farmville and Longwood photographs, features live music Saturday nights and is open until 9 p.m., which is late for a downtown Farmville business. Local business Buffalo Creek Guitar is now hosting an Open Mic night on Thursdays from 7-9 p.m. The 15-employee staff includes several Longwood students.
"Our slogan is ‘A Gathering Place,’" said Mattox. "Jason and I always wanted to run a coffeehouse where people can just hang out with friends and family."
The former teacher and her husband, a former firefighter, dove into the entrepreneurial world in December 2007 when they opened their first Uptown Coffee Café in Victoria, where they live, which is still going strong. The first Victoria location, being remodeled by its owner when they inquired about buying the building, was only about 1,000 square feet.
"It was a small way to start—a coffee shop in a tiny building with a menu of only five sandwiches and a staff that consisted of us and one employee," said Mattox. "After we moved in September 2008 to a larger location, in a former restaurant on Main Street that had closed, we became a full-service coffee and sandwich shop."
Above the Victoria shop are four rental apartments and a bed and breakfast, the Uptown Inn, both also owned by the couple. Guests at the B&B eat breakfast in the coffee shop downstairs, which has a staff of five.
"My husband is the entrepreneur, and I’m just hanging onto his coattails," laughed Mattox. "He probably could never work a 9-to-5 job, and he never has worked a 9-to-5 job."
The couple, who grew up in Lunenburg County in the Victoria area, were high-school sweethearts. Before having kids, they lived in Chesterfield County, then moved back to Victoria in 2006. They have run two shops since June 2011, when they opened one in Amelia, which closed at the end of June 2014 as they relocated that one to Farmville. "Every three years we’ve stepped out on faith, so I told Jason, ‘Three years from now, I want to be out of the country!’
"I do a lot of the back-office stuff—scheduling, payroll, and human resources—while Jason is the day-to-day owner/operator of both stores. I homeschool our kids [Braydon, 7, and Julia, 4] and do the office work from home, and I also handle the apartments, the bed and breakfast, and our small-scale catering business. Ideally, Jason will work three days a week in one store and two days in the other."
Mattox, who majored in elementary education at Longwood, taught for six years—three at Fuqua School in Farmville (kindergarten and first grade) and three in Chesterfield County (pre-K). Jason, who attended Southside Virginia Community College, was a federal firefighter for three years, then a Chesterfield firefighter for 12 years before leaving that fire department when they opened the Amelia shop.
"Jason will tell you he also spent four years at Longwood but didn’t take one class," Mattox said with a laugh.
The Longwood Small Business Development Center (LSBDC) was instrumental in the Uptown Coffee Café’s locating in Farmville. The LSBDC, working closely with Farmville Downtown Partnership, recruited the coffee shop and helped with business planning.
"This is an excellent example of the Longwood community’s supporting the local business community," said Sheri McGuire, Longwood’s director of economic development. "We’re trying to align what downtown Farmville is doing with what Longwood is doing, and we support them in any way we can."
Former LSBDC intern Alex White ’14 provided assistance with business planning during the spring 2014 semester. "I thought I’d be chained to a desk in my internship, but it was refreshing to visit clients and see what my research and writing contributed to," said White, an English major who works as an editor and in production support for an IT solutions company in Rockville, Md.
In another Longwood connection, White’s internship was sponsored by a scholarship, the Altavista Group Scholarship, established in 2006 by Hank Kim ’90 and his wife, Leah Payne ’90. Kim, co-owner of the Altavista Group, a technology consulting group, interned at the LSBDC as a student and then worked there as business systems analyst for six years.
"The scholarship encourages the best of the best students to apply for LSBDC internships," said Kim, a former member of the Longwood Board of Visitors. "I wanted to give students the same opportunities I had to work with business clients and to give them a sense of entrepreneurship that the classroom can’t provide."
Farmville Downtown Partnership is a nonprofit that works with the town of Farmville to revitalize downtown. The group’s executive director, Helen Person, and its president, Dr. Charles Ross, professor of physics at Longwood, are delighted with Uptown Coffee Café’s opening, recognized officially with a Farmville Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting on Aug. 22.
"It is already drawing rave reviews and gathering crowds throughout the day," said Ross, who stepped down recently as dean of the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences. "Along with President W. Taylor Reveley IV, we hope to see the connection between Longwood and downtown Farmville grow stronger. When our former students return to their college town to start a business, it can only deepen that bond."
Many people stop at Uptown Coffee Cafe after shopping at nearby Green Front Furniture on weekends, said Person. "It’s a nice, relaxing atmosphere after shopping for furniture all day. Their coming here has been a huge benefit to us. Jennifer and Jason are just nice folks."
Meanwhile, Mattox and her husband may have even bigger plans. "Some very preliminary paperwork is in place for franchising," she said. Regardless of what the future holds, she and her husband are confident they have found their niche. "We work really well in towns without national chains. That’s where we fit in," she said. "We are excited to be in business in Farmville. We give God the glory for any success we have had or will have."