From bar to baristas: Muddy Cup renews troubled street corner


Muddy Cup Coffee owner Renee Tokar jokes with a customer while making her latte. (Photo/Kelly Thomas)

Since Renee Tokar in March opened a Northside location of her Muddy Cup coffee shop in the former JR’s Bar on the corner of East Ohio Street and Cedar Avenue, she said she’s seen a steady increase of customers and a steady decrease of loiterers.

“So many things are changing for the better on the Northside,” said Tokar, a lifelong resident of Brighton Heights, “and I wanted to be part of that transition… I want people to go ‘Woah, what happened to East Ohio Street?’”

The original Muddy Cup is on Lincoln Avenue in Bellevue. The two stores share the same name, customer service and quality products, but differ greatly in décor and atmosphere, Tokar said.

“[The Northside] store just has a different feel. It has that city feel,” Tokar said.

Muddy Cup Bellevue, while a great place to sit and chat, is too small to host events or entertainment. Tokar hopes to make the Northside store a musical hub. The first-ever event is this Saturday at 7 p.m. with Kiss Me Quick and is BYOB.

She has also been in touch with local colleges and high schools to invite students to come and practice or play at Muddy Cup whenever they like because she wants to see the coffee shop become a true neighborhood hangout and always have something going on.

That attitude is reflected in Muddy Cup’s tagline: “Good things happen over coffee.” Tokar loves connecting with her customers and meeting new people, and believes that a lot can happen when two people sit down with a hot cup of joe.

Tokar worked as a trainer at Starbucks for many years, and although she enjoyed it, she wanted a chance to be more creative and opened Muddy Cup Bellevue in October 2008.

“I fell in love with the idea of how the coffee bean comes from being a single flower on a tree to an amazing latte,” Tokar said.

Some of her most popular specialty lattes include the White Cloud, made with white chocolate and caramel, and the Turtle, made with chocolate, hazelnut and caramel. Often, she brainstorms new drinks with customers who aren’t sure what to order.

Coffee isn’t the only thing Tokar gets creative with, either. Her creativity and artistic skills shine in the former JR’s Bar, where she’s repainted the space with bright colors and pictures.

More than once during renovations she wondered if she’d made a mistake because of all the challenges presented by the space. It took her six weeks of constant work to get the shop ready, but she said it’s worth it to hear people tell her how glad they are she opened.

“I hear this all day long: ‘We’re so happy you’re here!’” Tokar said.

Council President Darlene Harris even plans to issue a proclamation in Tokar’s honor for transforming what many considered a nuisance bar into a welcoming community space.

There’s still plenty of work to be done, like adding outdoor seating, a bike rack and “dog parking” so dog walkers can tie their dogs up outside, grab a drink and continue on their way.

Tokar would also like to add an awning, potted shrubs and lights that would stay on all night to keep the corner bright.

“I know it’s going to be great. I really know it’s going to be great.”

With a steady increase in customers, Muddy Cup will add more hours on May 1. It will open on Sunday from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and stay open until 7 p.m. on weekdays. Currently, Muddy Cup Coffee is open 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Saturday.

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