FLORENCE, S.C. – Musician and entrepreneur Ezra Brown said he always wanted to open a coffee shop. Through traveling all over the world, he said he has visited some amazing coffee shops.
“I’ve been to so many Starbucks around the world that people used to tell me that I should actually email them and tell them how many I’ve been to,” Brown said. “I travel a lot, and they’ve got free Internet, and they got my one drink.”
The consistency of Starbucks made Brown feel that he could always get work done, business-wise, no matter the location. And he wanted his own version of that.
In 2017, Brown opened Soule Café on South Irby Street in Downtown Florence.
“The idea is for in every aspect, when you submerge yourself in Soule, it’s like a utopia of a world of sorts,” Brown said. “And we want to embody localness or community at its finest.”
The café sells drinks and cake, and it serves as a venue for art and live music.
Brown, a native of Florence, said he has traveled the world as a saxophonist, entrepreneur and education program designer and has been able to see many things that a lot of people in Florence have not.
“I can say a lot people may not even know who I am," Brown said. "But I’ve been blessed to have an amazing fan base across the world, and I really want to show Florence the amazing talent of Florence. So with Soule as a business, we’re able to pretty much embody that idea of localism.”
A local wood artist created all of the tables in Soule Café. The coffee is made by a local roaster in Florence. All of the artwork housed in the building, from graffiti to mixed media, was created by Pee Dee artists. And Brown said he tries to source as much of the fresh fruit used in the drinks served at the café from the local area.
“My job is to search the city and find the cats that they’re doing things, and (find out) how do I bring their product or whatever their design (is) into an everyday design of a business,” Brown said.
Health awareness is one of the missions of Soule Café. Brown said he and his staff are called “sneak tip educators.” Brown said a lot of people in his family have diabetes, and the area as a whole is infested with the disease.
“This may be selfish, but my family is parallel with a lot of other families here," Brown said. "I want my family healthy. So we have a full sugar-free line. So everything you could possibly get, we can do it in sugar free.”
There are Keto versions of the drinks sold at Soule Café, plus a wide variety of dairy and non-dairy options. A charcoal latte option is available for people who want to detox. And as soon as the coast is clear, Brown said he plans to serve a CBD latte. He is working with a local refinery to create his own version of CBD to be used in a latte and vial form.
“The future of us is still good and sweetness and everything else, but we’re trying to push you to cold-pressed juices,” Brown said. "Maybe you can do that once a week. It’ll still look good. For example, our No. 1 drink right now is a refresher, a bubble tea refresher.”
Bubble tea refreshers are fruit-infused water, Brown said.
Soule Café is the house for many entrepreneurs and start-ups in the community. There is a conference room in the back of building that is free to use as long as its users make a purchase, Brown said.
Open mic nights are held on Mondays and Wednesdays at Soule Café. The Monday night event features a live band. And throughout each day, a variety of music can be heard wafting through the speakers. Brown said he is intentional about not playing popular songs. But instead, he plays music from a soundscape standpoint.
When Soule Café opened nearly three years ago, Brown said the mission was two things: cultural awareness and racial awareness.
“Our motto is #ItTakesACommunity,” Brown said. “With everything, we think about how we can build a community together.
“We love music, but we really love people. But we love drinks at the same time.”