By Anna Grace Usery
After growing up in the rural town of Water Valley, Shelly Hood never dreamed of coming back. That is, until a business proposition with free rent and an opportunity to pursue her passion of connecting the community came along.
Hood and her husband, Brent, are the owners and operators of the Valley’s newest and only coffee shop, Rave House Coffee. (Humble Bee owner Maggie Richardson recently sold her business). Shelly contacted Joe York, owner of the space where Rave house is located, when he posted an urgent message on his Facebook Nov. 19 that read:
“FREE RENT!!! Are you an intrepid entrepreneur with a thirst for delicious coffee and a hunger to kickstart your capitalist yearnings? How about this for an offer: If you’re willing to step up and fill the coffee shaped hole in the Water Valley experience, I have a storefront on Main St in Water Valley, with a built-in cantina-style space, window seating, occasionally fast internet, and I’ll offer FREE RENT for six months while you get your legs under you.”
“I told him I could do this today,” Shelly said of taking control of the space, with emphasis on the ‘today.’
York, who owns the property at 20 South Main St., said that after looking at the empty space for weeks, he knew as an entrepreneur he needed to take action. As an advocate and believer of Water Valley, he came to this conclusion: “If you’re willing to take a chance on Water Valley, we’re willing to take a chance on you.”
“She was excited, had a good plan, and had a record of doing this before in Grenada,” York said of Shelly. “It was just kind of a perfect match.”
In two weeks’ time, Shelly and her crew have moved in, decorated, and transformed the space into the Valley’s newest gathering hub.
The Hoods first began their coffee business in Grenada but closed it down two years ago. Shelly clarified that getting into the coffee business was not something she envisioned for herself, but it was the aspect of facilitating conversations across socio-economic lines that made her fall in love with it.
She knows best how to break those barriers. She and her husband have both black children and white children—which she lovingly refers to as her tribe—and they attend an all-black church where Brent is part of the ministry. She acknowledges that both white and black families are the patches that make up Water Valley’s quilt, and she’s going to try to integrate the community more than it already is.
“You don’t know what your real community is until you get outside the box,” she said.
Shelly tells the story of a young black man in-and-out of jail who frequented the coffee shop in Grenada “to be loved on.” She also recalls a man who was going to kill himself the very night he stepped into the shop, but he told Shelly she had said the right things at the right time to him. He would live to see another day.
“Yes, this is a coffee shop, but we want people to know they are valued and not alone,” she said. “We really just want to love on people, and we were in a place that we could step up and fill a need.”
In conjunction with filling the community’s spiritual and emotional needs, Shelly said customers are in for a treat with specialty coffees, lunch and breakfast items. Aside from Sonic, they will now become the only breakfast place open during the week in Water Valley.
Each menu item is cooked on a waffle iron, “which gives the food a different texture,” she said. She recommends one of their most popular sandwiches on the menu, the jalapeño popper sandwich. It is loaded with stuffed jalapeño peppers, bacon, provolone cheese, and a cream cheese ranch sauce. On the drink menu, she recommends the campfire latte.
“It’s s’mores in a cup,” she said, “with espresso and chocolate topped with marshmallow, graham crackers and chocolate.”
To augment the experience even further, Shelly said the barista will light it on fire, emulating that smoky, warm campfire experience.
Before the Water Valley storefront became available, the Hoods were working on debuting a food truck. Now, they plan to brand it as Rave House Coffee and rove around in Oxford while their flagship is stationed in the Valley. Shelly said they will experiment with how late the shop will stay open, but they will open each morning promptly at 6:30 a.m.