Lizette Apy, owner of Philadelphia’s Thunder Mug Cafe (Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By Ayana Jones
PHILADELPHIA — For years Lizette Apy yearned to open her own café while working as a manager for luxury retailers.
Early on, Apy knew that she wanted to be an entrepreneur, after spending time working at eateries as a teenager and during her college years.
“It just really became a life-long dream of mine,” said the Chicago native. “Even as a teenager opening a cafe is something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
When Apy set out to fulfill her dream in 2019, she experienced challenges securing bank funding. Even though Apy had a high credit score of 820, she was denied by three banks when applying for a personal loan.
“Funding is the tricky part. It’s not easy, especially when people are turning you away,” she said as she reflected on the disappointing experience.
“I literally had all my ducks in a row. It was daunting. It did not feel hopeful or promising,” Apy continued. “I had one bank to even say to me ‘ask a family member or friend put their house up for collateral.’ That was really insulting.”
Apy finally received a personal loan after approaching a fourth bank and opened Thunder Mug Cafe in September 2019. The cafe serves up coffee, tea and pastries at its 4233 Ridge Ave. location. Some of the cafe’s most popular items include the apple crumble coffee cake, lemon blueberry muffins and the chocolate chip sweet potato gluten-free muffins.
The East Falls-based coffee shop had only been in operation for almost six months when the pandemic hit in 2020. Apy credits community members for being supportive as the cafe pivoted to only provide orders for pickup.
“We had so much community support,” Apy said. “I give the community so much credit and so much love for that. It was humbling and heartwarming.”
Now she appreciates the Philadelphia 76ers selecting Thunder Mug Cafe as the second recipient of its annual 76ers Buy Black Program.
The program was developed to promote local, Black-owned businesses and provide entrepreneurs with expert marketing consultation, advertising value and additional tools to succeed.
“With leadership from Josh Harris and David Blitzer, this program was designed to help promote local Black-owned businesses that are doing great work but wouldn’t otherwise have access to a platform like the 76ers,” David Gould, Philadelphia 76ers chief Diversity and Impact officer said in a news release.
“We are so excited to bring Thunder Mug Cafe on as an official team partner for this season and look forward to working closely with them to grow their business over the course of the next year.”
“Thunder Mug has grown its business in their first two years of operation and is ready to continue doing so,” Gould continued.
“We know it will greatly benefit from the assets we will provide and look forward to watching its continued success. The 76ers and Thunder Mug both put a premium on giving back to the communities they serve, and we are excited to collaborate with the Cafe to foster those shared values.”
Thunder Mug Cafe is receiving a customized marketing strategy and activation led by the organization’s social responsibility team. The cafe will benefit from the expert advice and marketing assets of the Clio award-winning brand and creative teams and the 76ers digital, research and award-winning analytics teams. Other marketing assets include radio spots, email marketing and access to millions of fans across 76ers digital and social programs.
“It’s definitely going to draw attention to me as a Black woman business owner and the cafe,” Apy says of the initiative.
“It’s going to highlight the importance of coming together as a community. The Sixers marketing department is going to be behind me and that is huge part of what the package is. It also gives hope, strength and courage. That is really going to solidify the Black community and Black female entrepreneurs.”
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