Carpe Café Brings Heart to Smyrna Depot District


Nine years ago, Ron Alley, founder of Carpe Artista, and a group of arts-loving supporters came up with the idea of opening a coffee shop in the Depot District. Alley knew the city was wanting to develop the area and he wanted to be a part of the preservation of old downtown Smyrna. His initial idea of a coffee shop was changed when Joy Conklin, who helped them get off the café ground, said she wanted to do a restaurant. And that is what they ended up doing, beating the odds and becoming an integral part of the growing downtown development.

“I was skeptical of a restaurant,” said Alley. “It is because of Joy that we beat the odds. Ninety percent of new restaurants don’t survive the first twelve months, and of that group, 90% don’t make it five years.”

Alley’s initial vision for the café was to have it be an integral part of his non-profit Carpe Artista arts training program — which is the parent of the Café — at what is now their events building down the street. But when the opportunity came up to open in their current café location, he took it. The doctor that owns the building believed in Alley’s vision and wanted to be involved.

With Carpe Café, the organization had the good fortune to put a stake in the ground as the Depot District got started, and the chance to provide the community with a place to gather and enjoy the talents of local young artists and musicians. For many years Carpe Artista also taught classes in the building, but they have since moved classes to their Academy location on Hazelwood Drive.

For Carpe Café’s 9th birthday, Chef Alberto Villalobos, the prize-winning culinary arts instructor at Smyrna High School, worked with them to update the menu. He has added his own special touch and he has been working with their young culinary artists. All of the coffees, teas, food, and desserts are hand-crafted by young adults interested in the culinary arts. These students also learn about the realities of running a restaurant, including management and entrepreneurship. They also make a point of using locally made products, like Raphael’s Roastery located on Coffee Street, in Coffee County.

In early March, the Café opened up a drive-thru window. Those wishing to order are able to do it online and then pull up to the drive-thru and pick up their order.

While the drive-thru is sure to be a hit, part of the charm of Café Artista is the vibe of the place. The people are friendly and it feels like a neighborhood gathering place. Like the old “Cheers” TV show song, here everyone knows your name if you are a regular. A full schedule of live entertainment takes place year-round, including performances by musicians, local authors, spoken word artists, and other performers.

The best part of having coffee with friends or a meal at Carpe Artista is that when you eat there you are helping to fund Carpe Artista’s arts programs and tuition assistance for deserving students. It is a social enterprise supporting young artists, their development, and the creation of a supportive community where they can develop their talents.

One day Alley still hopes to have a café in their event and performance venue just down the street in an old sheet factory building. His vision is to turn this old building into a focal point for the area with a larger café and stage, then turn their current space into a culinary arts school. While the pandemic put those plans on the back burner, perhaps in the near future they can begin moving forward on these plans.

Carpe Café

115 Front Street

Smyrna, Tennessee

(615) 984-4040

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