By Emery Lay For The Opelika Observer/LIVE Lee
A new coffee shop has opened in Opelika, full of flavor and history. Melanin Cafe made its grand debut on Sept. 3 with a wide selection of coffees and treats. Catrice Hixon owns the cafe, alongside her co-owner husband, Jay.
Catrice, Opelika born and raised, has loved coffee since she was a child. During her college years, Catrice was an avid coffee drinker. As she worked to receive her bachelor’s degree in biology from UAB, Catrice took up a job at Joe Muggs as a barista. This fueled her love for the craft of coffee and further strengthened her skills in the art of making a good brew.
Catrice said she is a big list-keeper, always writing down her next goals for life or any ideas she has. However, she admitted her list often goes unchecked. Well, 2020 marked the year that she finally decided to do something about one particular item on her list: opening a coffee shop.
“It was always a thought and I finally just acted on it,” Catrice said. “I’m a person who writes down everything … I found this way back and I said, ‘Okay, I’m actually going to do something instead of just writing it down and just leaving it there.’”
Operating the small business as safely as possible amidst COVID restrictions, Catrice began by doing coffee catering. As she moved along, she hired a business coach to help her establish funds, advertisement and equipment.
“The process is … very tedious, very long,” Catrice said. “It’s really hard, honestly, to start a business.” Later, in February, Melanin Cafe joined other businesses for Black History Month Pop-Up Shops. The shops were hosted in the J.W. Darden House.
The house was once home to J.W. Darden — the first black doctor in the Opelika area. There, he operated a normal business with a full clinic for his patients. Catrice said that having the pop-ups there was a perfect blend of “celebration and education.”
This mimics the model the Hixons hope Melanin Cafe will follow: an environment for understanding one another.
“I want people — not only in the South but everywhere in the United States — to know that if you take the word ‘African’ out of African American, you still get American,” Jay said. “African American history is still American history. And we want people of all colors, of all nationalities, to hear this, as well. We just want you to accept us. We are Americans as well as you are.”
The purpose of Melanin Cafe, the Hixons said they hope, is to bring both great brews and historical awareness to the area. Each of the drinks offered at the shop will be named after someone who played a significant role in history, but has been given underwhelming recognition.
“When we’re learning in school, we get the main people — Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks,” Catrice said. “So, we learn about them, but there’s always other people who are (in) the background … I wanted to bring them in the forefront.”
For example, Henrietta Lacks. Lacks died at age 51 from cancer in John Hopkins Hospital. However, her life extended beyond her death when her cancer cells were used for research and later developed into the HeLa cell line. This line was the first immortalized human cell line and one of the most important in medical research.
Sadly, the cells were taken without Lacks’ permission and the researchers were still able to monetize their findings.
Another example is Ella Baker, lovingly deemed the “mother of civil rights.” She was on the front lines of starting the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference).
“It’s just so we can have that education — So we can learn about them and what they’ve done,” Catrice said. “That way, if we can understand each other, then we can coexist together.”
Catrice said she could not have accomplished opening a coffee shop — while balancing school and motherhood — without the support of her family and her co-barista and husband, Jay.
In 2007, Jay and Catrice met during their freshman year of college through mutual friends, even though they went to different schools — Alabama A&M and UAB, respectively.
“I kind of ignored him when we first met but later that day we started talking, exchanged numbers and haven’t stopped talking since,” Catrice said. “This year it will be nine years that we’ve been married.”
The Hixons had their first child, a girl, in 2013, followed by their son in 2014. Jay graduated from A&M with a bachelor ’s in mechanical engineering, but enjoys martial arts, anime and being with his children in his spare time. Besides a simple cup with his wife in the morning, Jay is not much of a coffee fiend, but he gives Catrice his full love and support.
Apart from her husband, Catrice has also garnered the support of her sister, Crystal Slaughter. Though Slaughter has a family of her own, in addition to a job as an assistant preschool teacher, she will be the baker for the café.
There is an additional opportunity for the community to support Melanin Cafe through its GoFundMe, which can be found on the website tab “crowd funding campaign”.
At one point in time, Catrice simply wanted to use the funds for a coffee cart. Yet, now that she has the shop, she hopes any money gathered will help establish the café and maybe lend them a presence in Auburn one day. Catrice laughed and said she hopes to have her face — the logo of the storefront — everywhere.
Moving forward, Catrice will continue to work on her PhD in biology and one day hopes to even open her own research lab. She said she wanted to “start off small” with Melanin Cafe and continually “keep building.” Melanin Cafe might be a small step for Catrice, but it is a grand step for the community of Auburn-Opelika.
The café’s slogan is: “Doing it for the culture … and the coffee.”
“I just want our shop to be like a bridge,” Jay said. “Between cultures, of people, of society in general; Where people come to learn, to socialize … So, that’s one of the bottom lines for the café: to get together and to learn, to explore and to accept.”
The Hixons looks to the future with expectant passion. Hand in hand, their shop will serve as a place to link arms with other members of the community to create a tight and intimate bond of unity.
“I just wanna have something here … Something for the community, and also something that I can leave as a legacy for my kids,” Catrice said