Sahra Hernandez (Business Administration ’25) grew up in the Grahamwood neighborhood of Memphis that is situated between Summer Avenue and Macon Road just east of Highland Street. She attended Grahamwood Elementary School, Treadwell Middle School, Brinkley Heights Academy, and graduated from Kingsbury High School — all of which are in the area — and Summer Avenue served as her “Main Street” for shopping, dining, and recreation.

Last spring, Sahra was talking to Carlos Castro, a friend and fellow Kingsbury alum who is serving in the military, and the idea of starting a business came up. “Carlos said, ‘I have this much money to invest. What do you think we should do with it?’” she recalled. “So, I became ‘the idea person,’ and we decided on a coffee shop. It really came out of nowhere. We don’t know how to make coffee or anything. And we’re 21, so we don’t know much about anything. We’re so young. But if we fail, it’s okay. ‘Cause we’re so young.”

Sahra then found herself searching for a location for their coffee shop — which had to be on Summer, of course — and found one in a new shopping strip called Grahamwood Crossing at the corner of Summer and Graham. “I reached out to them in May. We signed the lease the next day, and we got the space.”

They originally planned to open in August, but it was a new building and needed some preliminary work before it could be used as a coffee shop — including flooring, painting, and plumbing. Sahra started learning business lessons firsthand as she found herself dealing with licenses, permits, health inspections, and code enforcement. Luckily, she had some readily available assistance and advice. “My mom owned a restaurant for 15 years,” she said. “She’s retired now, but I was raised in a restaurant. And my mom knew about all those things.”

Plus, she had taken a Business Law course with Jessica McGarity Smith at CBU. “She’s a great business law teacher, and I remembered her discussing how an LLC [limited liability company] can be better than a sole proprietorship. I looked back at my notes from her class, and I signed up for an LLC.”

The coffee shop, which is named the Cats Cottage, opened in early October. Located behind Lily’s Bakery & Catering on the Graham Street side of the shopping strip, and across the street from Grahamwood Elementary School, the shop offers coffee and espresso, tea, boba, smoothies, breads, baked pastries, fish-shaped mini-waffles, and cookies — some of which come from Lily’s and Prima’s Bakery.

Sahra is the shop’s face, its manager, and its only employee. “I had to learn how to make coffee, because I’m the only one who works here.” She is also still a full-time student at CBU, so the shop’s hours are determined by her class schedule. She is currently taking courses in International Trade and Economics and Management Information Systems on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, and courses in Financial Management and International Marketing on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. 

“I work when I’m not in class,” she explained. “Mondays and Wednesdays, I work in the morning, and then I close and go to class. Tuesdays and Thursdays, it’s not open in the morning, but it opens in the afternoon because I don’t have class in the afternoon. I don’t have class on Fridays or weekends, so it’s open all day.”

She is also currently taking a course in Operations and Supply Chain Management that meets on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings — but she’s made arrangements with instructor Joseph Tillman to do most of her classwork online. “He’s been really nice and flexible, and he helped me a lot with his courses” Sahra said. “And that’s where I’ve gotten most of my help with the shop’s supply chain!”

She quickly adds that all her teachers have helped her in this new business. “Because their classes have taught me how to do what I’m doing,” she laughed. “Doing the business has made me like really look back at my teachers and realize I need to pay extra attention! It’s easy to go to college and be like, ‘I don’t wanna do this homework and stuff.’ But, man, my homework turned out to be so valuable in my real-life situation, in things such as balance sheets and income statements and all this stuff.”

Since Sahra grew up in her mother’s restaurant and spent her after-school time studying there, she wanted the Cats Cottage to be a place where neighborhood kids could come to read and relax and do their homework. With Grahamwood Elementary across the street and Treadwell and Kingsbury only a few minutes away, it has already become a natural gathering place for students and teachers alike. “I love teachers. I’ve always been a teacher’s pet,” she said. “So, there’s teachers and students everywhere, and it’s a place where they can come and have fun and just chill.”

She added that a lot of CBU students have also visited the shop and supported her new business. “I’m very quiet at school, so I don’t even know a lot of them. But, at the cafe, obviously I’m very outgoing and extroverted — and they’ve been really nice and supportive.”

Overall, she said that the café and the work involved in starting it and operating it has been a fun learning experience. “We’re so young still. So, it’s hard for me to know everything all at once, but I’ve already learned so much!”

And then there’s the name of the shop… the Cats Cottage. “I love cats,” Sahra explained. “So, I definitely wanted cats to be the shop’s theme. I was inspired by Japanese cat cafes.” Images of cats appear in the logo and the décor of the shop — and also in some of the cookies and doughnuts — but there are no actual cats in the Cats Cottage. “I’m actually allergic to them,” Sahra said. “But I have an outside cat named Dusty at home who comes in for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And recently there have been little baby cats hanging around.” 

And she has a definite plan for the future of the Cats Cottage. “If it goes well, I want to maybe expand to a bigger space. I’d like to make it a PC café, where we have computers available for customers to play games. And where I can have cats. Real cats.”

Photo courtesy of Stacey Greenberg/Edible Memphis.