Since coming to the town of Davidson in 1998, Summit Coffee has continually reinvented itself as a place where students and town members alike work, socialize, and participate in community activities.
After its initial success on Main Street, the business decided to start another coffee shop on Davidson College’s campus. Summit Outpost opened its doors in 2013, providing students with a unique space for everything from studying to live performances. Unlike its Main Street counterpart, the Outpost caters directly to students and has worked to serve the ever-changing demands of the student body.
Brian Helfrich ‘07, along with his brother Tim Helfrich ‘00, has owned Summit since 2011 and understands that the two locations have distinct personalities.
“Being on campus has changed the way we want to interact with customers,” he commented.
The Outpost delivers food to tables rather than serving it at the counter, departing from the grab-and-go nature of most coffee shops. Brian Helfrich says that they plan on student customers staying long periods of time to study or socialize.
Beginning last year, the college extended dining dollar use to the Outpost, allowing students to spend a fraction of their balance on Summit meals and drinks. While this created more incentives to spend money at the Outpost, the idea came with its share of drawbacks.
Paying by CatCard, for example, doesn’t leave room for students to leave tips—a potential problem for employees. And while Summit dining dollars were popular when the program first started, Brian Helfrich says they have declined in popularity since students feel tied to their meal plans.
Also according to Brian Helfrich, a big part of the Outpost’s success comes from their collaboration with student organizations to host weekly programming events.
Each Wednesday night, for example, they work with the Union Board to host trivia nights. The event parallels the Main Street Summit’s Monday night trivia, offering students a break from studying and the enjoyment of a drink for those over 21.
Ava Pomerantz ‘18 has worked at the Outpost since the end of her first year. She explained that she had always wanted to work at a college coffee shop and that after three years, the Summit staff feels like her second family.
“I feel really close to the people in charge,” she said. “Everyone likes each other and knows the Davidson community.”
She also commented that she feels comfortable contributing ideas for new weekly programs. Some of her favorite events include beer tastings, acapella and band performances, and open mike nights. The Outpost also hosts specially themed trivia nights (Harry Potter and Game of Thrones trivia so far), and collaborates with Connor House for the “Think Pink” fundraiser.
“During the day, people get coffee and meals and do their work, and at night people get beers and watch shows,” Pomerantz said. “It’s a very versatile space.”
Thomas Chafin ‘18 has also worked at the Outpost since his first year. Like Pomerantz, he feels close to the Summit staff and values the work experience.
“It’s really cool to learn a trade and a skill,” he said. “I’ve talked about Summit in every job interview. It helped me develop soft skills like talking to people and getting things done.”
Chafin describes the space as a cross between the Student Union and the library, but more than that, he sees it as a crucial space for the Davidson community.
“My experience at Davidson would have been different without Summit,” he said. “I think Davidson would be a lot more monotonous and less friendly without it.”
The future of Summit’s on-campus location remains uncertain as the owners look at new possibilities. This past Monday, they opened a new shop in the River Arts District in Asheville. So far, the company has ensured its success by roasting their own coffee and distributing 75% of it to businesses across the country. Expansion into Asheville might mark a new era of capabilities, especially now that the business is not limited to Davidson.
Brian Helfrich explained that he has yet to renew the company’s lease on the Outpost.
“We plan to renew, but we haven’t officially,” he said. “We’re still working through the details of our contract.”
Although Pomerantz and Chafin graduate this year, both expressed their desire to keep the Outpost as a vital part of campus.
“I can come here and know that a friend will be here. It’s a great distraction,” said Chafin. “It’s paramount that this place stays here.”