This Coffee Shop is More than a Place to Get Your Caffeine Fix

It’s no surprise the enticing scent of freshly brewed coffee wafts through the air at The Empty Cup; it is a coffee shop, after all. But with the goal of assisting families during their adoption journey, this coffee shop is more than just a place to get your caffeine fix. The community helped create this space, and the operator and board of directors work to make sure the community benefits from the shop.

Located off of Executive Park Drive in what was once a bank, The Empty Cup has a hodgepodge of tables, chairs and couches spread throughout the ample space, with plenty of room to gather with friends, enjoy a latte solo or work. With the aim to help families with adoption, the space is very kid-friendly. What was once a bank vault is now a cozy toy-filled space, with comfy chairs and a few tables to place your drinks while monitoring children’s play. It’s a great space for parents or caregivers with small children to enjoy some grownup talk while their kids make new friends. Older kids are welcome too, with crayons on tables and plenty of room to do homework. Tables of varying heights scattered throughout the shop create cozy niches perfect for conversations. Despite softly playing music and the typical coffee brewing cacophony, the decibel level is conducive to private conversations.

The concept for The Empty Cup was born out of a desire to help families fundraise for adoption. As director for the Adoption Foundation of Tennessee, Empty Cup operator Coby Eldridge was organizing expos and fundraisers by selling coffee beans, clothing, jewelry and books. The thought of running a coffee shop had never occurred to her. The lightbulb moment came during a conversation with a Murfreesboro coffee bean company.

"Our roaster, Just Love Coffee, said, ‘you could raise so much money if you could just brew it,'" Coby says. "I thought that was hilarious. Who has time to open up a coffee shop?”

But once Coby brought up the idea to colleagues and friends, they rallied around the concept. It took approximately four years from concept to opening day, Leap Day 2016, to open The Empty Cup. Groups from all over Knoxville, from church groups to students to families to military groups, worked together giving whatever they could. This community created a well-designed space with family photos on the walls, reservable meeting space and a welcoming atmosphere where you feel at home the moment you walk through the door.

The menu contains a number of delicious items, including coffee, tea, soda, cereal and scones. When asked what the most popular item is, Coby says, “It’s a toss-up between the chai tea latte and our 'just coffee.' We have people come up to the bar and say ‘I want just coffee.’ That’s another thing I love about this place—we love questions, and there’s a lot of people who love to come into coffee shops but don’t know about coffee. We love when people feel comfortable enough to ask questions. You get to openly talk about it, and it invites community. We love when we see regulars come in and we know what they want, and we’ve already started it before they even order. We don’t aspire to be anything fancy, but we do aspire to care for people well. That goes beyond just coffee.”

Families can use the space at The Empty Cup to host fundraisers for their adoption and can apply for adoption grants through the Adoption Foundation of Tennessee. An assortment of goods is available in the marketplace, from coffee beans and journals to mugs and jewelry. As a community-built place, The Empty Cup strives to keep the cup empty by pouring out whatever is poured in. They live this motto by welcoming groups to use their space, free of charge, for two hours. Bible studies, youth groups, men’s recovery groups and more come to The Empty Cup, building upon the initial foundation of community and continually expanding and growing that community. Game nights, live music and more are regular activities.

The Empty Cup does more than just brew great coffee: they’ve curated a community gathering place that gives back with more than just caffeine. With plenty of space, ample parking and a cause worth supporting, The Empty Cup is a great place to actively be a part of the community while contributing to a worthy cause.