By Carolyn Bahm
Good aromas are the first impression to hit when walking into Crave Coffee Bar & Bistro in Arlington, and rightly so: Coffee, fruity smoothies, warm pastries, sandwiches, entrées and breakfasts all meet on their counter.
Ben and Lana Hickey opened their independent eatery on Dec. 12, 2016, and they have the training and experience to be confident in the kitchen. Both are graduates of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta.
Lana decided to be a stay-at-home mom for their three children for about 10 years while Ben was making his name in their profession. The family moved from Nashville to Arlington about five years ago. Then one day Lana was passing by the spot where Crave operates now —11615 U.S. 70, Suite 108A, at the intersection of U.S. 70 and Airline Road — and she saw people taking down the “Yogurt Mountain” sign.
She eyed the 55-seat space and the large windows and was tempted by the highly visible location in the same shopping complex as Kroger.
She told her husband, “’We need to talk about opening a coffee shop,’ and he said, ‘You’re crazy.’”
She laughed and told him, “No, I think it would be good.”
Within two months, they were open, with 14 people working in shifts to operate the business 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Lana and her mother did all the interior design work, getting handmade tables and finding distinctive decorative touches. They wanted the atmosphere to be warm and welcoming, inviting customers to stay and enjoy their meals. One corner includes upholstered seating with a white mantel over a flickering fireplace.
They see the people who walk in their doors as guests rather than customers, she said. Some regulars are the elderly who have survived their spouses and don’t have family nearby, and Crave staff members know them well enough to care and ask about their day, how their doctors’ appointments went and what their holiday plans are.
“We shouldn’t look at them like they’re coming in just for us to collect money from them, because that’s not what it should be,” Lana said. “They’re coming in here because it feels like a community to them. Because we welcome them, because we are truly interested in how their lives are going.”
Regulars interact and make new friends at Crave, and Lana knows what orders to start as soon as she sees their cars pull up.
“We have some we say, ‘If we don’t see you at least once a day, we’re sending out a search party,” she said, smiling.
Teens fill the space after Arlington High School lets out at 2 p.m., piling into booths and sipping smoothies, talking and doing homework. A large group of young people also gathers for Friday night Bible studies. “They take over our fireplace area, and they pile up on the floor,” Lana said.
She finds it very satisfying to operate a place where people feel at home, and she makes sure that Crave delivers good service, atmosphere and food.
“We pride ourselves on local community focus,” Lana said. “We try to bring in as much local product as possible.”
That includes Memphis-based J. Brooks’ roasted coffee, pastries baked in their own kitchen, pork roasted in house for their sandwiches, and bread baked by Jay’s Wholesale in Arlington. Other elements include Boar’s Head deli meats. Recipes include some from Lana’s family and that of her employee and friend, Hannah Halford.
Their best-selling sandwich is the Jarrett, a blackened chicken sandwich with caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, Swiss cheese and a house-made remoulade. Made-to-order guacamole is a popular starter. Their smoothie sales are off the charts.
Their top-selling coffee is the White Chocolate Mocha, but an off-menu hidden gem with word-of-mouth popularity is the Hey Steven. Known for its blend of brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, espresso and milk, the Hey Steven was created by a previous manager.
The business delivers large orders to area schools and businesses, and it also provides catering (mostly breakfast). They are able to be flexible for early orders, because the bakers arrive by 3:30 a.m. to start the day’s cooking. Customers can also call in or place their orders online and then wait in designated parking spaces for curbside delivery.
Their community service focus includes charitable donations, annual fundraising for the American Cancer Society, a baseball league sponsorship, Spirit Night for Arlington and Donelson elementary schools and monthly catering for the drama team at the Arlington Community Theatre.
Lana explained some of the ways that she and her husband integrate their ethics and values in the business. They discount prices for the military, first responders, teachers and nurses. They also sell exactly what their menu specifies, include the kitchen staff when tips are divided, and pay their wait staff a good wage.
“They work just as hard as I work, so I don’t really believe in me and my husband sitting at home and profiting off their hard work, and them making $2.75 an hour,” Lana said. “We try to be incredibly fair about that.”
They also host a monthly potluck one Sunday each month for themselves and their employees to mingle socially rather than just when they are bustling around the business.
Like many thriving businesses, Crave continues to grow. The couple opened an adjacent bakery in May 2018 after occasional word-of-mouth cake sales built up and then started booming.
“We’re getting pretty popular for our wedding cakes,” Lana said. “People think Arlington is a million miles away, but it’s really not. … It’s 15 minutes from Germantown Parkway.”
She and her husband are also negotiating another full-service location inside the Painted Tree Marketplace, an indoor space at the old H.H. Gregg site off Germantown Parkway (8045 Giacosa Place, Memphis). The location has the atmosphere of an indoor mall with spaces for individual creators to sell their handmade items.
Quality and service are a way of business at Crave, and sales have doubled since their first year, Lana said. “I always tell my staff if the food is good and the customer service is good, they’re going to come back.”
For more information, visit Crave108.com, search for the business by name on Facebook, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (901) 317-7599.