By Sheila Ferguson

On July 29, 2023, Jacqueline Larkins officially retired as the Proprietor of Café Phix-Midtown in Cleveland’s Ward 7. Its location is in the upscale new building that houses Digital C and Café Phix at 6815 Euclid Avenue. The café is across the lane from the Tru Hilton Hotel on Euclid’s north side.

For Jackie, owning and operating coffee shops has been a labor of love for the last 20 years. More to the point, “It has been a journey,” she says, from the start-up of her first venture, known as The Phix on Mayfield Road in South Euclid-Lyndhurst, to the last five years at the Café Phix-Midtown. And now, she is preparing for a new adventure that involves teaching other women how to ply their talents as entrepreneurs.

Jackie’s life as a businessperson is no surprise to anyone who knows her. They will all tell you that she has always been a force of nature and one ready to answer the call for adventure. Her resume includes graduating from East High and signing on to the U.S. Navy. As a military careerist, she served diligently as a Yeoman specializing in business administration and management while traveling the world. However, at the close of her military service, she returned to Cleveland to be with her family and jumpstart her Corporate America career. Before becoming a café owner, she was a corporate events planner. In that job, Jackie created stellar corporate events and gatherings to salute the company and industry trailblazers, growths, and successes. The sheer enjoyment of meeting people and creating experiences for others made her start to dream about her future.

Soon her vision of opening a coffee shop came into focus. And it was not just an ordinary shop. Jackie envisioned an establishment filled with warmth and a spirit of welcome that connected people. In her mind’s eye, the space would convene all sorts of people. It would also be a place open to spoken word poetry, book signings, and the works of emerging artists. In time, she manifested that café space where customers were treated to delicious foods and beverages and a nourishing experience at the soul level. Making it happen meant endless hours of research, meeting with coffee merchants and shop owners, learning about the origins and flavors of the various coffees and teas, writing a business plan, going to conferences, pricing equipment, and embarking on the journey of Coffee Shop sustainability.

Throughout the glue has been Jackie’s imagination, tenacity, business know-how, bustling energy, captivating smile, warm energy, and genuine interest in people. Though the moment is bitter-sweet, she leaves the role of Café Owner with so many fond memories. Some of those highlights include:

  • Support and Engagement in the café’s first home community of South Euclid-Lyndhurst
  • Recruitment as a model woman-owned community business primed for duplication in the urban region.
  • Receipt of essential funding support with the gifts of a new facility; and equipment.
  • Embrace by Ward 7 and the metropolitan Cleveland community of residents and workers
  • Meeting Barack Obama during his Cleveland visit in 2016 at Burke Lake Airport; and
  • Hosting the Hillary Clinton team when they worked in Cleveland

Despite all of the blessings and good fortune, Jackie has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic. She recalls, “It almost sunk the business. Until then, the business was solvent and thriving with the support of her transient clients traveling to stay at the hotel and her regulars from the neighborhood, business groups, and those working at the surrounding businesses. She also noted that “without our mainstays purchasing coffee, pastries, and lunch fare, the café almost shut its doors in 2020.

Fortunately, News Channel 5 helped save the day by publicizing her services and the challenges created by the pandemic. As a result, she started to have customers lined up around the block. She also received loans from Cuyahoga County and the Payroll Protection Program to stay afloat. “Those funds,” she said, “allowed me to hire back an employee.” Yet she notes that it is still difficult to hire qualified and dependable staff, offer a sustainable wage, and manage as the day-to-day operations are covered.

At the end of June, Jackie sent out a press release. It detailed her next steps in community service. In 2022, Ms. Tenisha Gant Watson invited her to serve as a partner and consultant to the Community Resource Center and the Oasis in the City Conference and Retreat Center (“Oasis in the City”). This site is currently in the planning phase and is set to emerge as a crucial pillar in the Mt. Pleasant community.

The program aims to enhance the community’s quality of life, prosperity, and self-sufficiency. Jackie will collaborate with the Jordan Community Resource Center and its diverse group of partners, including the Cleveland Foundation, The Black Futures Fund, NEORSD, the United Black Fund, the Cuyahoga Land Bank, and the Saint Luke’s Foundation. As the program’s Hospitality and Community Enterprise Consultant, Jackie will help to build the program’s infrastructure through the design of curricula on economic self-sufficiency, hospitality skill-building, financial and budget management, personal development curricula, and a variety of skills training opportunities. Overall, the Oasis Program will address such urgent community needs as health, wellness, and wealth creation. To fulfill its aims, the center will serve as a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation, to provide space for start-ups and community-driven initiatives.

The Cleveland Observer Team wishes Jackie all the best!