Inman Coffee sweetens its outreach to community

By: David Ibata

Inman Coffee, the famous Salvation Army coffee house of the Cleveland, Tennessee, Corps, was closed this summer – two months for renovations, to build a new stage for live performances, and two more months after a car plowed into the building, delaying the re-opening – and during this time, staff had plenty of time to think of new ways to attract customers.

Sgt. Ruthie Forgey, corps administrator, and Cheryl Rogers, food service manager at Inman Coffee, decided to appeal to the community’s sweet tooth: Expanding their bakery goods, many originating in beloved family recipes, prepared on-site by Rogers.

“Our goal is to be Cleveland’s sweetest spot,” Sgt. Forgey said. “We have the coffee, so we’re already ‘brewing the most good.’ We’ve offered pastries since the coffee house opened seven years ago, but when we renovated and reopened in September, we stepped them up a bit to try to draw more traffic, and we’re now really promoting them.”

Inman had long offered small treats like cookies and cupcakes. This fall, it began selling full-fledged desserts like caramel apple pie, Mason jar peach cobbler with ice cream, vanilla-glazed pound cake, and its most popular offering, a pumpkin crunch served with salted caramel ice cream. Rogers spends two hours a day at the shop baking, sometimes with volunteers but usually by herself.

“The pumpkin crunch comes from where I’m originally from, North Carolina,” Rogers said. “Other recipes I’ve collected over the years. I trained in a culinary program back home and was able to collect recipes then. And a lot of them are from my family, particularly my grandmother.”

“Right now, we have a lot of desserts with fall flavors. When we transition to the Christmas holidays, we’ll transition to flavors more in keeping with the season.”

The menu was still being worked on as this story was written, but Rogers said, “I have a couple of recipes with cranberries in them, others with chocolate; we’ll get some of those more dense desserts. More cakes, and possibly a bread pudding. I’m also experimenting with an Earl Grey Cake, with tea that’s steeped and added to the batter.”

Rogers and her husband, Joel, came to Cleveland from Sylva, North Carolina. She has an associate’s degree from Southwestern Community College in Sylva and a bachelor’s in business management from DeVry University. Two years after they were married, Joel applied for a position in the Community Relations Department at the Chattanooga, Tennessee, Metropolitan Area Command.

“He went through the interview process, and they said we have good news and bad news,” Cheryl Rogers said. “The bad news is, you’d hate this job – the job was a desk job, but they saw Joel’s heart was in ministry, particularly with young adults, and that he’d be miserable working behind a desk 40 hours a week. The good news is, we have someone we want you to meet: Sgt. Forgey.”

Joel Rogers volunteered for a year with the Army, and he and Cheryl worked with Sgt. Forgey to set up the Cleveland Corps, which launched in 2010 at 435 Inman St. West. The Inman Street Coffee House (its name has since been shortened) opened in the same building the following year.

“We shared Sgt. Forgey’s vision for a coffee house,” Cheryl Rogers said. Today, Joel Rogers is young people’s sergeant major in Chattanooga, Cheryl is managing Inman Coffee, and both are soldiers.

Sgt. Forgey said, “One of our taglines is, ‘Drink Coffee, Change Lives.’ We’ve literally changed lives in the city, county, country and around the world.”

“One young woman came in to use our WiFi, and now she’s a commissioned officer. One of our baristas just opened a coffee shop in Cambodia with the same idea – a front porch ministry where people can come in and have a relationship with us. Many people have come to know the Lord or come back to the Lord, just because they came in to have a cup of coffee.”

Back to the baked goods. Since their introduction this fall, sales have been brisk.

“People say they love it and want to put in orders for the holiday season,” Cheryl Rogers said. “I’ve made pumpkin crunch for 30 people, and a smaller assorted box of a dozen or two dozen pastries – turnovers, cookies, things like that – for others.”

For the future, she said, “we eventually would like to start serving lighter items – soups, salads and sandwiches, things along that line. We have some logistical things we need to consider before we do. We’d also like to eventually get a food truck and do more catering out of the coffee house.”