When Mike Mays consolidated the Heine Brothers coffee operation in Portland last year, he realized he didn’t know a lot about the neighborhood. He felt that he had some positive ideas, and a goal of improving the blocks around the new HQ at 13th and Main.
But it wasn’t until he received advice from Metro Council member Barbara Sexton Smith that he realized it wasn’t always about what he would do there, that he should learn a little bit about the people who regularly walk the streets and do business there.
“She stopped me and said ‘Mike, I think maybe you should slow down,'” Mays recalled. Sexton Smith went on, “‘Why don’t you meet people and listen for a few months. Ask a lot of questions, find out what is going on down there, because there are a lot of people in that neighborhood who have been working very hard for a long time to make a difference and there are a lot of good things happening.’ ”
Mays said he spent the next four months scheduling meetings, many at the Portland lunch spot The Table, to learn about the area around his new HQ, roastery and training center. The ideas gained in those meetings made the transition that much more successful, he said. He spent his time finding out about people like Pam Rice at the Neighborhood House, and the Louisville Central Community Center’s Kevin Fields. He said he was surprised at the number and quality of people doing good work.
Now he feels he’s part of the neighborhood, where in addition to developer Gill Holland’s plans to bring new business and residences, the city recently announced its plans to extend Waterfront Park to the back door of his building, and not far away it was just announced that a new YMCA and the Passport Health Plan headquarters will be built.
“It’s been unbelievably exciting for our company,” Mays said of the move. “In fact, I underestimated the energy injection it would give our company. Prior to moving in and centralizing everything in Portland, we operated the admin side of our business in a small, humble space above our shop in Crescent Hill. We had a 4,000 square-foot roastery and warehouse down in the Clifton neighborhood, and then we did training wherever we could find room for it. That was difficult a lot of times.”
Heine Brothers began in 1994, with a shop on Longest near Bardstown Road, opened with a $50,000 bank loan and $30,000 from friends and family. In late April, it opened its 14th location, a 3,000 square-foot store in Hikes Point. Mays said the investment was north of $400,000. The staff expansion required pushed the brand’s employee total to 250.
This newest Heine Bros. is located directly across the street from a Starbucks, which wasn’t exactly intentional. Mays joked about the fact that on the day we met, a negative earnings report came out about Starbucks, saying that his new store is already affecting business there.
“We have been committed to growing and the Hikes Point neighborhood has been on our radar for a long time,” he said. “We’ve been quietly looking for a spot and haven’t been able to find the right place. Well, this building here at the corner of Taylorsville, Browns, Hunsinger, Hikes, came available late last summer. It’s a great corner. We said, ‘We’ve got to take it.'”