Customers stopping by the Crepe Myrtle Cafe to grab lunch will likely walk through a garden of potted plants, cross paths with a chicken or two and pass bins of fresh produce and homemade edibles for sale before they even make it to the counter to order.
The restaurant is King Braswell’s creation opened in 2008 on the corner of South College Street and South Donahue Drive.
After graduating from Auburn University in 1990 with a degree in horticulture, Braswell first started a wholesale nursery in Auburn.
“I’m entrepreneurial by nature,” he said. “That’s the spirit in me, and I just wanted to sort of try to do things for myself—make it on my own.”
His business eventually evolved from wholesale to retail, and in 1993, he and his brother opened the plant nursery Blooming Colors.
During the economic downturn of 2008, Braswell said they felt they needed something to help balance out their cash flow. Thus, the Crepe Myrtle Cafe was born, built next to the nursery.
“We felt like people needed to eat, and we felt like this was a good concept for us, and that people would enjoy an experience like our cafe combined with our retail nursery,” Braswell said.
Braswell has since added a market space to the restaurant building, where customers can buy fresh, often locally grown produce, eggs, jams and other edibles. The idea to combine a nursery, restaurant and market environment was uniquely Braswell’s, inspired by his love for horticulture.
“Horticulture really encompasses almost all facets of life in some way, shape or another,” he said.
Horticulture is the study of fruits, vegetables, flowers and all plant production, with an emphasis on small-scale gardening and landscaping.
“My goal in my career has always been to center my world around everything horticulture,” Braswell said. “So the restaurant was just a good, natural step toward that.”
Braswell said it feels like he doesn’t really have a job.
“It’s like recreation every day,” he said. “I created a place that is kind of like my playground. I love seeing everybody come here and play. I felt like if this makes me happy, surely there are like-minded people.”
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Braswell’s playground includes not only food and plants, but animals as well. Several chickens roam the property, resting under the outdoor patio tables or digging in the earth around potted shrubs. A few kittens also trot up to visitors, eager to be petted.
“The chickens are just sort of part of who we are,” Braswell said. “The chickens and kittens. We always have kittens around here.”
Blooming Colors is known for accepting stray kittens that locals find. The staff and customers socialize the kittens, and the nursery finds homes for them in the community.
Although Braswell doesn’t personally cook the cafe’s feature crepes or any other food, he develops the menu and tastes everything himself. Occasionally, an employee will contribute to the restaurant offerings as well. Braswell says they have a great team of workers at the restaurant and nursery.
“We try to hire like-minded people, people that have really giving hearts, people that want to serve others,” he said. “We want to give Ritz-Carlton service with Southern flair, and that’s one of our goals.
To make people feel great about themselves no matter what walk and what life they’re coming from.”This business and life philosophy of Braswell’s is what gives the café its holistic nature and unique charm.
“Myself as a person, I’m a person that likes to do for others,” Braswell said. “I like to make people’s worlds bright and happy. I love for people to bask in the beauty of nature in a way that I can provide for them. I feel like when people encounter this, that their world is better for it because all day long they’re in the rat race. So my plight in life really is to try to create an environment where people can take pause and enjoy it and relax and feel good about their space.”
At the Crepe Myrtle Cafe, that space includes crepes, potted plants, fresh and local food, a flock of chickens, a handful of kittens, and many people to enjoy it all.