Welkin Coffee may have been a victim of its own success.
The coffee shop launched in 2016 by Derrick Smith was instrumental in advancing local appreciation of well-made coffee, and proving that Charlestonians will pay a premium for coffee expertise. But Smith this past weekend closed down both Welkin locations, citing the challenges of selling enough $5 lattes to stay solvent when there’s seemingly a decent coffee shop on every corner.
“The coffee community has grown tremendously, which is a beautiful thing,” says Smith, who previously served as Counter Culture Coffee’s equipment technician for South Carolina. “It’s hard for people to choose which one to go to. It’s not a matter of we did something wrong, or the quality wasn’t there. But there are only so many people getting coffee every morning.”
One of the few upscale food-and-drink businesses to take a chance on touristy Market Street, Welkin first opened between Lowcountry Bistro and Palmettoville, a t-shirt shop. In late 2017, it added a second store in a new development on Wingo Way in Mt. Pleasant.
“I think it was trajecting upward, but it was just slow,” says Smith. “We had great response: We had way more positive feedback and consistency, being in the neighborhood, but it takes time to build. It just seemed like the smartest thing to do was go ahead and call it.”
In short, Smith says, selling low-ticket items in high-rent spaces isn’t an ideal business arrangement. He points out that the area’s most successful coffee shops supplement their espresso menus with higher-margin food and alcoholic drinks; Smith is confident his baristas will find work in those places, if they choose.
Their last choice at Welkin was to close down with a party: The Mt. Pleasant location had already scheduled an event with Catawba Brewing Co. when Smith told his employees about the closing, so they decided to turn the Friday night tasting into a farewell bash.
“We decided a big party would be the most fun way to go out,” he says.