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Ten years of ‘Monkey’ business

The warm sun peeks through the blinds as eyes patiently dart around the room looking for an empty seat. People are burying their faces in laptops, books and plates of food. The sound of clanking plates and an ocean of conversation fills the air. The smell is comforting—one that is reminiscent of being at home.

Finding a place to sit is an art form, but the fight for a parking spot and the race to the unoccupied table is all worth it when the sweet, subtle taste of banana hits your lips.

Throughout the past decade, Nashville has been on a coffee shop craze and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. They seem to be popping up all over town, but one of the original and biggest contributors to this craze is Frothy Monkey.

The main store, nestled on 12 South, is always buzzing. People line up out the door to get a taste of their unique menu and signature banana flavored beverages. The tables are filled with old friends catching up, tourists visiting and professionals hard at work. It’s rare to walk in and find a chair unoccupied.

“What a great problem to have,” said Jeff Gibbs, a veteran in the coffee world and one of five partners of the company.

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary this summer, Frothy Monkey is easily one of the go-to coffee shops in Nashville.

Miranda Whitcomb, a Nashville entrepreneur, brought Frothy Monkey to life in 2004. In 2011, Gibbs and his partners—Ryan Pruitt, Heather Southerland, Rich May and Chase Ingalls—took on the company.

“Miranda is very community oriented. We just want to continue on with what she started and we’ve grown and expanded in our hours and offerings,” said Gibbs.

There is no monkeying around here. They grew from one to three locations with a fourth under construction and skyrocketed from eight employees to more than 120.

“It’s been really interesting to be here at this time in the company’s life. They have been around for 10 years, but in the last year we have opened three new stores and done a renovation. It’s been really cool,” said lead barista Moriah Claud.

Frothy Monkey is anticipating the opening of their new downtown location in the summer. It is squeezed between a pair of art galleries, surrounded by an handful of local businesses and will be twice the size of the 12 South store.

The atmosphere at Frothy Monkey is one that keeps their customers swinging by for more. The laid back environment is enjoyable to be in.

“It’s definitely the coffee shop I choose when I want to go somewhere that’s more upbeat and the atmosphere really captures a positive environment,” said regular customer Andrea Arnouk.

Gibbs is quick to point out he believes the success of Frothy comes from the people on both sides of the counter.

“The people that work here are fantastic. The staff does a really good job of making the customers feel like guests. They are engaging and are interested in what our customers are into,” Gibbs said. “That is our strongest asset.”

He also fully believes that without that attitude, the shop wouldn’t be what it is today.

“This is a people business. It just happens that we scramble eggs and brew pots of coffee. It’s the people that make this all work,” said Gibbs.

Gibbs said customers would be surprised to know how much the staff actually cares. There is careful thought behind everything they do.

“I love an eight-ounce latte and making it really pretty and getting that reaction—that’s my favorite,” said Claud.

Describing Frothy in one word is easy for the staffers. It all boils down to hospitality, what the company builds their foundation on.

“Hospitality is our plug word,” said Claud.

Frothy Monkey is more than just great coffee and great food—it is about the people and the community that it creates. Places like Frothy bring people together and make them excited about local places.

“I love that they’re such a big thing and they’re local. So many people choose them over Starbucks or other big chains. They really are able to provide quality service and a quality product,” said Arnouk.

There is charm in the one-of-a-kind logo, the specialty drinks and the artwork on the walls. Frothy Monkey offers something different to their customers that they can only experience in Nashville.

“Especially for independently owned coffee shops, it’s just that mindset of the people who live in Nashville right now that they want to be a part of something. That started here and grew from here,” said Claud.

A large part of the community that Frothy tries to create comes from their partnerships with other local businesses like Hatcher Family Dairy and Buurma Farms. Gibbs wants the best products for the customers and also to maintain good relationships and trust within the local food community.

This local support is important to Gibbs and also to Frothy customers.

“It’s definitely important for me to go to local places, especially seeing as I want to own my own business someday,” said Arnouk.“It’s kind of just a known thing that locals support locals.”

Surprisingly, there is a lot of support between different Nashville coffee shops.

“There’s very little sense of this weird, awkward competition. We all go to each other’s shops; we all hang out after work,” said Gibbs.“The more I talk to coffee professionals across the country, everyone is like, ‘It’s amazing that you are all friends.’ It’s normal for us.”

Frothy Monkey is a destination for both tourists and residents of Nashville. The cool vibe mixed with great food and unique coffee makes for an all around pleasant experience.

It captures the Nashville culture in one place.

“Flannel and coffee go so well together, and there’s a lot of flannel here,” said Claud.

As for their next move, Gibbs said they are looking around.

“It’s a constant dialogue about what we want to do next,” he said. “Yes, we want to grow, but we don’t want to spread ourselves so thin that anything begins to lack, or quality begins to decline.”

For right now, they are focusing on their new location downtown and want to open it as soon as possible.

As year number 10 is on the horizon, they continue to keep their customers happy and coming back for another sip.

“We’re always a little surprised and grateful that people show up,” said Gibbs.

-Aryn Van Dyke

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