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In October 2020, The Ouachitas coffee roasters in Mena held their first tasting night as part of their official opening of a local brewery. It was a historic night for Polk County. This coffee shop became the first Arkansas brewery operating in a dry county. Among local supporters, The Ouachitas new hybrid shop received a great welcome.
That open-handed support came as a result of executing a grand vision. Six years ago, Derek Campbell dreamed of creating a space in his hometown to gather people in a welcoming place. He had opened the coffee shop but accelerated the vision. To include beer on the heels of a global pandemic took grit, determination, cooperation and lots of local support. Campbell acquired the first permit for a microbrewery in a dry county in Arkansas and shares his success with his whole community.
In 2019, Arkansas passed a bill that allowed microbreweries to open in dry counties. While they were not ready to start brewing, they followed the legislation closely. The brewery permit requires partnering with a restaurant, so they decided to serve three favorite things under one roof – coffee, pizza and beer.
“Our goal here has always been to create a welcoming environment where everyone can gather. And, now we want more nightlife and other businesses to grow in Mena,” shared Campbell. While serving alcohol can be a divisive issue, he wants people to know the goal is to bring new people into their community. Travelers and visitors show up for Queen Wilhelmina State Park, Wolf Pen Gap, gravel biking roads, and spend quiet weekends among the Ouachita National Forest. Now they have a new place to roost.
The Ouachitas started in 2018 as a Main Street coffee shop. The shop grew to a diverse food portfolio of bakery, pizza and brew food. The coffee community has a following, but Campbell says providing a place for live music, trivia nights, workspace, or meet-up options has always been a goal. “We have sofas, tables, barstools and are about to finish a fine-dining feel to the back part of our dining room.”
Another marker of The Ouachitas is the knowledgeable staff who take pride in the food and beverages they prepare.
I stopped by one Friday night on our way to a cabin for the weekend and wanted something fun and earthy to drink in my morning coffee cup. The baristas talked me through the flavor notes of each of the coffee options. This approach and attention to community and gathering have added to the growth and success of The Ouachitas.
Derek and his team use their experiences to develop a thriving business and cornerstone entertainment district in a rural Arkansas community to train and develop others. In addition, his team is constantly consulting other dry-county communities and serving on a brewer’s guild to lobby for fair representation in economic development strategies.
Whether you are traveling through the area for a scenic drive along the Talimena Byway or heading south to visit family, stop in downtown Mena for a cup of coffee. Or sit awhile and enjoy some brew and live music with your favorite people.
All images courtesy of The Ouachitas.
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[…] any of Arkansas’ four seasons with a wraparound porch atop the Ouachita National Forest. Nearby downtown Mena, Talimena Byway, Wolf Pen Gap, and local hiking trails offer plenty of spaces to experience nature, […]
[…] welcoming place. He began roasting highly nuanced blends of coffee on a weekly basis. From there, The Ouachitas has grown into a favorite destination for patrons seeking coffee, food, beer, and even the […]