By Anna Grace Moore
Photos by Untold Imagery
Stroll into any of O.Henry’s Coffee & Company’s branches, and a rich bouquet of African dark roast beans brewing imbues one with a smoky tenderness–an exotic ambiance stretching to the far corners of the shop. The captivating aromas paired with the baristas’ ear-to-ear grins and cheerful salutations make visiting any branch a delightful and meaningful experience.
This jovial hospitality is consistent across each location as it serves to be the foundation for not just serving quality coffee, but also creating a haven for community. O.Henry’s Coffee owner Blake Stevens attributes the “O.Henry’s Way” to the principles founder Dr. Henry Bright created when he conceptualized the business, opening his first brick-and-mortar location on 18th Street South in Homewood in 1993.
Since its inception 30 years ago, O.Henry’s Coffee has undergone two turnovers in ownership and has witnessed the rise of seven O.Henry’s locations across the greater Birmingham area–eight if one includes its roasting plant in West Homewood. O.Henry’s now has nearly 100 wholesale partners and also fundraises for several local nonprofits, too.
The business also boasts a menu of more than 40 different types of coffee, and almost every location now serves breakfast and lunch, too.
“I love a great dark roast,” Blake says. “The African Classic is really good. The roast profile has been on the menu for 30 years. It’s a combination of three or four African coffees. It’s a good, dark roast with a sweet finish.”
Although some things have changed, the “O.Henry’s Way” has not. Blake says this quality care and precision will continue to distinguish the business from others in the area for generations to come.
“The mindset in which we approach our customer experience is called radical hospitality,” Blake says. “We’re called to turn strangers into neighbors.”
This call to action, he says, is not a new concept; rather, he actually first learned the purpose of fellowship and the role such harmonious relationships play within the community as a college student.
Blake’s heart for people only grew as he did. He was raised in Hoover and attended Berry High School before graduating and attending Samford University.
While at Samford, Blake majored in congregational studies–a unique field that evaluates church ministries and the effectiveness of their roles in local communities.
“The identity of the church, the personality, the mission, the programming, the events–those are all pieces that resonate with us,” Blake says. “That’s the lens of which I look through to see how we get involved in the community.”
Back in the mid ‘90s, O.Henry’s Coffee, which at the time only consisted of the downtown Homewood location, would have “Thursday-night open-mic nights,” drawing in swarms of college students and young people for “brews and blues.”
The first time Blake stepped foot into O.Henry’s was for the music. Little did he know his own call to action would ignite the moment he filled out an application for a job as a barista.
Blake joined the O.Henry’s team in 1996, working his way up into a managerial position in 1997. He worked at O.Henry’s as a college student until 2001, when he was recruited to work for Starbucks as a territory developer.
Blake worked for Starbucks until 2015, and during this time, he opened multiple locations in untapped markets, building the Starbucks brand. He was then recruited yet again to work for Ōnin Staffing as the Director of People and Culture, which he did until finally deciding to pursue a calling on his life to return to his roots–Homewood, more specifically, O.Henry’s Coffee.
With the help of Key7 Investment Co., Blake purchased O.Henry’s Coffee from its then owners, Randy and Mary Adamy, in November 2019. On Nov. 2, O.Henry’s Coffee will celebrate its 30th anniversary.
Even though he studied for a role in ministry, Blake says his greatest ministry has not been within the walls of a church at all–it has been in coffeehouses–where conversations begin with a single brew. He realized his career was a bit of a “déjà vu” when he experienced the welcoming atmosphere O.Henry’s Coffee fosters for people of all walks of life.
What religion strives and sometimes fails to do is what O.Henry’s Coffee does every day–welcome everyone with open arms, treating each person with love and respect.
“We offer a sense of normalcy–a place of peace–something greater than serving coffee,” Blake says. “Understanding that we’re a part of someone’s life is great.”
After assuming ownership of O.Henry’s Coffee in 2019, Blake took the business’ role within the community a step further and expanded not only the number of locations, but also the ways in which O.Henry’s gives back to those in need. O.Henry’s Coffee makes breakfast and coffee for several local nonprofits’ events, sells charity goods in-store and also donates a portion of its proceeds to other organizations worldwide.
According to ohenryscoffee.com, “Coffee is only as good as the water it’s made from. Quality water is a vital ingredient to a good cup of coffee; however, we believe that community is just as important as ingredient.”
In the past, O.Henry’s Coffee has sold Neverthirst Water. Each of these water bottle sales supported the building of clean and accessible water systems in communities without such luxuries, and notably, several coffee bean farms that O.Henry’s partners with directly benefited from these water sales, too.
“Part of the Neverthirst mission is to provide 85 percent of the people in each community with clean and accessible water within a mile or less from their home,” according to ohenryscoffee.com. “This project directly impacts our coffee farmers, and we believe it is important to provide our support to a community to which we are so closely connected.”
Other organizations O.Henry’s Coffee have supported include Rumpshaker, Inc., the Lovelady Center and more.
Throughout his career, Blake says what drives him is his love to serve, and this desire he hopes to implement in all of O.Henry’s Coffee’s employees, even his own son, too. Blake’s son sweeps and mops the floors at the roasting plant and thoroughly enjoys being a part of the family business.
While O.Henry’s has expanded over the years to include a growing number of locations, employees, menu items and more, it still maintains the “O.Henry’s Way,” putting people first.
It’s this foundation that the O.Henry’s Coffee team will continue to build upon. What a wonderful ministry Blake and the rest of the team have created to further harmony in Homewood and beyond.
Visit ohenryscoffee.com for more information.