Monica Smith and Matt Lewis were only looking for a place to live when they came across the old Hiroshi's building on Main Street. "We'd always toyed with the idea of opening a coffee shop over the years, and this place had a condo above it, so we just kind of fell into it," Monica says.
Make no mistake, these two are no strangers to the restaurant industry. Owner of The Honest Pint and The Terminal, Matt has a successful track record.
And Monica has been in the restaurant business for years, both in Nashville and Chattanooga. Nonetheless, opening a new restaurant is not for the faint of heart. "The first day we opened, our coffee machine broke, so we had our staff running back and forth from The Terminal bringing fresh coffee. Literally, running," Monica says. "Right now we eat, breathe and sleep here at the Mean Mug, but really it's not that bad."
Still, it has been rewarding. Only open since December, people walk in and thank them for opening up on Main. "We thought there was a need for a coffee shop with a focus on food in this neighborhood, and everyone has been so welcoming. The lunch business is really taking off," she says. No wonder. It's reasonable, exceptionally good and the portions are generous. The Nuevo Pane is prosciutto with fig jam, brie and arugula for $7, and the Vegitale One is roasted eggplant, hummus, red peppers and arugula for $5. There are nine more sandwiches, plus a special (mine was smoked salmon with pesto mayo and arugula) and they come with a side of chips or pasta salad. Black olives and red peppers and a light vinaigrette make that pasta salad worth ordering alone. There are a few salads plus a soup of the day, and also quiche, steel cut oatmeal, homemade granola and yogurt for breakfast.
Monica loves to bake, so in addition to her home-made coffee cakes, muffins, biscotti and 'treat' of the day, she recently began making bagels. If you 'like' The Mean Mug on Facebook, you can often request something special for the day. Monica has been known to ask their fans what they're craving every now and then, and if it works out, she's happy to bake it. Strawberry Nutella Muffins were a response to a Facebook comment, and should be a staple.
All the sandwiches come on either sandwich bread or a wrap, and Monica's toying with the idea of baking the bread from scratch as well.
They are just finishing up on the patio/courtyard now, painting a mural on the side wall, landscaping and building a fence around the whole dining area.
Low-key, inviting and down-to-earth, there is no frantic intimidating hustle bustle going on at The Mean Mug. A slew of vibrant paintings by a local artist hang on the old historic brick walls, and several lounge areas are tucked in the corners with modern orange chairs and a crewel-pillowed sofa and a coffee table made of a stack of suitcases. There are plenty of tables, as well. Still, people tend to belly up to the bar and chat with the stranger next to them, who, by the time the first cup of coffee is served, is no longer a stranger.
Which brings us to the coffee, last but not least. Roasted just down the street at Velo, the coffee beans are exceptional, and Monica loves keeping everything as local as possible. "The neighborhood on Main Street is so special, and great, with even more good things coming in the next couple of years."
And those good things will be in good company with The Mean Mug.
www.meanmugcoffee.com * 114 West Main * 825-4206