Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Richmond Retail Merchants Association
Meet The Woman Behind Richmond, Virginia's Latest Black-Owned Coffee Spot
Sometimes stepping into your calling is as simple as hearing a stranger in an audience tell you to “just do it!” For Richmond, Virginia native Kelli Lemon, those three words were the motivation she needed to open the city’s latest Black-owned coffee hangout, Urban Hang Suites.
Kelli was born in Hampton but her parents commuted to Richmond daily for work. They eventually located the entire family to Richmond and the city instantly spoke to Kelli.
Even while attending college at the University of Virginia, it was something about the city that she couldn’t let go of.
“I always looked to Richmond to feed me the Black experience,” Kelli told Travel Noire.
She took a job at Virginia Commonwealth University after graduation where she worked in various roles, including one that allowed her to be the liaison between the students and all things fun in the city.
This allowed Kelli to in turn begin building her own brand and she would then move on to more brand management roles for businesses in Richmond. During this time, she started a podcast that she called ‘Coffee with Strangers’ where she would interview Richmond residents while enjoying a cup of coffee. People soon began calling her “the coffee lady.”
While she enjoyed doing all of these things, she still hadn’t stepped into her true dream.
One day while giving a speech, someone asked her what it is that she ultimately wanted to do. Without hesitation, Kelli said, “I want to bring Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suites to life.” An audience member, in turn, yelled back, “just do it!”
At that moment, Kelli knew that bringing a coffee shop to the city that she loved so much was her calling.
After getting advice from AJ Brewer, another Black-owned coffee shop owner in Richmond, and being mentored by restauranteur Kendra Feather, Kelli locked in a spot on the corner of 3rd and Broad in the heart of Richmond.
“The shop is housed in Jackson Ward which was once known as the ‘Harlem of the South.’ The place where Maggie Walker, the first Black self-made millionaire lived, that’s important,” Kelli said.
Urban Hang Suites serves as a safe space for creatives. It’s a place where ear hustling is encouraged and where people are forced to connect with each other no matter their background. All notions of being divided by race, gender, class, etc. are left at the door.
When you walk in you will see art all over the walls. There are vibe magazines available for reading, TVs, and a sitting area in the back where you can hang out for hours.
Breakfast is sold all day and there are also salads, sandwiches, and bowls offered too. Sip on beer wine, cocktails, and of course coffee and tea.
“We want you to come be yourself, whatever yourself may be.”
Kelli is proud to be among the Black business owners of Richmond looking to bring that spark back to the city. They realize that the Black dollar is powerful right now and these businesses are taking over after being ignored for so long.
We asked Kelli why it was important for her as a Black-woman to open a business in Richmond, she said:
“I had to go through this process to help the next Black woman, man, or even child. Thanks to Aj and Kendra I was able to learn about the good and bad of opening a business before I set out to do it. I had help so it is only right for me to bring the next person up. “