Using the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter raised $30,000 for a brother-and-sister small business team, allowing them to open their shared dream of a community-centric coffee shop in 2020.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges that followed, Zachary Hamlett and Shacole Hamlett’s startup The Hamlett Coffee Shop + Apothecary has thrived in Lemon Grove, offering holistic wellness elements and natural remedies for the community while acting as an incubator for other local Black-owned startups.
The siblings opened the shop in a cozy 1,900-square foot space at the corner of Broadway and Lemon Grove Avenue also to show that a Black-owned startup could prosper in the region.
Three years on, The Hamlett employees continue to dispense and sell health-minded supplements along with the business’s espressos, lattes, energy drinks, kombuchas and teas.
Add-ins for those interested in fortifying their drinks include ashwaganda, blue spirulina, dandelion root, elderberry, ginger, gingko, lavender flower, wildcrafted Irish sea moss, marshmallow leaf and mushroom powder.
The Hamlett also packages up most of the add-ins separately so people can purchase them to go.
“I feel like coffee is a form of apothecary by itself,” said Shacole Hamlett, who was raised in the San Carlos subdivision of San Diego and attended the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts and later High Tech High. “It’s a natural material from the earth that actually has medicinal benefits. I think what we’re offering is a menu of herbal remedies for all our daily issues.”
Up until 2020, Shacole Hamlett had been living in Los Angeles with her husband and son, but left when the pandemic brought to her the realization that she wanted to be closer to home.
“Once COVID hit, we were thinking, ‘If it’s the end of the world we definitely want to be with family and we don’t want to be in L.A. because that’s not a good place to be for the end of the world.’”
She said three days after that realization, her L.A.-headquartered family were moving into the home where her great-grandmother, great aunt, grandmother and brother, a 2020 High Tech High alumnus, were living, in San Carlos.
“All of us in the house together during COVID,” she said, laughing. “Stuck in the house together, it actually turned into a think tank about what Black economics look like in San Diego.”
“Zach was working online and we were having conversations about what he wanted to do. He had gone to one of the protests (against systemic racism against people of color) and he came back feeling sad, thinking there was nothing he could do. We talked about how to solve problems with racial equity in American and specifically where we are with it.”
Hamlett, a 2012 UC Irvine alumna, said that with her background of producing large-scale events and projects for big-name brands like Amazon, Disney and Google, “basically what I’ve been doing is starting up mini businesses for the brands. I thought it would be great if I could contribute something that will help the community, not just a big brand.”
In a bit of serendipity, she found what she said was a perfect spot for the business in Lemon Grove, she put her name on the lease, “got the support of the whole family” and The Hamlett was born.
There were challenges early on like when a vandal broke some windows. There were two more fundraisers for the business, and The Hamlett has continued to grow.
The business has changed a little bit recently, with Zachary, 21, leaving to study psychology at Sacramento State while Shacole, 32, runs the Hamlet with their mother, Nicole Johnson.
Shacole Hamlett credits the community’s support as key to The Hamlett continuing to serve East County.
“We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the community,” Hamlett said. “They have allowed us to be different than other coffee shops. It’s like the community wanted us and the community is working hard to keep us going. If it weren’t for that, we would have maybe given up a long time ago. The people tell us, ‘We are so happy you’re here, we want to see you stay here, don’t go anywhere!’ And we’re like, ‘OK, we’ll keep going!’”
Hamlett said she still considers the shop a “community-first space” where philanthropical groups feel welcome to engage. The Hamlett has held comedy nights, open mic events and hosts pop-ups like January’s Black-owned vintage clothing showcase.
It recently held a multigenerational collaboration that paired elders (or as Hamlett refers to seniors: “wisdom keepers”) with a younger crowd “to just talk about life,” she said.
“Our motto is ‘It Takes a Village,’ because to get The Hamlett to where it is, it really took a village,” she added. “Everyone had to buy in, help us, donate, for us to be there. They continue to support us by buying coffee and we will continue to give the space to support them.”