Abby Hoover
Managing Editor

Core Coffee at 546 Olive St. in Pendleton Heights celebrated its first anniversary this past weekend with friends, family and neighbors.

They pulled out all the stops with balloons, cake, specials from Peter May’s House of Kielbasa, local artists sharing their work, and Girl Scouts selling cookies out front for the casual and welcoming event.

A year ago, Eric and Deanna Bellamaganya began transitioning the former Splitlog Coffee Co. into their own cozy, local spot.

Splitlog approached Eric, whose real estate office shares a building with the shop, about selling the business.

“We think they were spread a little too thin, and they kind of bit off more than they could chew with this shop,” Deanna said about the Kansas City, Kan., coffee shop’s second location. “I think it was either, literally, close the doors or sell it.”

The Bellamaganyas heard for a long time from employees and management that it would likely close. Deanna tried to get them to engage with the neighborhood, come up with creative ideas to drum up business, and stick around, but they weren’t going to make it work.

“They want to sell it and before they branched out to – I guess – so-called chains or other coffee shops, they wanted to offer it to us, because they knew that we are the ones that got them to do this job,” Deanna said. “I mean, Eric nagged him for years to get the shop – and then when they did it, we even offered to manage it for them – We said, ‘If you will open it, we’ll manage it for you.’”

The Bellamaganyas had three weeks to make a decision once the offer was on the table.

“They named a price, and everything came with it,” Deanna said. “I mean, we basically bought the business, we didn’t buy the building… I’ve always wanted to own a coffee shop and an art gallery, and I knew that this place had much more potential than it was being given.”

Deanna had recently quit her job as General Manager at Farmhouse in River Market, and they were selling real estate.

They decided to say, “Yes!” and they took over on March 1 last year after a few weeks of training with Splitlog’s employees.

Deanna recalls the barista “crash course,” and has learned so much about coffee in the past year.

“I had no idea what being a barista was, and so we just had all this information being flooded,” Deanna said. “We came in here almost every day, and then we took over. March 1 was our first day.”

The strongest factor in their decision was that they wanted the shop to be here for the neighborhood.

“I always wanted to have a coffee shop and this is a perfect opportunity because, honestly, I never thought I would have one because of the setup. I mean, the setup was already here. I don’t know how to set up a coffee shop,” Deanna said. “It was already done. So that was a beautiful thing that I was able to just walk right in. It’s kind of like buying a house move-in ready, you know, the business was move-in ready.”

The first year has been an eye opener for them. Deanna said the experience has been hard, but great.

“A lot of bumps, but we hit the ground running and we doubled our business within like a month, and I know we’ve tripled our business that we took over,” Deanna said. “But it’s been great. It’s been a big learning curve. I will tell you, going into 2023 we’re streamlining.”

They’re making their daily and weekly processes more simple, and budgeting. They’ve decided to make their donuts in-house, although they’ll still have pastries from Blackhole Bakery.

“I’m trying to figure out what’s working, what’s not working,” Deanna said. “We’re still figuring it out… We’ve made a lot of great relationships – that’s probably been the best thing to me – because we’re all about community and we’re about relationship building. Whether that’s with your guests or with a vendor or whatever, we made super great relationships to bridge that gap. And we definitely want to be seen as part of the community.”

They want Core Coffee to be inclusive, welcoming and a home away from home for guests.

Looking back on all the long hours and frustration it took to get them here, Deanna is grateful they made it.

“I think the process of switching it over from Splitlog to Core Coffee was horrible,” Deanna said. “The City has got to come up with a system that makes more sense for business owners, because one person is not talking to the other person. Like the minute I think I know what I’m supposed to be doing, then I do it and then somebody just tells me I did it wrong, or I should have gone to them first, or I should have done that. Well, where’s the manual?”

They utilized the City’s BIZCARE office, which Deanna said was helpful, but the process was still long and complex.

“It took, I think, three or four months to get the fire department out here to clear us, and so I think it would be lovely if the City could just streamline their process because, honestly, I don’t know how business owners do it that don’t speak the language,” Deanna said. “And then with the health department, that was forever to get them out here and then they forced us to do the ceiling – which was fabulous, I’m so glad we did it by the way, it looks beautiful – but they haven’t been back to see it.”
Now that everything’s finally in order, they’re excited to start new partnerships with other local businesses, like Roma Bakery, in 2023.

Being part of their community for decades means a lot to Eric and Deanna, and they think it makes a difference to their guests.

“I would hope that everybody would say that because I think that a lot of people already know us, or at least know of us,” Deanna said. “I think that says a lot that we’ve invested, not only in our house here, but we’ve invested in a business here. I think it also says a lot to new people. I’ve seen that with new people I’ve met, like new homeowners and things like that, because they’ve said so.”

Eric and Deanna have lived in Pendleton Heights for 22 years, and they live less than a block from their businesses.

“Right now, it just seems so convenient,” Deanna said of their situation. “That has just worked out really well. I have lots of ideas for the future that I want to expand upon.”

The minute they took over, Deanna began curating artists for the space. She was an art director for 17 years, and wanted to immediately start showcasing local artists.

“We’ve been about a month and a half to two months per artist, so I’m slowly getting them on the schedule,” Deanna said.

Their second artist, Xavier Gayden, was in Deanna’s art program when he was 14. Now, he lives at Pendleton ArtsBlock next door and shows off his work at Core. He also painted the mural on the side of their building.

“It’s really allowing me to keep that part of my world going because I am a very creative person,” Deanna said. “I love that I get to showcase different artists, and we have different arrays of artists. I mean, we have a wood artist, we have a metal artist coming up, which I’m really excited about, a photographer currently. Woody was the last artist and he’s more fantasy art. So we’ve had different artists, which I love. So it’s a different flavor all the time. I think the community has responded really well to it.”

They’re trying to curate a space that feels like home.

“I want people to feel like they’re at a home away from home, like they can sit here for four hours and nobody’s going to make them feel like they should get up from their table and nobody’s going to make them feel like they should order a second drink if they don’t want to,” Deanna said. “I mean, we want people to feel very, very comfortable. We try to keep kind of low key, I guess, with nice soft music, things like that.”

That doesn’t mean they’re not family friendly. They often add books, games and other activities for children.

Soon, they’ll add a bookshelf that people can take and leave books on. They see plenty of guests who work or study at their coffee shop.

“I love coffee, and I’ve always wanted to do that,” Deanna said. “It’s a lot of fun. It may come from my bartender background, because it’s really kind of the same thing. The difference is, you don’t have alcohol. So you’re still mixing, you’re still kind of a mixologist. I’ve had a lot of fun with the flavors and creating drinks. That’s really gotten my creative juices flowing.”

When they made the quick decision to buy the coffee shop on their street, they didn’t have time to think about who would do what. But they fell into their roles easily – Deanna behind the espresso machine and Eric in the kitchen.

“It’s very close to home. It’s fun, I mean, my husband and I work really well together,” Deanna said. “You go from working together as partners to going into your home where now you’re supposed to be husband and wife, and sometimes it’s hard to separate those.”

They’ve gotten good at juggling being both business partners and a couple.

“We’re together all the time, and it’s lucky we work well together, thank goodness, but he definitely has his space and I have my own space,” Deanna said. “The thing about us that I love is that we kind of – when we took over we did not discuss who was going to do what, we hadn’t gotten there yet – we just fell into what we were comfortable with, which mine was more the barista, his was more of the kitchen. We don’t get in each other’s way that way and we trust each other.”

Their daughter has worked there, as well as other family members. As for their second year, the Bellamaganyas have big plans for developing the business more.

“I have a couple of ideas that I’m hoping to develop in the next year to two years, getting our liquor license, that’s a high priority,” Deanna said. “We want to get a little outdoor space, more so, for the summer. We want it to be more of a cafe type feeling outside if we can, a French Cafe feeling.”

They want to add more hours, and branch into different ideas.

“Building the business more, becoming more grounded, becoming more of a community staple and just putting a smile on people’s face when they think of us,” Deanna said. “I just want to say thank you to everybody for the support.

Everybody’s been so supportive, including the Northeast News, and the Chamber has been fabulous, Pendleton Heights, Scarritt, all the neighborhoods around, the medical university, everybody’s been great and welcomed us with open arms.”

Core Coffee is open Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sundays 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.