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A spirit that is not afraid

Doctoral student opens coffee shop in Opelika

<p>Catrice Hixon, owner of Melanin Café opened her coffee shop in September 2021.&nbsp;</p>

Catrice Hixon, owner of Melanin Café opened her coffee shop in September 2021. 

Catrice Hixon is the owner of the Melanin Coffee Shop in Opelika, Alabama. Since college, Hixon has dreamed of owning a coffee shop. After opening in September that dream is a reality. 

Born and raised in Opelika, Hixon described herself as a quiet child who "kept her head in the books." She was a member of the Science National Honor Society and stated that she "came alive" in science classes. 

Hixon's love for science prompted her to study biology at the University of Alabama in Birmingham in 2007. She wanted to become a forensic scientist.  

Like many college students, Hixon worked as a barista at Joe Muggs to put herself through school. It was there that she discovered a passion that would change her life forever.  

"I fell in love with making drinks and learning about lattes, espressos and cappuccinos," Hixon said. "It was truly a joy and it was so much fun. So, I said to myself, 'One day I'm gonna own a coffee shop, I think I would be good at that.'"

Hixon wrote her goal down but found herself putting it to the side. She said she kept the goal to herself and would revisit it sometimes. She always knew she wanted to own a coffee shop one day.

While in college, Hixon met her now-husband, Jakyra, through a mutual friend. Jakyra said when he first met her, she completely ignored him, but eventually he approached her and the two exchanged numbers. 

After several years of dating, the couple got married in 2012 as college graduates. They moved to Huntsville, Alabama, and the following year welcomed their daughter, Madelyn.  

Hundreds of miles away from home, Hixon realized she wanted to move back to Opelika. However, it was not so easy to relocate.  

Aside from being a newlywed and a new mother, Hixon was a biology graduate student at Alabama A&M University. But one thing prompted her transition, her love for her mother.    

"I'm a mama's girl, that's my heart," Hixon said. "I missed her a lot and wanted my children to have a relationship with the person who was instrumental and influential in my life."     

In 2014,  Catrice Hixon moved back to Opelika and welcomed a son, Jakyra Jr. She worked various jobs, including retail and as a microbiologist at the State of Alabama Clinical laboratory in Montgomery in 2015.  

Hixon continued her studies by enrolling in the Auburn University biology graduate program in 2017. Shortly after, she transitioned to the doctoral program and accepted a position as a graduate teaching assistant for biology classes.  

Still, Hixon felt something was missing.  

In 2020, while in quarantine, Hixon revisited a list of goals she had not yet accomplished. One of those goals was owning a coffee shop, and it was then that she honed in on her plan. 

"Everything slowed down, and I was grading papers and writing my dissertation, but I had plenty of time to think about my purpose on this earth and what I wanted to achieve," Hixon said. "And then I thought to myself, 'It's time to start my coffee shop.'" 

As a first-time business owner, Hixon was nervous, but she was determined to open her own business and she had support from her "number one fan," her mother. 

Hixon's husband, Jakyra, also encouraged her to open her business.

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"I told her to go for it and put her best foot forward," Jakai said. "She's superwoman and very smart, always has been, and I knew she was capable of running a successful business."

Hixon started small. She began by making coffee at home and catering to a local church in Opelika once state officials relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.  

Hixon named her business Melanin Cafe because she wants people to embrace the pigment of their skin, celebrate the diversity of melanin in society and educate people on the highly melanated people in history.

"A lot of the time, we don't hear about any of the Black inventors and doctors and scientist that contributed to this country," Hixon said. "It's not just black history; it's American history." 

On a mission to provide people with a space to have "a taste of coffee & culture," Hixon named all the beverages after a Black person, event in history or a historical location. 

One of her beverages is named Kowaliga, a once-thriving predominately African American community, which flooded and is now covered by Lake Martin in East-Central Alabama. Another drink, Blood Bank, is named after Dr. Charles Drew, a medical researcher who developed large-scale blood banks early in World War II.   

After receiving rave reviews for her beverages at the church, Hixon decided to open a pop-up cafe in Opelika at The Dr. J. W. Darden House, a community center, every Saturday in February.     

In June, Hixon received funding from the Lee-Russell Council of Governments and purchased a vacant building near Southern Union Community College. She opened for business in September 2021.   

The cafe is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m.- 2 p.m.. It also sells food, such as paninis, bread and cupcakes.

Since its opening in September, the café has made an impression with café lovers in the area. One fan posted on the restaurant's Facebook Page, "Just tried the lemonade oh my when I say good good good. It should be in stores all over the world." 

Hixon called it a "dreamed come true" since opening the cafe. She stated that achieving a goal has been fulfilling.  

"It feels so surreal to know that I finally accomplished something that I have always dreamed about, " Hixon said. "Seeing a goal be accomplished and vision coming forth is the greatest feeling, and the fact that I'm creating a legacy that I can leave for my kids adds to the greatness."  

Though Hixon has achieved her dream of opening a coffee shop, she still maintains her job as a teaching assistant and hopes to work in the medical field. After earning her doctorate degree, she plans to open a medical lab and a science center in the Opelika andAuburn area for children.   

Since opening the cafe, she said balancing a professional and personal life has been challenging. But with support from her friends and family, it has become easier. On days when she cannot work, her loved ones operate the cafe, a gesture she deeply appreciates.

Hixon plans to continue to operate her business after she earns her doctorate. She wants to establish generational wealth for her children, expand the location across the country and be a role model to those who have a passion for multiple fields.  

Hixon said she realizes she has a lot to learn about the restaurant business. In the meantime, she is excited she has accomplished her long-awaited goal and wants others to strive for their dreams.  

"Melanin Cafe is my baby," Hixon said. "And I know If I can make my vision a reality, anyone can. If you just put your mind to it if you work hard, if you go forward and don't let anything stop you, you can accomplish anything, and your dreams can and will come true." 

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