By Allison Antram
I fumble with crumpled dollar bills in my hands, frowning as I only count four.
“Uh, never mind the muffin actually. I don’t have enough cash.” I told the woman on the other side of the counter, who had just informed me that the credit card machine was currently broken.
“OK, sorry about that!” the employee smiles and plucks bulky keys on an out-of-date cash register, and takes the wrinkled money in my hands.
I leave the counter and find a seat at a small corner table of Solomon’s Porch. Local art hangs on chipped-paint cement block walls, the ceiling tiles are stained, and an old-fashioned, cast-iron fireplace sits in the front corner atop a pile of dirty bricks. Quiet and scattered conversation is overpowered by the sound of grinding coffee, the hiss of steaming milk, and an occasional “order up!” shouted from the kitchen, glimpsed through a small window guarded by old, cream-colored curtains.
The counter is cluttered chalk boards announcing fall specials, menus and glass jars filled with an assortment of loose leaf teas and pastries, labeled with handwritten signs. An employee brings my pumpkin pie latte to my table with a smile. A man, donning a fedora, walks in the door behind me. He greets several people in the café and approaches the counter, casually debating his order with the employee.
“It’s good, Jimmy. You’ll like it.” Another employee recommends a dish from across the room and continues to chat with another customer. Only in a small town like Wilmore, Ky., could this kind of cozy, familial atmosphere be possible.
“From day one of our ownership, it was our hope that Solomon’s Porch would be a place that not only seminary and college students and staff would meet, but that the broader population of Wilmore and Nicholasville would find a place in this ‘community’ too,” said Erin Gibson, owner and manager of Solomon’s Porch, along with her husband, Tim. “We share who we are with everyone who walks in the door in some way, shape or form.”
Since the Gibsons took ownership of the shop in 2004, they have seen their hope for community come alive and thrive. “Despite the economic downturn, the past three years have been the most successful years we have ever seen,” Gibson said. Success has not come without struggle, however. The Porch was previously open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and stayed open until midnight on weekends. However, due to poor business, it is now only open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day, with extended hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“It would be awesome to have a place in Wilmore that stayed open like we used to, but since we have ‘been there, done that,’ we know it did not work out in the end for the proprietors,” Gibson says, also noting that they are open-minded about having more night hours if they see a demand for it. Despite this, Gibson has seen more and more evidence of a tight community in their shop in recent years.
“What you see is what you get—the good, the great, the bad, the ugly,” Gibson claims as the way she runs the Porch. “I hope some of that transparency has shaped the ‘feel’ of Solomon’s Porch in a positive way.” And it has. The “good” and the “great” are obvious, but what about the “bad” and the “ugly?”
While Solomon’s Porch and its community are adorable, they are not perfect, and not everyone who walks through the door encourages the friendly atmosphere.
“My new motto is that ‘every person in America should be forced to wait tables or run a cash register for at least four weeks of their life,’” Gibson jokes, explaining the problems she encounters with some rude customers. “I think people would think twice about how they act in public and toward service providers and staff…at least I hope it would change people for the better.”
As an example of this, Gibson also mentions the same problem that cost me a muffin earlier—the broken credit card machine. Despite ATMs within easy walking distance, not everyone has responded so kindly to the inconvenience. “We have been giving other options for payment… [but] I have had multiple people get angry at the situation,” she noted.
However, despite the occasional unkind customer, malfunctioning machine and balancing family life with work life, Gibson says it’s all worth it.
“[Solomon’s Porch] is a mixture of things,” said Gibson. “God providing the means for it to continue and thrive, the die-hard Porch regulars that are literally in the shop every morning and have been here for 10 years, the wood stove, the fun names on the menu, tasty and unique food, the chalk board wall with funny drawings or spelling of words our son Braden drew.”
She continued, “The employees praying for each other in the back when one of them is having a bad day, the drug-abusing employee who asks Tim why he chooses to live a sober and ‘boring’ life and the conversation that follows. Family, friends [and] strangers praying for us all over the world, local art and food and lots of laughter.”