Keeping up the Mojo

Students can stop by Mojo Books and Records to pick up vinyl records, books or a handcrafted cup of coffee. ORACLE PHOTO/NICOLE CATE.

At a time when technology is moving so fast, sometimes it’s best to take a step back and appreciate the art forms of yesterday. While many people, if not everyone, currently have both their music and books loaded onto their phones, or some other device, there is still a community of people who believe a book is best read on a page and for the ultimate listening experience for any song, one needs pressed vinyl and a record player.

For members of this community who attend USF, or just live in Tampa, Mojo Books and Records might be a frequent stop.

Melanie Cade, co-owner of the store, said that she met her fellow co-owner and significant other, Dan Drummond, in 2001 when they both attended USF. Drummond sold books at Bull Market for many years, but stopped in the mid-2000s to transition to selling them online.

He and Cade spoke about opening a brick-and-mortar store for a while, and the timing felt right when Cade finished her Masters degree in business administration.

“We started investigating around the area and we knew that we wanted to be near USF, so that was the primary motivator,” Cade said.

Then, it was a matter of finding a space big enough in the area. When they came across the original storefront at 2558 E Fowler Ave, it had the advantage of being beside a new Chipotle, which meant more foot traffic from the eatery, so Cade and Drummond decided this was a good location.

In 2011, Mojo moved two doors down to the space it now calls home. This move allowed them to not only house more records and books, but to also open a cafe.

According to Cade, Drummond has played music and collected records all of his life, and her already established love for books has only grown stronger since they opened their doors.

“Definitely, it’s a marriage of interests in terms of what the store is,” Cade said. “Then, I developed an appreciation for third-wave coffee somewhere back in the mid-2000s. So then we decided to integrate that into the store when we expanded.”

The first wave of coffee was the beginning of the mass production of coffee for household consumption, what Cade describes as “like Maxwell House, the coffee your grandparents drank,” whereas the second wave was the explosion of interests in specialty coffee, such as lattes and cappuccinos.

“But then the third wave is going beyond that and really trying to get into the nuances of quality,” Cade said. “So it’s things like sourcing the best beans, real craftsmanship in roasting, really paying justice to all of that on the coffee shop side of things with brewing … implementing science, and care and going down to the Nth degree in terms of quality standards to really highlight what you’re doing.”

As a result, Mojo is one of only a few coffee shops in Tampa that manually brews their coffee. This means that they make every cup of coffee by hand.

“Things like changing the grind size of the coffee by really minute amounts can actually impact the flavor of the cup,” Cade said. “Or changing the timing by a matter of seconds this way, or the temperature of the water, or the exact number of grams of the water that you use, or different pour methods.”

They offer various types of coffee brewing techniques such as pour-over, Chemex, air press and French press. 

While this may sound complicated, Cade said that they no longer hire employees solely for the fact that they have coffee experience. She said that you could train someone to do any of these, whereas you can’t train for good customer service. Of the eight people on staff, she said about half of them are USF students.

Over the past decade, the store has had its ups and down, according to Cade. It took a couple years to get off the ground, depending on word-of-mouth.

“When we first opened, I’d say the first day we opened, maybe a dozen people came through the doors,” Cade said. “I don’t know if we ever had a $0 day, but we definitely had some days that were close to that in the beginning.”

While they still have some occasional difficulties, Cade said that this is a characteristic of any small business. At the end of the day, she still finds the work rewarding, no matter what happens.

“There’s always something going on. If six months happen where you don’t have any emergencies, you know something’s coming,” Cade said. “But overall I’d say it’s a good life.”

Now, they have a steady flow of people coming through their doors, even though their clientele is always changing. Cade attributes this to being near a university, as there are always new students coming and going.

She said when one takes into consideration students, faculty and visitors of USF, at least half of their business is through the college.

A huge proponent of supporting small businesses because of their positive effects on the local economy, Cade said there is no current plan in the works for expanding.

“(It’s) something we always talk about when things are running smoothly,” she said. “It’s one of those things with a question mark. Maybe in the future.”