The comfort and the coffee draw people into The Empty Cup, a coffeehouse in the corner of a strip mall in Cedar Bluff, in a large storefront that once housed a bank. Business people, creative types, retirees and students can be found working at the homey wood tables or settled onto one of the couches for conversation. Moms enjoy the brew of the day while their children play in a dedicated kids’ room or color quietly. There might be a bridal shower or a board meeting in the private room in the back.
“We wanted to create a space where people come together,” says operator Coby Eldridge.
If it were just a coffeehouse, The Empty Cup would be a good one. But it’s also a place where the community can help support adoptive families and raise awareness about adoption. The Empty Cup is a taxable nonprofit business – whatever money is made after operating costs is put back into the community, specifically in funding grants to help local families. “Pour in, pour out” is the motto. Funding grants are allocated by a board of directors. The shop isn’t affiliated with any particular adoption agency or faith group.
Eldridge and her husband have four children, ranging in age from 10 to 20. Three of them “came home through adoption,” she says. As a director of the Adoption Foundation of East Tennessee, Eldridge was looking for ways to raise funds and awareness for the cause. The organization started selling beans from Just Love Coffee, which also does adoption fundraising, and the idea of opening a coffeehouse came up. Serious planning began around 2010. Months went into developing the business structure alone.
It was all a series of leaps of faith, Eldridge says, which is why it’s appropriate that the coffeehouse opened on Leap Day 2016.
The coffeehouse has a nook devoted to various brochures and handouts with information about adoption. Many families who might be interested in adopting, Eldridge says, have no idea where to start. They don’t know that there are almost 700 children waiting locally to be adopted, or that there may be some grants or tax breaks available for all kinds of adoptions.
“Everyone’s adoption process is different,” she says.
As customers have come to learn about the coffeehouse’s mission, they chip in in other ways besides drinking up. A campaign to fill baby bottles with loose change brought in almost $1,000 last year. A convenient setup near the door lets customers drop off toilet paper and paper towels to offset shop costs, and a group of schoolkids hosted a Han Solo party to amass a collection of hand soap and Solo cups.
Eldridge says it reminds her of the children’s story “Stone Soup,” in which everyone’s sharing results in a tasty, nourishing stew.
“As a community, we can do things bigger than ourselves, ” she says.
The Empty Cup is at 9611 Executive Park Drive.