Jazz and java: Melodic Latte Cafe brings new energy, inspiration to Beaufort arts scene

September 16, 2011 

  • The Melodic Latte Cafe is inside ARTworks at Beaufort Town Center. The cafe is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

    Details: www.MelodicLatteCafe.com

When Beaufort singer Mahoganee and her husband, Cheefah Dray, wanted to open a cafe, they sought a location that could promote the jazzy, kicked-back vibe they hoped it would create. They imagined a place that would attract a crowd after concerts or art openings, a place where artists could mingle with art lovers over coffee and dessert.

They searched Beaufort, but initially had trouble finding a good location. Then they thought, instead of putting it in a spot where it could draw a crowd from a theater or gallery, why not put it in the theater and gallery?

And so the Melodic Latte Cafe was born in ARTworks, the Beaufort community arts center that hosts concerts, shows and art exhibits.

"We thought of it as an accent to ARTworks," said Cheefah Dray, a producer and musician.

The couple moved to the Beaufort area from Washington, D.C., last September. Mahoganee's sister, Cynthia Stewart, lives in the area and introduced her to a friend involved with Organo Gold organic coffee.

While they were recording music and looking to start a cafe, Mahoganee and her husband got involved at ARTworks; she worked the front office and he volunteered to help in the recent expansion of the theater.

ARTworks also leases space to artists where they can take residence and work, display and sell. In addition to the resident artists, the organization has allowed independent businesses to take up shop in its spaces, such as the music store, Strings 'N Things.

ARTworks had space open, and the cafe seemed to be a perfect fit, executive director J.W. Rone said. It would attract an artsy vibe; visitors could come for a performance at the theater and stay for coffee. The arts center now has a sort-of European vibe, where guests can browse art then sip a latte in the cozy cafe.

"It's such a great addition to everything we have going on," Rone said. "The great thing is that it makes people stay longer."

They opened the cafe in March, going into business with Mahoganee's sister and her husband. The walls are covered in the history of music. You'll find posters of jazz giants John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and records from Bach to LL Cool J. Original artwork hangs; painter Abraham Brown even decorated a table with the images of jazz giants.

The jazzy vibe they're looking to create is leading to actual art, as well. They've started hosting MLC After 6, monthly open mic nights for musicians, poets and comedians at The Gallery on Bay Street.

The Melodic Latte Cafe's future is probably elsewhere, they said. Ideally, they'd like to move it to downtown Beaufort along the water. Their current spot gives them a place to attract a crowd and build a name. But a gathering place for artists can live anywhere.

"People love to discuss art and music," Mahoganee said. "That conversation can go on forever."

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