By Kristin Hackler
Drivers arriving on Johns Island from the Stono Bridge have always enjoyed the passage from hot concrete to the cool shade of overarching oaks. But with the opening of the new Southern Brews at the corner of River and Maybank, they’ll also be greeted with the warm smell of fresh coffee and hot-from-the-oven pastries.
Opening just last week in the old Island Cash Advance location, owner Michelle McMahan is bringing a little bit of her home state of Washington to the sunny shores of Charleston.
“When I moved to Charleston, I drove all over the place looking for a drive-thru coffee shop. We have thousands of them back home, but I couldn’t find one anywhere,” said McMahan.
A commercial realtor by trade, McMahan was still trying to find just the right job after moving to Charleston with her boyfriend, an employee at Boeing in North Charleston. Confounded by the lack of drive-thru coffee shops in the area, McMahan approached Charleston County to see if there were any in Charleston and found that there’s only one in Mount Pleasant.
“And I think she’s from Washington, too,” McMahan smiled.
With this in mind, McMahan began thinking past the need for finding a drive-thru coffee shop and began considering how to open one instead. So setting aside her realtor’s hat, McMahan picked up a barista’s apron and began researching the business of slinging coffee.
“I was originally thinking about opening a concessions trailer, but then I saw this building and it all fell into place,” said McMahan.
The old Island Cash Advance building was just the right size for drive-thru and would even allow for outdoor seating.
Five months later, McMahan was moving in boxes of coffee cups and putting the final touches on her menu.
“It’s something I thought about doing before, but it just wasn’t the right timing,” said McMahan.
When she first considered going into the coffee business back in Washington she studied under several experienced baristas, including a good friend of hers who owns a drive-thru in Seattle called Coffee Driven.
“I worked with her for a while and she taught me all about espresso-based drinks and the art of coffee,” said McMahan.
Today, the menu at Southern Brews reflects much of what she learned in coffee country, as well as what she’s learned about local tastes in the South.
“We tried to get as many of our products from local companies as possible,” said McMahan.
This includes the coffee itself, roasted by Island Coffee in Ravenel, and the produce used to make the six signature sandwiches on the menu. From the TLC (Turkey, Lettuce, Cranberries, and Pesto) to her favorite, the ABC (Apples, Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, and Honey Aioli), McMahan to keep the menu simple and the ingredients fresh from area farms.
“I like to eat healthy and be healthy, and I wanted to be able to provide that option to others,” said McMahan.
The healthy options don’t just stop at the sandwiches. Even the milk choices don’t stop with the option of skim or whole. Coffee fans can also pick from soy milk, almond milk, breve (half & half) or even coconut milk.
Need dessert? Southern Brews has small and large portions of gelato, with flavors such as banana split, caramel praline, mixed berry, and chocolate raspberry. And if it’s too early for dessert or lunch, the coffee shop also has fresh pastries for sale, including breakfast bagels, muffins, scones and hot cinnamon rolls.
Southern Brews officially opened in early May, but McMahan hopes to hold a grand opening celebration before the end of the month. Hours for the shop are Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. As the company is Christian-based, it will not be open on Sundays, through McMahan hopes in the future to hold fundraisers on Sundays with profits from the store going to area non-profits.
“We’re not just here to make money, we also want to give back to the local community,” said McMahan.
Southern Brews is located at 2812 Maybank Highway on Johns Island. For more information and to view their menu, visit www.southernbrewscoffee.com. If you have a non-profit or cause that needs help, email McMahan at email@example.com.