At the pulpit
Corner Market owner Chuck Cole didn’t always head one of M Streets’ most popular cafes.
Long before Cole founded the Market in 2005, he was a college student attending the Engineering School of Texas and looking for a leg up. He took a summer internship with an engineering firm — from the looks of it, a cushy desk job with a little bit of fieldwork peppered in now and then.
“It started out great,” Cole reminisces about his first month on the job.
He was making good money, for a college student, whose only job seemed to be pushing papers on long, hot summer days. Cole even had his own office and a secretary — something none of his college buddies would be able to brag about once class resumed.
For one month that summer, Cole lived the high life working for a firm that specialized in ultrasound technology.
Then he was told what he’d be doing in the field.
The firm’s equipment largely was implemented by paper companies. It could measure the width of steel pipes inside paper mills that processed large quantities of pulp each day. The technology — which was pretty state-of-the-art at the time, according to Cole — allowed the paper manufacturers to replace pipes before they wore out.
The paper mills were gargantuan.
“These were huge, round vessels with hundreds of thousands of steel water pipes to process pulp,” Cole said. “They were just massive. They look like big grain silos. But it’s just to boil massive quantities of water.”
To be lowered into the silos by a rope to measure the pipes. All of them.
“I said, ‘You want me to do what?’ ”
So he left his cushy office and his very own secretary to travel to small towns around Alabama and Mississippi to use ultrasound equipment.
The summer that started out with so much promise ended with him dangling from a rope inside a paper mill. He’d spend hours and hours inside the paper mill, moving pipe by pipe, often in triple-digit heat with humidity to match.
“I’d start early,” Cole says. “Like around 6 a.m. And then, all day, like until maybe 4 in the afternoon.”
Once he was finished, Cole would return to whichever local hotel the company would set him up in. The one positive from the day-to-day experience was the food, Cole says.
“We had carte blanche on the food,” Cole says. “Whatever Holiday Inn had the best of, we would get.”
Despite the lavish spread he would treat himself to, Cole still thought about throwing in the towel.
Today he’s proud that he stuck it out.
“I learned to make the best of rough situations. I thought about quitting after the first inspection, but stuck with it, and was glad I did. I met a lot of interesting people.”
Cole graduated college and, even though he found success in the booming real estate market, moved over to the restaurant business.
After having a role in several eateries, he decided to take a shot at his own place, even though his degree is in engineering.
“My family has been in the M Streets since the 1930s, so I was very familiar with the changing neighborhood and the need for a place like the Corner Market,” he says. “I had a lot of ideas and recipes that I thought would work, but nobody else thought it was a good idea. Up to that time, almost every daytime, non-alcohol business, failed on Lower Greenville.”
Once again, he had to stick with it, and, once again, he’s glad he did.
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