Charlotte’s coffee community has been abuzz this week with news of the newly formed Night Swim Coffee, a partnership between two prolific local businesses, Not Just Coffee (NJC) and Undercurrent Coffee. The group of owners — Miracle and James Yoder of NJC and Erin and Todd Huber of Undercurrent — have announced plans to open multiple new coffee shops within the next year, so we wanted to know: What will change and what will remain the same?
Currently, the combined team owns nine spots — seven NJC shops and two Undercurrent locations — and regulars at these spaces can expect nothing to change on the front end. The management teams of NJC and Undercurrent will merge to oversee the operations of current cafes and they say customers can expect no change to the branding, menus or identity of any existing locations.
The teams will, however, fully merge their operations under the newly formed Black Rock Hospitality, which will open four new cafes between the end of 2021 and early 2022. Charlotte will see the Night Swim locations pop up around town in varying communities, one of which will include a coffee roastery and serve as the epicenter for the new concept.
This flagship location, located at 4500 Old Pineville Road in the rapidly developing LoSo district, will be the first to open its doors. Just across the street from Lower Left Brewing and less than a mile from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Sugar Creek Brewing and the new Protagonist location, the location is expected to open in October 2021.
Of the remaining three, two will be in Uptown: one in the new Bank of America tower and the other in an undisclosed location (until the lease is signed), with a fourth location planned for the 1630 Oakhurst Drive just a few blocks from Common Market’s Monroe Road location on the Oakhurst neighborhood of southeast Charlotte.
Each couple’s entrance to coffee was distinct. Miracle and James Yoder moved to Charlotte after doing outreach in various cities across the world. Miracle did social work while James did hotel work, and together they raised their three young children.
Shortly after moving to the Queen City, James began hosting coffee pop-ups, which eventually led to the first Not Just Coffee location at Optimist Park’s Area 15 in 2011. Later that year, they moved to 7th Street Public Market.
Todd Huber moved to Charlotte from Florida to work for Wachovia, then stayed in banking for 14 years while Erin focused her energy on parenting. After Erin fell sick with lung cancer in 2016, Todd began to rethink the trajectory he and his family were taking.
“Up until that point I’d never worked in my community and I’d always wanted to,” Todd said.
He had spent many Saturdays with his kids at Not Just Coffee’s 7th Street location and admired what they were doing — sustainable coffee, friendly staff, an attention to detail. He saw in the operation something he wanted to emulate, and in the back of his mind, he used it as a model as he began conceptualizing Undercurrent.
The two couples met in 2016 at Atlanta’s Specialty Coffee Expo. As they began chatting, the pair realized that not only were they both in Charlotte’s coffee industry — though the Hubers were still in the preliminary stages of opening a business — but that they lived just a mile from one another.
“As couples, we really enjoyed spending time together,” Todd said. “We talked a lot about our work and communities and in a lot of ways it felt like we already worked together.”
Undercurrent took two years from that point to open its flagship location in Plaza Midwood, during which Todd watched NJC open three locations, “while I sat and cried on Commonwealth every day,” Todd jokes.
Once up and running, though, Undercurrent created a wave all its own and opened a second location in the beginning phase of Optimist Hall.
James and Todd began discussing a partnership in December 2018, and over the next year, Miracle said she realized just how serious of a proposition it was. In March 2020, just before COVID-19 hit, the planning officially got underway. In the meantime, Erin has recovered well after her cancer battle, recently taking a second job as a teacher at a Title I charter school.
A new look for Night Swim
To the unaffiliated, the two merging brands seem quite similar. Each are quality shops, serving sustainable coffee (Onyx from Undercurrent and Counter Culture from NJC). They each create inventive seasonal selections and (when applicable) thoughtful food with recipes that match that of the carefully dialed-in coffee.
In many ways, though, just like the owners of each shop — Todd, clean cut and energetic, next to James, tattooed and more reserved—the brands differ.
Todd prefers plush, cozy seating while James jokes about his love for industrial hardwood seating. Undercurrent has a serif typeface with a Katsushika Hokusai-style wave logo, while NJC’s branding has evolved from an early-2000’s grunge to sans-serif minimalist branding.
As the businesses grew, the two realized they were competing for the same demographic when they could be doing it better together. The differing backgrounds allowed the couples to compliment one another, as each team offers their own distinctive creative prowess.
As Night Swim Coffee, the concept will take on a unique aesthetic. The brand guidelines, developed by Matt Stevens lay out a look that features a geometric logo with a simple circle representing a moon hovering closely above a series of half-circles meant to invoke the moon’s reflection on a body of water. The two-tone logo’s interchangeable Moon White and Night Blue create a sleek and mysterious look alongside the juxtaposition of the capitalized basic sans font, Viksjoe.
The new shops will create new settings distinct from anything either team has done before. The design of the new vibe has been taken on primarily by Erin, James and the Yoders’ daughter, Destiny, all of whom have a passion for this type of work.
“The design aspect of Night Swim coming to flesh is definitely a highlight for me,” Destiny told Queen City Nerve. “I think it will only continue to be, not just with branding, but as our spaces come to life.”
She credited Stevens and designer Emma Headley for helping the team “blossom” their ideas around design from the beginning.
“As a team, we are fans of architecture, design and art,” James said. “We are pulling together things we all love and putting them in our spaces, doing things we’ve never done before. Night Swim cafes will be more earthy and focus on natural materials like stone and quartz.”
“…and they’ll be comfortable,” Todd added, laughing as he and James nodded knowingly over the compromises they’ve made in this partnership.
Becoming independent roasters
Miracle’s focus is on the coffee itself. A 2019 trip to Mexico, where she was born but had not visited since age 14, opened Miracle’s eyes to the possibility of roasting beans. She got to know the intricate family stories of the farmers, spending time with some who had watched their family farms grow over generations.
Taking in the majestic views from the coffee countryside, Miracle fell in love with coffee in a way she’d never had before, allowing her to also experience her home country in a fresh way. It was her homecoming.
“Even though I was born there, I had no idea that landscape existed,” Miracle said. “It wasn’t really a part of the landscape we lived in.”
With the memories of her 2019 trip fresh in her mind, in 2020, Miracle brought an idea to the table. Because COVID had seen so many businesses close, Miracle realized roasting their own beans was what could actually propel them forward, keeping their product in the hands of consumers while shops were not fully operational.
Like their current supplier, Counter Culture, Night Swim plans to market their beans nationwide through their website, offering wholesale as well as subscription programs.
The name Black Rock Hospitality — as opposed to simply sticking with Night Swim Coffee or another more targeted name — begs the question: Will there be more? This team has tackled myriad concepts. With James and Miracle’s involvement in South End’s Eight & Sand, and their cocktail program at Not Just Coffee in Dilworth, the possibilities seem endless for the newly formed team. And for now, though, it appears they’ve got enough on their plate.
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