Last year, coffee shop Mahalo made the decision to open another location in downtown Knoxville. A soft launch took place back in December and has led to regular hours Monday through Saturday. They feature Flour Head Bakery pastries and a food menu from Simpl on Sevier.
Mahalo knew they wanted to open a second shop, but didn’t know where. They considered locations in Sevierville, West and South Knoxville, but eventually, the doors were opened to downtown.
Sean Parrish, former owner of now closed coffee shop Pearl on Union, asked if Trevor Bayne, Mahalo’s owner, would take over the building. Business was slow due to the pandemic and needed another shop like Mahalo to jump start the space.
“When the opportunity came up, it just felt right and we felt led to do it. We knew there would be a lot of new faces that we hadn’t had the chance to meet,” Bayne said. “We knew the UT students would be around downtown, we knew a lot of people in offices, so it was the chance for us to broaden our brand, take it downtown and expose people to our coffee.”
The decision to open a downtown shop during the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge. Many businesses could not sustain profits and pulled out. Accord to Bayne, the location is only making half of what Powell generates.
Bayne chose nonetheless to make a bet on Knoxville.
“I guess that’s how you find out if you’ve got what it takes: you go right into the heavy competition and see if you can swim…We’re betting on the future and a post-pandemic downtown,” Bayne said.
The shop has already been busy plugging into the downtown area. Last week, Bayne’s team served coffee for Personal Best Racing at World’s Fair Park. Runners who crossed the finish line were greeted with a steaming cup of Mahalo coffee.
Bayne knows that UT students are going to coffee shops for more than just free internet. He uses the downtown location to provide specialty coffee to those interested. Mahalo is supplied with home brewing options, filters and coffee gear. He wants his store to be an educator for students.
“We want to be more than just a coffee shop,” Bayne said. “We want to expose people to great roasted coffee and we want to get them the tools and education to do that at home and not just buy it at our shops.”
Bayne hopes to work with UT in the future, although they are figuring out how. His goal is for relationships with the college to unfold organically. He plans to roll out a test run for a student discount in March.
“If you come into Mahalo and show your student ID, it’s 15% off at the downtown location, and we want to do things like that to encourage people to come and visit our shop and just learn,” Bayne said.
Mahalo downtown has become a favorite spot for regular and FCA area representative Cory Crabtree. His office is on Gay Street, so the walk through Market Square to Union Avenue is convenient.
“Trevor and his team have really made it the perfect, welcoming coffee spot for people in the downtown area,” Crabtree said.
Although a new location has opened, the mission has always stayed the same. Like Powell, Mahalo downtown is dedicated to “making specialty coffee feel approachable” for UT students and others alike.