Women of the Food Industry: Amanda Long Carpenter

The team that rolled out Mugs Café in Argenta two-and-a-half years ago as well as Speakeasy Coffee Bar in Bryant nearly a year ago have quickly become entrenched in Rock City’s food scene.
Co-owner Amanda Carpenter was excited to work on the venture with her husband, Michael, and she’ll be the first to tell you about all the necessary hard work.
For Amanda, food wasn’t necessarily where she imagined herself when she was younger. “I wanted to be a nurse, “she remembers, “But then I got in this entrepreneur class in school, and I was always in home ec, and I loved to bake.”
Originally from Truman, Ark., Carpenter worked as a special needs aid within the Jonesboro school system before moving to Tennessee. It was there that she and Michael first owned a coffee shop – Java Joe’s. She laughingly says, “I had never worked with food before that ever … we love coffee and when we went to Tennessee, this opportunity fell into our laps.”
Java Joe’s became, essentially, a learning experience for the couple. “We learned a lot – things to do, things not to do. We learned to keep the menu short,” says Carpenter.
Plus, they learned the importance of location. “Location, location, location … [Java Joe’s] wasn’t in a bad location, it was just way off the street so people wouldn’t see it.”
That’s what lead to Mugs’ Argenta location – as the neighborhood is very walkable and always has something going on. After spending over a year at Java Joe’s, Michael had a concept of opening his own coffee shop and the two were ready to roll it out.
Here we are, almost three years later, and the shop has its own rhythm entirely. Carpenter says, “What I want is for someone to walk in, and they can just take a sigh of relief. It’s not a rushing thing, we’re relaxed here, and we want you to feel at home.”
It follows, then, that her favorite part of the job is getting to meet people from all walks of life. She says, “I’m a very personable person … I love this field that I’m in, to be able to get to know people. Where they’re from, what they’re about – I love hearing their stories.”
In fact, sometimes people are overly excited to discover she is a co-owner. Usually, she says, people trail away with an “Oh,” if they’re demanding to speak to the owner only to discover they have one in front of them.
However, she has had positive experiences.
She remembers, “I did have one lady, it’s been probably about a year ago, I took her order, and then I made her drink, and then I went and made her food. She was blown away and she wanted to know if she could have a picture with me. … She put it on Facebook and wrote – The owner made my drink, took my order, and made my food.”
These days, Michael is often at Speakeasy, while Amanda is at Mugs. Therefore, she’s done just about every facet of work imaginable, except for creating recipes. “I cook, I make drinks, I bake, I sweep and mop – I do everything … plus I get to bake,” she adds, smiling.
Carpenter has found her niche. But, when it comes to the question of getting more women involved in food, she pauses. “I’m thinking in my head of the ladies who are already doing this, there’s quite a few,” she says, “but for those interested I would just say dive in.”
Then she talks about the importance of having a network. “It is hard work, especially if you have family and are juggling kids, husband, work, school … so I guess a support system would be good if women do dive in,” she adds.
Currently, Carpenter loves watching the local food scene grow. She even sees it as a kind of educational tool. For instance, a customer may not recognize cilantro or salmon before they come to Mugs, but after they branch out from the traditional comfort foods – biscuits and gravy – they’ll usually give it a try.
She still sees the need for progress, however, when it comes to choosing local over chains or fast food. “We’re getting there,” she says.
In the meantime, Carpenter is glad Mugs landed in Argenta. “There’s always something going on here,” she says, before adding, “I wish we had a sweet shop or a bake shop on this side of the river, though.”
She also wishes people would be slightly more open to the community the shop offers. She explains, “Our tables our communal … That’s what we want – you meet new people, you’re off your phone and actually having a conversation with another human being. … If people are standing around and you have space, invite them to sit with you.”
If you haven’t met Amanda yet, head to Mugs. If she makes your drink, sit down and chat for a while. She wants to hear your story.
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