Coffee shops have popped up in all our towns

Published 8:00 am Friday, February 3, 2023

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It’s no wonder coffee shops have sprung up in our favorite little towns around here. It’s all part of our gentrification, a word that leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of a few but a good taste for coffee lovers.

As more people move here from other parts of the country, and even the world, they are bringing their taste for exotic coffee flavors and blends.

Americans have been in love with–some might say addicted to–the aroma, kick and taste of coffee since the 1800s when brothers John and Charles Arbuckle bought a newly invented self-emptying coffee bean roaster and started selling pre-roasted coffee in paper bags by the pound. They became very successful selling it to the cowboys of the American West.

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Two hundred years later many of us see on TV a few cowboys sitting around the campfire drinking a steaming cup of coffee, and wish that we had been there with them to share a cup and talk about that day’s cattle drive. The fussy heifers, the ornery bulls, the crotchety cowhorse who got a burr under his saddle and sent his rider tumbling down a gnarly ravine.

Today’s coffee shops scattered through the hills here are, in many ways, a modern version of that Old West scene. The talk is more likely to be in a circle of a few people with two dogs sprawled on the floor at their feet. The topics range from speculation about what’s going to be built on the corner where the abandoned gas station used to be to the price of gas these days, or the achievements of grandkids, or what’s planned for spring planting in the garden, or if it’s ever going to stop raining.

All of these new coffee shops–Forest City has five now–are signs of our greatness and the courage of entrepreneurs. None more determined than T. Shane Johnson and his 8-year-old daughter Charli’s new Big Guns Coffee in the heart of downtown Tryon.

Johnson is a bigger-than-life figure, both in physical stature (he held the world record for push-ups until recently) and action. His accomplishments outside the coffee shop boggle the mind: Marine Corps veteran, national motivational speaker, author of numerous books, survivor of deadly motorcycle accidents, robbed and left for dead, hiked across America to raise money for homeless vets. The list goes on. Just Google him.

He believes success is relative, but it doesn’t come without a great product, good service under the roof and community investment.

“Coffee is the second most consumed drink in the U.S. next to water,” he says. “To us, coffee is a barter exchange for time. We provide warmth, conversation and an unbiased open ear. Some days the cup can motivate you to take over the world or make you feel all warm and fuzzy on a day you’re not feeling so hot mentally.” 

So where does a coffee shop entrepreneur who lives in Mill Spring get his coffee beans? He grows them, of course. He started the first hydroponic coffee farm in North Carolina.

When his daughter isn’t in school, she’s often working at Big Guns, running the register, counting the money, roasting coffee, making pastries, and chatting up customers. That doesn’t leave much time for a cell phone addiction.

“What we’re seeing is a community full of wonderful people who are inspired by a little girl starting her own business,” Johnson said.

So how, you might ask Charli, is the business going?

“I can’t believe people are so nice. It’s so cool to have so many people come in and support me and my dad. I can’t believe my idea has turned into a business,” she said.

That’s some pretty high-octane thinking.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at