By Sym Posey
The Birmingham Times
While driving home from work one evening in 2022, Alexis Kimbrough noticed an empty building downtown with a sign in the window that read, “For Lease or Sale, Café, Coffee Shop, or Bar”.
She thought to herself, “we don’t need any more coffee shops. We don’t any more bars or lounges. And then the light bulb just kind of went off we need an herbal tea café.”
Kimbrough began her research and found Birmingham did not have a “true” tea house, she said. “If you want tea, you could go to coffee shops, or grab weight loss or Boba teas (a combination of milky tea and chewy tapioca pearls) but if you like herbal tea or true tea you couldn’t get it,” Kimbrough said.
That same evening that she passed the building, Kimbrough said she started writing down her vision. “I’m very faith driven. I was like ‘Lord why are you giving this to me?’ I didn’t know where to start or what I was doing. But I said I was going to be obedient… It wasn’t even a week later when one of my mentors reached out to me about a grant competition. I dry pitched it to her and she loved it.”
From there, Kimbrough crafted a business plan and applied for Magic City Match, a grant program funded by Prosper and presented by IGNITE! Alabama, REV Birmingham, and Urban Impact Inc.
That was the birth of Herban Soul Café. As individuals prepare for the new year Kimbrough shared some thoughts on health and wellness saying, “Regardless of what your goals are for the future, you must be healthy mentally and physically to enjoy them… You can take medication, but you can also take control of your own health. If you don’t like medication, tea is easy. “
Since 2022, Kimbrough has provided an array of herbal teas at pop-up shops and events to help aid anyone on their health and wellness journey. Its entire menu is crafted with holistic wellness in mind from herbal teas and sandwich combinations to the pastry and pizza options.
“One of my favorites is Immune-I-Tea. I drink it hot or chilled. It’s a great immune booster that helps with my sinuses and allergies. It’s perfect to drink daily/year-round. It has hibiscus, elderberry, mullein, lemongrass, &strawberry flavored green tea leaves,” said Kimbrough.
Even before the pop-up shops and events Kimbrough said she “always loved mental health and wellness.”
“… A lot the herb blends have different health benefits physically and mentally. Depending on what you like or what you are looking for, certain ingredients naturally help in aiding symptoms of an array of things. You can drink them for pleasure or to be healthy,” she said.
Born and raised in Selma, Alabama, Kimbrough, 29, witnessed the effects of poverty on friends and family who live in and around the Black Belt. She personally knows individuals who’ve battled depression, anxiety, heart disease, obesity, or a combination of them all, she said.
This inspired her to pursue a career in mental health and wellness. After graduating from the University of West Alabama, in 2016 she moved to Birmingham where she has worked as a personal trainer and in mental health as a family preservation and therapeutic foster care case manager.
“During the pandemic, I lost my full-time job in mental health as a family preservation and reunification case manager. I worked various customer service jobs, and I was still doing my passion on of personal training on the side. When gyms start closing, I knew I had to train at home and cut back from clients. “
Kimbrough said she also saw the importance of her own health and wellness journey.
“I have a few minor health things, and I was on a few different meds. I ended up getting a job at the health foods store and I would meet a lot of different people who would come in and buy the herbs from TikTok and Instagram … Me being on my own journey, I ended up connecting with an herbalist. Every tea blend she made me was delicious. So, from there I told her she should make it a business. She told me she only does it for family and friends out of passion.”
In 2022, Magic City Match distributed $500,000 to help grow Black-owned businesses. It was designed to increase competency, provide access to capital, and give new market opportunities to Black business owners with brick-and-mortar locations in Birmingham.
Over 800 businesses applied to be part of the program and a committee was tasked with narrowing the sort down to 25 who would make up the cohort. Those 25 business owners competed for 13 available grants. Of those 13, Herban Soul Café would be a recipient for one.
“Not only was I the only start up business to be selected, but I was also a grant recipient. To believe in the vision without even being established when every other business [in the competition] was established, that solidified that I was doing something,” she said.
Kimbrough has hit the ground running since participating in multiple markets, pop- up shops, and private events to introduce people to her teas and pastries. She is currently in the works of searching for a brick and mortar for Herban Soul Café.
“I’ve been a part of a few different cohorts, but nothing has quite panned out yet…Once in the brick-and-mortar space, it will be a full café” she said. For now, Kimbrough takes orders through the Herban Soul Café with shipping and pick-up options.
Kimbrough graduated from Selma High School in 2012 and University of West Alabama in Livingston, Alabama in 2016 where she studied psychology with a minor in social work. The middle of three, she has two brothers. Growing up she participated in sports like volleyball, track, and cheer.
For more on Herban Soul Cafe visit website: Herbal Tea, Healthy Options – Herban Soul Cafe’ – Birmingham, Alabama
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Updated at 12:15 p.m. on 1/4/2024