Jahva House artfully attracts customers

Small business

May 22, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Enter the store with the purple door. Sit down on a lavender chair at the table that reads JahvaHouse, or follow the purple banister to the second floor, where businessmen meet over coffee, or to the third floor, where afternoon tea will soon be served.

This Ellicott City business, opened about a year and a half ago from a $50 promise, is dishing out coffee, munchies and sandwiches -- all with a colorful splash of art."We just believe in art from the very beginning to the very end," said Kristin Potler, 28, who owns the coffeehouse with her husband, Devon.

The art at Jahva House -- spelled with an "h" because Jah means God, and the Potlers consider their coffeehouse a blessing -- begins with the pink, purple and lavender chairs and ends with works by three artists on display each month.

But for Devon Potler, considered an artist in his own right with his decorative presentation of meals, Jahva House is more than just a restaurant. It's part of a childhood dream."We were sitting in a restaurant one day, me and my grandfather," he recalled, "and I told my grandfather, `By the time I'm 25, I'm going to own a restaurant.'"

He turned 25 in August.

The couple opened their Main Street coffeehouse with no money and no assets, only a trusting landlord, Kristin said. "We started this with a $50, good-faith deposit," Devon said.

Funding later came with help from their families and a $30,000 grant from the Jim Rouse Entrepreneurial Fund Inc. With painting and renovations, the store opened for Ellicott City's Midnight Madness in 1998.

At first, coffee sales were higher than food sales for the restaurant, which focuses on vegetarian dishes.

Now, it's the other way around. Jahva House's busiest time is lunch, when employees from the courthouse and businesses come to eat portobello mushroom sandwiches at small tables with hand-painted scenes.

The couple also run a catering business, which they hope to expand until it's a large percentage of Jahva House's profits, and they are planning to convert the third floor to a tea room, where tea and scones will be served five afternoons a week.

The coffeehouse has one full-time employee and four part-time workers.

Devon Potter handles the cooking, and his wife manages the books and runs the catering business from home, where she spends her days with their three children.

On Sunday nights, Jahva House plays host to a discussion group on faith, which is sometimes preceded by a movie shown using a friend's projector system.

The Potters also hold open mike night there on Wednesdays and live music Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

On weekend nights, the coffeehouse often fills with a crowd very different from the local businessmen at lunch. Groups of teen-agers and college students, sipping coffee and playing music, fill the building and sometimes spill out on the street.

In the past, the crowd upset nearby residents and business owners, who complained the teens were noisy and rowdy. Jahva House imposed a $2 minimum after 7 p.m. to help prevent loitering, and Kristin Potter said she hasn't heard any complaints since.

Ed Lilly, president of the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation, who had agreed to mediate the situation, confirmed that there haven't been any problems at the coffeehouse in the past few months."They have taken measures to try and help the situation," he said.

Kristin Potter said many parents of those who hang out at the coffeehouse are thankful for the alcohol-free, drug-free environment for their teens at night."It's become a home away from home for a lot of people," she said.

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