The Heart of ‘Lynchburg’s Living Room’

by | Jan 2024

MYKE BARRON moved from Texas to Lynchburg around five years ago and is part of the collaborative team that runs the White Hart coffeehouse and eatery.The inviting space has earned the name “Lynchburg’s Living Room,” and it certainly lives up to its reputation.

Barron and his partners took over the White Hart in early 2020, just when COVID shut down businesses. They had intended the White Hart to be a hub of outreach and community involvement and did not let the pandemic stop them.

“We were like, ‘What are we going to do?’” he remembers. “One of the first things we did as a team was donate food through a nonprofit we work with. We cooked hot meals for people and worked with churches to distribute hot meals — around 10,000 hot meals in about three months. And we got some other downtown restaurants involved in that effort. Our focus then was the need for food through the pandemic.”

Barron had spent time in Guatemala, where he became acquainted with people with a little coffee spot. “I was blown away by the enthusiasm that was around coffee. I got hooked on it that way, just as a product,” said Barron.

“A business model of some kind is one of the most sustainable ways, and perhaps the best way, to impact and develop communities all around the world. You’re creating jobs, and you’re providing a market for products that are already being made.” With the connections he had in the coffee world, not just in Guatemala but in Peru and Nepal, the White Hart was the most logical progression.

“We called it ‘Lynchburg’s Living Room,’ a name that was actually given to it before we even got here. And you think about what a living room is. If you’re invited into a living room, you belong there. It’s a place of belonging. It’s a place where you can let your guard down, be yourself, and be comfortable. You talk about meaningful things, you laugh together, you spend time together, you play games — whatever it might be. We definitely see our space like that. We even curate events that generate that atmosphere.”

The White Hart has a lot to offer. “We have a strong connection to the artists’ community. We really push behind artists, whether it’s visual art that hangs on our wall, or spoken word or poetry.”

Lynchburg itself is of many minds. In a world where political differences cause separation, the White Hart brings people together. “You have these two worlds, this dichotomy, and I love that there’s that kind of clash in a way because I think there’s a lot of room for growth on both sides when you have that. Something’s always challenging the other, which can get out of hand. But because of that, it’s very difficult to create a space where everyone belongs when there are such strong opinions against what other people think. And to be able to host events and have public forums, we’ve even had political discussions and things like that in our space. Making connections is a gift — to be able to help people talk about things that are very hard to talk about and who are on opposite sides of the issue.

“When we came in, we didn’t pick sides. We like to push the envelope a little bit to get people to think outside of their comfort zone and to push against their bubble a little bit. So there’s a mixed bag.” The White Hart has a wonderful array of coffee and food, all enhanced by the visually pleasing surroundings. Spending time there is a pleasant experience.

“I’m big on why,” Barron reiterates. “I want to know why we’re doing what we’re doing. It doesn’t take much to knock you off if you don’t have a clear why. You’re distracted, you’re meandering, and you’re aimless.” Even the term ‘white hart’ is a definite statement: a symbol of pursuit for something real, like a chase for adventure.

“And that’s what we push with. We want to invite people along. Come with us. Be on the adventure with us. Let’s engage in this process together. Let’s go find something real together.” GN

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