Juanita Darden has kept multiple businesses afloat during the pandemic and is now poised to open a new restaurant in West Dayton this summer, one that city officials are eager to invest in. (Photos courtesy of Juanita Darden)
Local coffeehouse owner embarks on new business despite pandemic
By Malik Keith, Elevate Dayton
July 4, 2022
A record number of women and entrepreneurs of color are starting new businesses, undeterred by the disruption and difficulty of the past two years. What gives them the confidence to take such a risk in such an uncertain environment, and what support do they need to thrive?
Juanita Darden has kept multiple businesses afloat during the pandemic and is now poised to open a new restaurant in West Dayton this summer, one that city officials are eager to invest in. What can Juanita’s experience teach us about the outlook, resilience and resources necessary for Dayton’s women-, BIPOC-, and veteran-owned businesses to emerge stronger from COVID?
Darden, owner of Third Perk Coffeehouse & Wine Bar, plans to open a soul food kitchen in West Dayton. The restaurant, which will be located at 3907 West Third Street, will feature traditional favorites and healthy options such as jerk chicken, meatloaf, pot roast soups and more. The city of Dayton awarded her $50,000 out of the West Dayton Development Trust fund to support her new endeavor.
“The money from the city was very instrumental.” Darden said. “We have painted the space. We have had some electrical work done. I am excited about this restaurant.”
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For Darden, the seeds of entrepreneurship were planted at a young age. Her father worked for Dayton Tire and Rubber, where he would eventually retire once the company closed. In between shifts, he took on jobs as a cement finisher for additional income. Seeing her father using the skills he acquired over the years to work for himself left a life-long impression on Darden.
“I would see him do driveways and porches,” Darden said. “Being an entrepreneur was always a possibility.”
It wouldn’t be long before Darden took the first step into entrepreneurship. Her family had a vegetable garden at their home on Gunther Road. Living across the street from a senior housing complex, a 9-year-old Darden decided she would pick some of the vegetables from her family's garden and see how many she could sell.
“I had my little wagon I would pull across the street with our vegetables,” Darden said. “Everyone was really nice and kind to me.”
That feeling of validation, as a businesswoman, is something that has stayed with her throughout the years. She would eventually open Third Perk Coffeehouse & Wine Bar, which quickly became a household name in the city of Dayton, and would expand to multiple locations, including the Dayton Mall.
Shortly before the pandemic hit, Darden had plans to temporarily suspend operations so she could have carpal tunnel surgery.
“Once COVID hit, a lot of medical appointments were pushed to the side,” Darden said. “My lease was up at the coffeehouse, so I decided to move out and let things go.”
The location at the Dayton Mall remained open, but Darden said she still felt a responsibility to the city of Dayton, which has had its fair share of businesses close over the years.
“Once things reopened from COVID, people were very upset that I wasn't there. I didn’t feel like I had permission to leave downtown Dayton,” Darden said.
Darden eventually found a new space for her coffee shop at 146 East Third Street. “I signed a lease in July or August and we opened our doors on December 30th,” Darden said. “We had a fantastic opening.”
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Darden was able to take advantage of resources made available to businesses during the first 18 months of the pandemic. She received aid from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). The funds were used to help the Third Perk Coffeehouse downtown location sustain and support employees throughout the challenges that came with the pandemic.
Darden said the money was very beneficial and she hopes more is done to help people who are in her position understand how they can apply for loans and grants.
“There is a lot of red tape for these resources,” Darden said. “It would be nice to make sure there is help [for] people to understand those processes and the timetable it truly takes.”
With her eyes set on the grand opening of her new restaurant this summer, Darden says the choice to expand and try something new has always been part of her brand. The soul food carryout aims to have a price point of $15-$20 per person. She says much of the inspiration for this new venture is giving back to her hometown.
“It has never been just coffee,” Darden said. “It’s always been coffee and something else. We want to give the best customer service to West Dayton.”