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Sean Belknap certainly isn’t bearish when it comes to a good cup of coffee. And as owners of Bear Cave Coffee in downtown Mesquite, he and his wife, Hillary, hope the people of Mesquite aren’t either.
But Sean says Bear Cave – located inside The Corner Theatre at 214 W. Davis St. on the historic Heritage Square – is about more than just a cup of coffee.
“I feel we’ve created an awesome space for people in the community to gather, share ideas and share friendships,” Sean said. “We’re trying to create a space where people love to come to share life. It’s what makes Bear Cave a great place.”
In addition to their menu of coffees, hot chocolate, Italian cream sodas, seasonal drinks and in-house pastries, Bear Cave also often serves up open mic, movie and trivia nights; pop-up shops for other local businesses and other community-related events.
But any good story needs a starting point. And the starting point for Bear Cave came a long way from home for the lifelong Mesquite residents – about 1,500 miles from home to be exact.
“[Hillary] and I went to Wyoming on our honeymoon and we were able to hike all around Yellowstone and Grand Teton [national parks],” Sean said. “I wanted to bring some aspect of that back to Texas with us. I wanted to open a coffee shop but didn’t really know what it would be called. [The name] came from our love for bears and there’s not really a mountain vibe in Texas so I wanted to bring that down here because it’s so different.”
But with no prior experience in the business, the Belknaps first had to school themselves on the ins and outs of coffee.
“We did go into this sort of blind,” Sean said. “We had no prior coffee shop or barista training. Only through videos and research did we learn.”
The couple was also fortunate to have a friend who’s a skilled barista and he, along with another friend, helped fill in the gaps in their coffee education.
“They trained us in the art of coffee,” Sean said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a grizzled veteran but someone who continues to learn every day.”
But even with the commitment to strike out on their own, a name for new their venture and the basics of all things java, the Belknaps didn’t yet have a location lined up where they could hang an “Open for Business” sign.
So they did the next best thing – they threw caution to the wind and introduced Bear Cave Coffee to Mesquite as a pop-up business in November of 2018, serving up steaming cups of Joe at a handful of seasonal events on the downtown square while keeping their day jobs – Sean as a youth pastor and part-time bookkeeper and Hillary as a photographer. Roughly six months later, though, they were ready to take the next step.
“We sat down and just told each other we had to go all in with what we wanted and that’s when we made the transition from pop-up to full time,” Sean said.
Through the efforts of Beverly Abell, the City of Mesquite’s downtown development manager, the Belknaps discovered the perfect situation that today has them in their current brick-and-mortar location.
“I contacted [Beverly] and had a meeting and laid out our plans and she mentioned to me that The Corner Theatre was looking for someone with a business to occupy their front space to bring people in from the community.”
So by June of 2019, Sean and Hillary were ready to throw open the front door on Mesquite’s only independent coffee shop.
And while Bear Cave’s genesis may have been born in the wide open spaces of Wyoming, the shop’s mainstay – coffee – has a decidedly Texas flavor to it with beans coming from a source just 90 miles or so east of Mesquite in Tyler – Porch Culture Coffee Roasters.
“[They] are awesome roasters,” Sean said. “I really wanted to use a roaster I could develop a good relationship with and Porch Culture was all about developing a relationship with us, as well as teaching and providing the highest quality product.”
It’s been roughly two years since taking those first steps in opening their business but Sean says the philosophy behind Bear Cave remains the same – being a part of the Mesquite community.
“We love bringing people together – whether it be for a great cause or just because it’s a wonderful thing,” Sean said. “A lot of work goes into creating and running the things we do and with people coming in and using our space and purchasing our goods, it just means so much to Hillary and I. This [business] has given us the opportunity to satisfy everyone's caffeine craving from a spot that places us right in the middle of all the warmth and love this town has to offer. Our biggest hope is that we can give as much back to this town as it has given us throughout our lives.”
And as they say on their website – Bear Cave means great coffee, good people and grand adventure.
Bear Cave is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday and offers dine-in, takeout and curbside service.