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"If you desire it, and it does not exist, you must create it."

I

n 2013, I was visiting my home-

town and was asked, “What would you want to make happen here that doesn’t exist?” My response was simple:

“A good cup of coffee.”

 

This sparked a conversation, that formed into a concept, which became a cafe called Zeke's Beans & Bowls.

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The name honors Zeke Sanders, a friend and personal mentor, who unfortunately passed in 2006. In the abbreviated time we were able to share, in casual conversation throughout the years, Zeke imparted a series of life lessons, ingrained in my soul, forever:

 

"Be unique, get creative, try new things, follow your passions."

 

This is how he lived, and these are the truths I wished to embody in our little cafe.

 

The cuisine was unique yet simple: craft coffee beans, açai bowls, and poké bowls, all under one roof. My formidable task? To introduce these (coffee) beans & bowls to a traditionally southern, standard fare, diner-style community...with zero budget. So, I had to get creative.

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It started with a simple social media campaign: “New things coming to our cozy cafe-to-be”, posting daily progress of our build out, gathering momentum, garnering excitement for our project.

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Review by Judy Cowling, The Virginian Pilot

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I knew I had to design a welcoming (and budget friendly) space for our neighbors: warm tones, pockets of light, furniture reminiscent of a bygone era (writer’s speak for “gramma’s couch and end tables.”) The nostalgic dining room was then dressed with knick knacks, tchotchkes, random personal items collected throughout my travels, topped off with a vintage console record player, ready to console you by playing curated vintage records.

This combo of “familiar yet different” was the perfect hook to introduce the unique menu; and thankfully, the concept took off, becoming an "instant classic" within our community.

 

Ultimately, I wanted Zeke’s to be more than just a transaction of money for food. I desired a space where local artists would feel appreciated and inspired to try new things.

 

Through community outreach and sweat equity, we accomplished this goal by incorporating a monthly rotating art gallery, featuring the works of our local creatives, accompanied by a monthly "First Friday" art party. This evolved into live music events,  monthly stand up comedy showcases, movie nights, knitting parties, kid's arts and crafts classes (and basically anything that sounded fun and adventurous.)

Today, Zeke's has grown from a single idea to a successful restaurant chain, with three different locations, spanning two different states.
 
I am proud of the achievements of Zeke's "the restaurant", and I am grateful for the years I have put into building this space, the community we have strengthened, and the family I have gotten out of it; and the ethos from Zeke Sanders himself still lives on in my heart:

"Follow your passions."

And for me, that passion lies in developing unique stories and experiences in creative ways, with people that are lucky enough to do the same.
 

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-Take Care and Create Stuff

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by NICK
VITALE

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