Legend has it the building in Jonesboro Heights that now houses Eyelight Coffee & Comics was a single screen movie theater that showed the movies they wouldn’t screen at the larger theater in nearby Kendale shopping center. Many of those films were R-rated, and the owners were lax on the age limit — more than a few underage teens caught their first Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the historic building.

“You could use a library card to get in,” Brian John Mitchell says. “Or, so I’ve been told.”

Mitchell and his wife Chelsea Fields offer a new form of pop culture at Eyelight, which opened its doors in April. As stated in the name, comic books (as well as other collectibles and memorabilia) make up a small but growing portion of the new business.

But it’s the coffee that serves as the centerpiece of Eyelight, and Fields — a 2021 graduate of Central Carolina Community College’s Real Investment in Sanford Entrepreneurs (RISE) program — has the experience and talent to satisfy even the most discerning of “coffee snobs.”

“I’m from Detroit, and when I was growing up, my best childhood friend’s parents came straight off the boat from Italy,” she says. “And every Sunday, they would take me across the border in Canada and Windsor, where there’s this really strong Italian population. And they would take me to these traditional cappuccino cafes. So I’ve been drinking coffee since I was 6, and I’ve always had the real thing. Even my first job was serving coffee in a small French bakery in Detroit where they roasted their own beans.”

Fields uses a traditional analog machine to make her coffee. She describes her product as “handcrafted,” and says she would rather take it slow to match a customer’s particular tastes than rush a bad cup.

“I had a customer come in recently who said they only like ‘gas station cappuccino’ and asked if I could make something close to that, meaning a strong and sweet coffee,” she says. “So I turned him on to our horchata latte, and he loved it. I just try to listen to what people want.”

The coffee is a gateway to Fields’ and Mitchell’s other passions, namely comic books and floral design.

Mitchell’s love of comic books and collectibles goes back to his childhood, around the time Return of the Jedi hit theaters. Mitchell would spend his allowance every week on Star Wars action figures, but as his collection grew and the stores stopped stocking Ewoks, Mitchell searched for something else to spend his money on. That’s when he found comic books.

“I wasn’t a very good reader at the time, but something really just jelled for me,” Mitchell says. “It was the sense of world building that comics offered that really drew me in. It was a place for me to get lost in — I loved the universe building and the visual appeal.”

To prepare for his own comic shop, Mitchell says he visited other shops in and around the Triangle and got insight from the men and women who ran them. He realized each shop was unique and each provided its own service to its community.

“You just can’t take a comic shop that works in one city and expect the same thing in another city,” he says. “So that’s the challenge for me here – to find out exactly what kind of comic shop Sanford wants and needs and what will work best in this location.”

In the first two months, business has been good for Mitchell and Fields. They knew from Day 1 the coffee would be the main draw, but both have been pleasantly surprised by the diverse customer base.

They chose Jonesboro Heights because Mitchell saw potential in the building (Fields wasn’t sold on it, but has since come around) and potential in the area. Across the street, Fonda Lupita has established itself as a popular restaurant and has drawn a lot of foot traffic. To the east, Brick City Boba is drawing nice crowds. The foot traffic is improving, and the couple has big plans for the huge open space behind their coffee shop (art and recording studios are a possibility).

Eyelight is active on social media and has already hosted several workshops, readings and art classes. Already in June, Mitchell and Fields have six public events planned, including a “play, swap and trade” event with Pokemon cards and a family comic book making workshop.

“We feel like that you’re coming here for one thing, whether it’s comics or coffee, you’re going to experience some other element that maybe you didn’t expect,” says Fields. 

by Billy Liggett

What to Know

Eyelight Coffee & Comics offers more than coffee and comics. Floral arrangements are available, and the shop highlights the work of local artists. Here’s what to know:

Location: Located at 122 W. Main St. in an old single-screen theater.

The Coffee: Chelsea Fields is a self-proclaimed coffee snob, and she insists her handcrafted brews will satisfy even the most discerning palates.

The Comics: Brian John Mitchell’s comics corner is a work in progress, but he already offers current books from Marvel, D.C. and more, and also sells collectibles, like the much-in-
demand Pokemon cards.