Usually, when a business rebrands, it’s in response to the fact things aren’t working out business-wise. Nothing could be further from the case with Lori Slager-Wenzel’s Sparrows-turned- Scorpion Hearts Club, located at 1035 Wealthy St. SE.
The quaint Eastown coffee shop that’s been a favorite for years among the area’s writers and creative community rebranded for two reasons– practical and personal.
The venture started in 2007 with a $40,000 loan. Slager-Wenzel opened the space with two partners. “We were all art students,” she said.
After a couple years Slager-Wenzel became the sole owner. At first, the cafe served Schul brand coffee, then switched to Madcap and then in 2016 they started roasting their own coffee.
“In 2018, we sold the roastery to Schul. They bought the Sparrows brand and opened their own coffee shop on Plainfield. It just got confusing; us both being called Sparrows. They had their own points system. We have a great relationship with them, we just have a different customer base,” Slager-Wenzel said.
“They were supportive of us starting to roast, but we grew faster than we could handle,” she said. At one point Slager-Wenzel opened a second location on Bridge Street.
By that point Slager-Wenzel had a new partner– her husband, David V. Wenzel. The pair actually met at the café and had their wedding ceremony inside the café, too. They also had three kids together in as many years. Business was good, but tragedy had struck in 2009 when David was diagnosed with brain cancer.
“My husband’s health was always up and down,” said Slager-Wenzel, who– in addition to running the coffee shop–– was working full time in art education. “My husband worked as a creative consultant and public speaker. People would hire him to tell his story. He wrote his own memoir that he self-published,” said Slager-Wenzel.
In 2020, 11 years after his diagnosis, David lost the battle with cancer.
“I got eight tattoos. It’s how my grief presented. There were times I felt really fierce. There were times I felt really fragile. ‘Scorpion’ came to me because their sting is poisonous, but they are also small enough you can step on them,” she said.
“My husband’s sister said, ‘you just take care of yourself and your scorpion heart first’ and the name stuck.”
Along with the name change came some new additions to the shop. It now sells jewelry and other artisan items made by locals. There’s a listening station, too, and records, lots and lots of vinyl records.
“When we were Sparrows, we had magazines. We got rid of the news stand, sadly – traded magazines for records. And all our drinks now have musical names: Killer Queen, Honey and Cher. Notorious F.I.G. We had lady lazarus, now it’s Lady Stardust. It’s still the same awesome coffee it ever was.
“I love it. I love the customer feedback,” said Slager-Wenzel. “Every single customer has been so cool. That brings me the greatest joy.”