Meet Audra Marx. She and her husband, John, own two businesses in downtown Elizabeth City: Muddy Waters Coffee House, a hip and happening place to nab a great cup of coffee and good conversation, and SoHo Organic Market, specializing in organic and gluten-free products and craft beers. Find out why this Elizabeth City native decided to open the bustling little coffee shop and what she enjoys most about doing business in her hometown.
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in Elizabeth City, then moved out of the area for college. I ended up staying in Raleigh for about 10 years, before moving back home to be with my then-boyfriend. I took any kind of job I could get: waitressing, cooking, advertising, non-profit work. Looking back, I guess they were all good background experiences for opening my own business.
What prepared you to become an entrepreneur?
Absolutely nothing. I never thought it would seriously happen. I studied sciences in school, not economics or business—no classes at all in that area. I was raised by an entrepreneur father who told me to never work for myself! But we love the lifestyle and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
You and your husband, John, own two businesses: Muddy Waters Coffee House and SoHo Organic Market. What was your inspiration for going into business for yourselves?
I fell in love with the idea of coffeehouses back in college. I thought I’d love to run one, never expecting that to be in Elizabeth City. The coffeehouses I loved were in New Orleans. After nine years, the coffee business grew into roasting our own beans and baking our own pastries. SoHo grew out of the fact that there were no local sources for organic food when I was pregnant eight years ago. My husband ended up leaving his job and opening a little corner grocery store, specializing in bulk and organic foods. We’ve since grown that into supplements, craft beer and wine, as well as gluten-free products.
Is there a synergy among the two shops and the products offered?
Sure. The coffeehouses use organic soy milk brought in through Soho Organic Market, and the market sells our locally roasted coffee beans. But customer crossover doesn’t happen as much as we thought it would. We’re just reaching two totally difference audiences—one for good coffee and one for organic foods.
Muddy’s has become the backdrop for a laid back social scene in Elizabeth City. Was that planned?
I’d like to say ‘of course!’, but honestly, I just envisioned a comfortable place that felt like your second living room; a place where you could meet friends and make friends. We’ve done well because this area really needed that kind of place. Folks new to the area like to work for me so they can meet a spectrum of people who live here.
Any new plans for the immediate future?
The beer and wine are new ventures at SoHo, and these products are doing really well for us. We hope to host a large outdoor tasting event this year. And Muddy’s is working toward being able to serve beer and wine so that folks will have a comfortable place to meet their friends after the work day. We want to rotate a few taps with whatever is interesting and seasonal in the craft beers and just have a place to relax over a glass of wine.
What do you like most about running your own businesses?
freedom. We get to do something different every single day, so there’s never a dull moment. It can be overwhelming running between the stores, but I will definitely take it over a sitting at a desk eight hours a day. We love meeting the customers and making a difference in the quality of life here. When people tell you that your business was the determining factor for their deciding to move to the area, it’s really special.
What’s your favorite cuppa’?
That’s like picking your favorite child! I love discovering nuances of different regions in the coffees and unexpected tastes when the beans are really fresh. But mostly I like helping the less fortunate people from coffee growing regions by selling their beans as directly as possible. The tiny purchases we make every day really do have a huge impact on the world. And all of our shops strive to make the world a better, cleaner, more equal place. That makes you feel good at the end of the day.
What do you like best about Elizabeth City?
We love to sail on the rivers. We canoe in the swamps. We take our daughter to the beach on a weekday once every month or two because it’s so close. We live in the country and grow our own food. We’re restoring a 230 year-old house, one of the area’s oldest. There’s no traffic to speak of, and everybody is friendly. What’s not to love about that? I go back to big cities and cringe.
Finally, what do you do to unwind at the end of a busy day?
All of the above ☺