Fortune: Here's a toast to the future of Toast

Fortune: Here's a toast to the future of Toast

March 10th, 2013 by Mary Fortune in Life Entertainment

Some people just have magic, don't they? They have magic and the minute you meet them, you know. You can just feel it.

My friend Kent has magic shooting from his fingertips.His eyes and his voice radiate warmth and humor that turn strangers into friends and friends into communities. The air around him vibrates with joy and kindness.

And it's so funny about Kent -- he doesn't even seem to try, really. He's just himself, and the rest simply follows.

Kent's magic takes many forms. He can spin a story that will have you gasping laughter. (Oh, the stories ...) He can deliver a hug that makes you forget even the most frustrating day. He knows exactly when to text and say 'Where have you been? I miss you!' He will ask you, every single time he sees you, how you're doing and how you're feeling? And y'all, he really, really wants to know.

The most potent manifestation of Kent's magic is a little café called Toast at the corner of Vine and Lindsay streets in downtown Chattanooga. A little café where Kent spins his unique brand of magic. A little café he spent 10 years building and working to support.

That man worked. He worked when he was hurt, he worked when he was broke, he worked when he was tired, he worked when he was sick. He kept going when anyone else would have given up.

He built his little business in addition to doing his "real" job as a flight attendant, and he worked on it out of sheer love for the community he was creating -- for the utter joy he takes in having everyone over for a cup of coffee and a catch-up.

I didn't meet Kent at Toast. We met through mutual friends. I pretty much wanted to climb into his lap immediately. He made me laugh, and then he told me about his little café, just a couple of blocks from my office, and he said, "Come visit me."

I did. And my friends came, too. And of course they were his friends, too. And then my friends and his friends were all friends and we were all running together and having lunch together and playing games and drinking beers and celebrating birthdays and laughing and laughing all the time.

Here's the kind of thing Kent does: We sneak to Toast for a quick lunch, and he'll be really busy waiting on the midday crowd, but he'll slip over to our table with a giant cupcake and three forks. Or he'll bring us coffee drinks we didn't even ask for.

We'll plan to run a half marathon together, and he will volunteer to host a brunch at the café afterward, which means he is up late the night before prepping the food, and then he is up early getting things set up, and then he is running 13.1 miles and then he is making us eggs with pimento cheese in them.

Oh, and all of this after he just flew in from an international trip for his other job.

Two weeks ago, as I drove to work, the texts starting rolling in: "Oh my God, the café is on fire. It's bad."

It burned. It was bad. No one was there, and no one was hurt, and that's really good. But Kent's place burned, and Kent had worked so hard. So hard for so long.

It takes a while to process that kind of loss. You have to realize it one slow, sad moment at a time. You have to walk through it, ashes on your shoes, gazing, bewildered, at a landscape at once familiar and completely alien.

I don't think Kent knew, at first, what he wanted to do. He's been knocked down so hard. He's taken bad hits before, but this is such a big one. He had to be tempted to take whatever insurance there is, pay the debts he can, and walk away.

Just a couple of days after the fire, though, Kent was talking about Toast, about how much he already misses it, his employees, his customers, his community, about what it might take to bring it back even better this time.

Kent, we're with you, and we'll do whatever you need. It will be OK, friend.

No, it will be better than OK.

It will be magic.