Small business: Cozy up at Mugshots Coffee and Tea in Belmont


What happens when best friends and former law enforcement officers open a coffee shop? You get coffee and made-to-order breakfast sandwiches in a cozy shop in downtown Belmont. Darren Ellis and Reuben Silberman opened Mugshots Coffee and Tea on Valentine’s Day of this year.

Two years ago, Ellis, 30, and Silberman, 29, started looking at businesses to open. Their first idea was a food truck, but that gave way to a brick and mortar coffee shop.

Ellis said, “We liked the coffee theme. We really liked the sub-culture.”

They tried pop-ups and demos while actively looking for space. They found the 550 square foot shop one day while driving through Belmont.

At Mugshots, they serve specialized coffee and tea. Coffee beans are purchased from small farms all over the world through Mountain Grounds Artisan Roastery in California.

“We don’t use any machine batch brewers,” said Ellis. “We use manual methods to brew coffee. You can’t argue with equipment that’s in the Smithsonian. It’s been done this way for a very long time.”

Their teas are from Unwind, located in Pineville. They make chai tea in-house using a 24-hour process. Breakfast sandwiches are made-to-order. They have small-batch, house-made kombucha on draft, but in limited quantity. They also offer fresh-baked goods daily. Mugshots prices range from $3-$7 for drinks, sandwiches and baked goods.

Ellis and Silberman answer questions for C5’s Small Business Series:

Why a coffee shop in Belmont, NC?

Ellis: “This town is a lot like the town I grew up in. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t very happy in the Carolinas. My wife and I drove through Belmont, and it was very similar to where I grew up. It felt like home. We decided that we were going to purchase a home here.

“The first time we drove through downtown, the space came up for lease and we contacted the landlord and the pieces fell into place. It was fate.”

How did you learn how to run a coffee shop?

Ellis: “There was a lot of research, a lot of talking to friends and acquaintances that were in the industry. When we settled on it, it turned into a lot of preparation, and training from our roaster who has been doing it for 12-15 years.”

What do you each bring to the business partnership?

Ellis: “Reuben keeps us grounded. Reuben is the realist. He keeps me in line. I am the eccentric one.”

Silberman: “I am like Iceman and Darren is like Maverick (from Top Gun). I am cool and calculated, and Darren is more unpredictable and off-the-cuff.”

Reuben Silberman and Darren Ellis

Where are your future plans for Mugshots?

Ellis: “That totally depends on our market and the growth of the area. This year, we are already planning to build a patio on the side of our building.

“At the end of the day, something like this loses its pizzazz if you lose its aura. The goal is to maintain that feeling as we grow.”

Who would you love to see stop by the shop?

Ellis: “Troy Bayliss. One of my hobbies is road racing motorcycles. I used to race for Ducati. I still ride quite a bit and teach racing schools. Troy Bayliss is one the greatest Australian road racers in history, a living legend.”

Silberman: “CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. He has reached the highest level of ‘coffeedom.’”

Mugshots Coffee and Tea: 102 South Main St. Belmont, NC 28012
Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday

Photos: Mugshots Coffee and Tea

Family history and my own fascination with people and their motivations prompted me to begin this series about Charlotte’s small business owners. Industry, situation and questions will vary. Have a suggestion for a small business owner or entrepreneur to interview? Email it to with the subject line “Small Business Series.”



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