City With Soulé: Ezra Brown
Three simple things have been found to bring people together across nations and cultures time and again: coffee, music, and Wi-Fi.
Musician, arranger, southerner-turned-world-traveler, and entrepreneur Ezra Brown plans on using those key ingredients to stir the pot of what a coffeehouse can be with Soulé Coffee and Tea, located in the heart of Fondren.
"When I was touring all over the world, the one consistent thing was Wi-Fi," Brown said. "And everywhere I needed Wi-Fi, there was normally always coffee and drinks. From tiny espressos in Switzerland to the ritual of serving Attaya (a brew of green tea leaves, sugar, and often mint) in Africa, there's always community. You get a chance to hear stories, people talking about their whole lives, all over a cup of coffee."
Brown grew up in Florence, South Carolina, where his upbringing instilled a deep love for music. "My mom sings gospel, and my dad was a DJ, and we were always playing the Top 40 hits around the house," he said. "All those different cultural components were responsible for getting me to where I am today, as someone who loves everything from bluegrass to jazz."
At eighteen, Brown's first tour was with Jackson-born blues and gospel artist Dorothy Moore. Soon after, he began touring internationally with other musical acts and his high school's band. His whirlwind travels brought him back to Jackson State University, where he studied the Count Basie jazz style and developed lifelong connections with friends and colleagues that helped form his entrepreneurial spirit.
Continuing his tours abroad with other artists solidified his interest in coffee and tea, taking notes of nuances and traditions from Malaysia to Singapore and beyond. "Just seeing drinks other than sweet tea in the world changed my life, Brown said. "And seeing people that look like me speak different languages also changed my whole perspective. It made me want to dive into that life, where people value the meaning of drinks and sitting and talking."
Now, he is bringing global flavors to the capital city with the third brick-and-mortar location of Soulé Coffee and a food and beverage truck to take business and community to the streets.
"Jackson gave me love and the chance to explore; as an artist, as a musician, as an entrepreneur, as a person," Brown said. "It's only fitting to give my second hometown that same love. My whole thing has been about touring the world and getting new information and then bringing it back to the community to disperse and share. I'm here again to learn even more from the place that's given me everything."
Alongside crafted bubble teas and refreshers, espresso drinks, teas, and more, Brown hopes that Soulé will sow the same seeds of inspiration that he's experienced in cafes thousands of miles away, in search of free internet and a space to dream.
"I didn't have any experience. I did the research and jumped in. It was something I loved, and I took a chance, along with building a support team," he said. "I want people to know the 'difference' they're feeling, that 'weirdness,' that there's a weird community that feels the same way. They don't want to be normal for the rest of their life. They want something different, to see something different. And they may not have found that community, but it's there. Some of the community looks like them, some don't, but they all have that same frame of thinking. I want people to feel that at Soulé."
With technology like the cafe's self-serve, cashless checkout experience, and future programming for business development, Soulé also aims to be a change agent for young creators looking to make their mark in Mississippi.
"It's going to take all of us, but we've got to do it," Brown said. "It's really important to show all the different aspects of how something can be done, and let individuals, especially young people, choose. I want to help aggregate the future with a strong network and economic inclusion, and I believe that's really important. Building that, fortifying that network, and having that community."
Soulé Cafe plans to have its Grand Opening in Fondren in late July. Keep up-to-date with their menu and events on their website and social media.