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Mary Burns of Java Cabana
"I feel like Java Cabana is a little bit of a time capsule,” says owner Mary Burns. The coffee shop’s furnishings include 1950s-vintage tables, and the hardwood floor is made from the boards of the old Imperial Lanes bowling alley. Vintage clothing is on sale. Notes and drawings from customers fill “Java journals” like disconnected conversations: “I’m from Boston. I like Memphis. It’s expensive in Boston.” “I’m from Tokyo, Japan! I came here because I wanna see this town where my grandpa lived in 50 years ago.”
Burns bought the place from its first owner, Tommy Foster, about five years after it opened in 1992. She worked for him as a part-time barista when she started running the poetry readings that have evolved into open mic every Thursday night.
“I wanted a place where all these different artists could express themselves,” says Burns. Java Cabana hosts rotating art shows, creative writing students from CBU, dancers, potters, and musicians who have standing monthly gigs.
“This place has been blessed by Tibetan monks,” she says. A year after she bought the shop, Burns went to hear a talk they gave at the Germantown library and invited the monks for coffee as a thank you. They came, insisted on washing the dishes, sat around one of the 1950s tables, and chanted. “It was amazing,” she says. “It was as if they were passing their voices around.”
And, of course, there’s coffee: the Lisa Marie, the Jerry Lee. She’s adding another soon: Mexican cocoa with espresso — Zippin Pippin, in honor of Memphis’ legendary roller coaster. Another new addition: This spring, Burns plans to open a vintage clothing shop in the cafe’s back room.