Madison County’s Zuma Cafe Celebrates 20th Anniversary
MARSHALL — Joel Friedman, founder of Zuma Coffee in Madison County, said he could still imagine the landscape of downtown Marshall when he moved here with his ex-wife from Truckee, Calif., in 2001 .
On April 2, the popular café/restaurant/music destination will celebrate 20 years in business, with the music of jazz pianist Steve Davidowski.
“It’s really etched in my memory,” Freidman said. “The bones here are the bones. It’s always been there. It’s always looked like that. Physically, it’s still the same set of buildings a mile long and from street to street.”
Friedman, an Atlanta native, said while the existing commercial and residential landscape has remained similar, the concept of community has grown exponentially in his 20 years here.
“What has changed is the community and the atmosphere,” Friedman said. “The school (Marshall High) (on Blannahassett Island) changed a lot when it turned into artist studios. It made a big difference in the community. But yeah, most of Marshall is really recognizable (from 20 years ago), in that the physical part. Seeing this happen – so much traffic on a Wednesday afternoon, seeing parties go by, seeing busy weekends, it’s is what is different.
The owner said it’s hard to believe the growth the business and the community have seen since its founding.
“The community was built around it, and everything we thought possible exceeded my goals and plans,” Friedman said. “I can’t even tell you what wasn’t happening 20 years ago – none of this was happening 20 years ago.”
Zuma originally operated across from its current location in the basement of the Marshall Container Company building for five years.
“We got called, I guess you could say,” Friedman said. “Some of our friends had bought the building across the street and they literally called us almost every month and told us about this building that they had bought, and that there was space in underneath to put in this little cafe. We only had about a 400 square foot. It was tiny.
March 11, 2002 was the day Zuma opened its doors to the public. Despite the limited space in the original building, musicians gradually began to flock to Zuma to pick and sing for patrons, Friedman said.
“Music and artwork have always been part of the Zuma plan,” he said. “It didn’t necessarily start out as a big deal because I didn’t have room here. What would happen is this Martin guitar hanging out the back here, my friend David in Atlanta would l ‘ sent by mail in 2002. My friend wrote a note with saying: “In my dream, I had seen that you had opened a cafe for the enjoyment of the community, and throughout the dream I continued to hear music playing. So I bought this guitar for you.”
With David’s gift from his friend, famous local musicians such as Josh Goforth and Joe Penland came to play for Zuma customers.
“They would sit and play outside, and it became something there,” Friedman said. “Then I moved into this building, and Bobby Hicks said he wanted to come and play the fiddle. You’re not saying no to that.”
Friedman said the store plans to spotlight an artist on its walls. Currently, the work of Madison County painter Calvin Edney Jr. is on display.
“Zuma’s artistic component is essential,” he said. “Having a rotating group of artists to exhibit, who in most cases have no other outlet to exhibit, has been very rewarding. They won’t be exhibiting at Flow. They won’t be exhibiting their work in galleries. But once in a while they have the opportunity to have a show and sell some of their work. It’s wonderful.”
Friedman, 61, said he could decide to put in another 20 years because he renewed a five-year lease in February with an additional five-year option.
“I live in a big community,” the owner said. “I work in a big community. What else is there – what could be better? Having a certain sense of community is pretty special. It’s the intangibles.
“People ask me at home why I moved here, and I can’t tell them, because they don’t understand,” Friedman said. “Once they got here, it’s not about your political stuff. It’s about the community. Their kids shared their artwork on these walls. Their friends played music here.”
With 20 years at Marshall in his rear view mirror, Friedman said he fondly remembers his time in Madison County and hopes to continue to build on Zuma’s legacy as an integral aspect of the fabric of Marshall. .
“I say, ‘I’m not going to get rich doing this, but I’m going to have a rich life,'” Friedman said. “What else is it? It doesn’t get better than this. It wasn’t the plan. But that’s how it went. Twenty years, and I want to do it another 20 years.”