"I was waiting for an opportunity, and my girlfriend at the time was waiting tables at the Switchboard Deli on Madison," James remembers.
Switchboard closed at 3 p.m., after which the owners let James use the space for his coffee shop. "That's when I got hooked," James says.
He took advantage of the arrangement for only a couple of months before opening the Edge in its own space at 532 Cooper (now Harrys Detour) in the fall of 1994.
Although it seems unusual to choose nighttime operating hours for a coffee shop, it was natural for James.
"I'm nocturnal, so having those late hours wasn't strange for me," he explains. "When we moved into our own space, we kept the hours we had on Madison because our customers liked them and I didn't want to compete with Otherlands and Java Cabana."
In August 1997, the Edge moved yet again, to 1913 Poplar, in a space now occupied by the Hi-Tone.
"The building on Cooper had six parking spots, and I had an agreement with my neighbors to use some of their parking spaces, but it still wasn't enough," James says. "So we moved to the location on Poplar and also changed our hours to be open 24 hours a day."
The Edge closed a year later. Customers who stood in front of the locked doors found a Post-It note. "I'll be back" is all that James had written.
"I didn't want to close," James says, "but I had a lot of stuff going on in my life, and I just had to. After I put that sticky note on the door, I left town for a few days, and when I came back there were hundreds of notes on the door from customers who couldnt believe that we were closed, who wished me well, and who said theyd be here when the Edge returned."
Now, James is indeed back and has recently reopened the Edge Coffeehouse on Watkins at Overton Park Avenue.
The Edge has brought back the Avalanche, its signature double-espresso milkshake, and its other natural-disaster-themed coffee beverages. The restaurant also has free wireless connections (the Edge was one of the first coffee shops in Memphis to offer Internet access), pool tables, live music, and art exhibits.
If you weren't there to experience the Edge in the 1990s, Keith Cadwallader documented it in a 15-minute film, which was originally intended as a piece to show to future landlords.
"We picked an average night, and Keith walked around the coffee shop asking everybody the same question: Why do you come to the Edge?" James says.
The movie captures a sliver of Memphis and the essence of the Edge. To James, the coffee shop is a community place thats home to kids with mohawks, tattoos, and piercings, as well as to businessmen with $500 shoes, musicians, artists, writers, and neighborhood friends. One customer says that if the world were the Edge, it would be a better place.
The Edge is open daily from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. James plans a grand opening at the beginning of September. For details, visit theedgecoffeehouse.com.
The Edge, 1400 Overton Park (278-0803)
By Simone Wilson