The Village Coffeehouse
“This is something we knew Sulphur was missing." Blake Forman, Owner
A few weeks ago, I tasted my first vanilla latte (I know, I’m late to the game!) and had the pleasure of speaking with Blake Forman, owner of Sulphur’s Village Coffeehouse. In the middle of the pandemic, this cozy little shop, housed in the oldest standing commercial property in Sulphur, opened its doors to the people of SWLA. There is much to be said about the resiliency of the team members behind this place, who were met with challenges even on the very first day of operation back in June of 2020. It probably would have been easier for any business to smack a closed sign on the doors and walk away from the headaches that 2020 brought. But, Blake and his team pressed onward! Despite everything, including a pandemic, two hurricanes and an ice storm, the Village Coffeehouse hosted a “grand opening” no less than four times within nine months, never giving up on the importance of bringing love and hope to a community that had been torn apart.
“My heart breaks for the community. Our city is important to us, and we’re focused on helping here.” - Blake Forman
I was curious about what the Coffeehouse endured through both hurricanes. With Laura, the entire front of the building had blown in. Roofs from the other buildings down the road were torn off, landing on Blake’s family’s cars that had been parked in the back. Another roof had struck the side of the Coffeehouse, leaving a portion open to the outside. Downed trees and powerlines obstructed most of the surrounding areas. As with many of the homes and businesses in the area, the Coffeehouse had to wait for power and water to be restored before any restoration efforts could be made.
After the second opening, the Coffeehouse was forced to close yet again, and was struck even harder by Delta. Although the interior remained mostly intact during Laura, the weakened walls could not withstand the force of Delta. The metal that had been loosened from a neighboring building’s roof during Laura completely ripped apart, opening the north side of the store. With the attic exposed, the tiles in the ceiling—kept in place since the building’s construction in 1918—were blown in. Most of the building’s interior, including original floors, windows, and trim, took a hard hit from water damage and flying debris.
As the building had been constructed over a century ago, the walls still had mechanical windows from when central heat and AC had not been possible. Though most of the original tile and flooring were able to be salvaged, these windows were a total loss. Much of what I loved about this place was how Blake had been persistent on keeping ceilings and flooring from the original opening, and I was glad to see that many original pieces were able to be restored.
As months of cleanup, rebuilding, and restoration went by, the store was forced to close yet again in February from Winter Storm Uri that rocked the South. Although no pipes burst from this storm, the store did lose water and power again and could not operate. Within six months, three storms had come across the area, heavily affecting the plans of the Coffeehouse.
Resiliency in the Aftermath
“Our goal has been community. Good coffee is part of it, but creating a culture is what we strive to do.” - Blake Forman
I was blown away by how much Blake and his team did for the community. Even after Laura, Blake reopened with boarded up windows in order for the community to have a sense of normalcy, a reminder that things would be okay. Blake partnered with non-profit organizations to serve those in need, and the parking lot was used as a hub for organizations to set up food and donation drives. Even though the business hadn’t reopened and could not offer coffee or food, Blake and his team were still present at the site, giving a space for people to come together in a time of need. After all, the goal of the Coffeehouse had been to be a place where anyone could come, gather, and feel cared for. Certain menu items are set to “name your price,” and every mug ordered has special coffee art carefully crafted by the baristas. Even before the storms, Blake had plans to partner with surrounding businesses at the start of the school year, hoping to provide spaces for parents to relax and unwind from a busy year.
During the ice storm in February, Blake and his team partnered with his church, using a generator and any available space to create a safe area for those affected by the cold. Spaces were converted in order to house people who did not have power and heat, and meals were provided for anyone who came in. Even though Blake was still rebuilding from three storms, he still went out of his way to care for the community. He lent a helping hand even though his hands were seemingly tied up with restoring his own business. That pulls at the heartstrings, y’all!
I loved how much Blake was adamant on creating a personable experience for every single customer. From the handcrafted table and the coffee bar made out of an old piano, to the friendly conversations with the staff, I knew that my visit would not simply be a transaction to them. All of Blake’s quotes I incorporated into my blog relate back to how important the community is to him and his team, and although I just recently discovered this place, my heart has been touched by their devotion. The Village Coffeehouse is still rebuilding, but are these stories not the definition of resiliency being played out in real-time? The building itself is a glaring parallel! The beautiful ceilings have been in place since 1918, and despite being pushed in during Delta, the tiles were able to be taken and put back in place. Even though it’s a small thing, that, to me, is a huge representation of a community not willing to give up in times of hardship. No matter what, we are taking our broken pieces and making something new. And that’s why I love this story so much—why I love the people of SWLA!