Downtown rebirth: Partnership supports Shawnee growth

By Mary Belle Zook, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Public Information Department
Majority-owners Jesse and Callie Ingram with daughter Posy at The Gathering Place Coffee Co.

While many downtowns across America have died and stores remain empty and dilapidated, Shawnee’s is experiencing a rebirth. This is thanks, in part, to businesses like The Gathering Place Coffee Co.

With the help of the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation, owners Rebecca and Jonathan Hilton and Jesse and Callie Ingram offer Shawnee more than just a space to grab a cup of joe. The shop provides a venue to connect and network.

“It’s been really fun to see downtown liven up,” Callie said. “It’s been really great to be able to jump in and be a part of that.”

More than dollars and cents

Originally owned and operated by Citizen Potawatomi Nation Ogee family descendant Aaron Hembree and wife Jamie, The Gathering Place Coffee Co. opened in November 2017. It quickly became a mainstay in downtown Shawnee for its high-quality coffee, teas, baked goods and creative, laid-back atmosphere.

The Ingrams moved their plant house and floral studio, Bayly Botanicals, into the adjacent store space in 2019, and the Hiltons operated Fed+Well Kitchen, baking and selling delicious desserts, pastries and more to the coffee shop’s customers. As the Hembrees looked for new opportunities in 2020, the Hiltons and Ingrams decided to partner together and expand both businesses by acquiring The Gathering Place Coffee Co.; however, they needed an understanding lender to help turn their dreams into a reality.

“We had a really big, vested interest in making this place succeed, and we saw what it gave the community,” Callie said.

After experiencing hurdles in securing a loan at a local financial institution, they decided to work with the CPCDC for its ability to see beyond merely assets and liabilities.

“Banks don’t really care why you’re doing what you’re doing or what you hope to accomplish. They care about how much security they have … whereas in the CPCDC, they want to account for the (why) into the choice of whether or not to back your business,” Jesse said.

“The four of us are very intentional and heart driven, and so we have a really big ‘why’ that drove us to even trying. It was really affirming to get those ‘whys’ to people and let them see the actual value in it,” Callie added.

CPCDC

The Hiltons and Ingrams worked with CPCDC Commercial Loan Officer Felecia Freeman and other staff members to complete a detailed business plan and finalize their loan application.

“We offer tailored resources and innovative underwriting strategies,” Freeman said of the CPCDC’s process. “We look at our potential clients. We listen to them, and you can’t learn that from underwriting software.”

They took over operations from the Hembrees after the CPCDC approved their loan in late 2020.

“I was just sold on them from the very beginning,” Freeman said.

“We’re lucky to have this in our community. It’s almost like a little incubator, being that it’s got three businesses, and it helps get kids and others thinking, ‘What could I do in this community?’ I think that’s a great atmosphere.’”

The CPCDC exists to support Native American’s education, entrepreneurial and economic growth through access to capital, financial education, capacity building, community development and more. The CPCDC’s resources are available to Citizen Potawatomi Nation members nationwide and any member of a federally recognized tribe living in Oklahoma.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the CPCDC,” Jesse said, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and majority owner of The Gathering Place Coffee Co. “Felecia … was the best support. She has so much integrity and honesty with the process. She always had our best interest in mind.”

Future

With nearly a year under their belts, the Ingrams and Hiltons said they hope to expand upon the former owners’ successes while continuing to run Bayly Botanicals and Fed+Well Kitchen within the Gathering Place Coffee Co.

“Our future goals are to really elevate the customer experience with our food offerings and the space in general. It’s already a great space, but we really want to make it ours. Our patio was a first step,” Jesse said.

Its outdoor seating and tables provide an area for four-legged-friends and events as well as a calm, quaint location for fellowship.

“I always hope when someone goes back there, they don’t realize they’re in Shawnee,” Jesse said. “I want them to feel like it’s a unique experience.”

They also look forward to extending collaboration efforts with local businesses and entrepreneurs to continue downtown Shawnee’s revival.

“Part of our ideology is we’re everybody’s biggest fan on Main Street, and part of what it takes to have successful partnerships is that we have each other’s best interests in mind. We’re always supportive,” Jesse said.

Learn more about the CPCDC at cpcdc.org, and visit The Gathering Place Coffee Co. at 415 E. Main Street, Shawnee, OK 74801 and online at gpcoffeeco.com.