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Hazelwood Café serves up connections one cup at a time | The Homepage

SBA microloan helps young entrepreneur realize his caffeine dream

By Janet Heyl

A large, dark-skinned young man smiles while standing near an espresso machine.
Dasawn Davis, owner of Hazelwood Café, opened his small business with help from the United States Small Business Administration’s microloan program. Photo by Janet Heyl

Dasawn Gray has only poured himself one cup of coffee since the April 2021 opening of Hazelwood Café, a local coffee and tea haven. His guests may find that quite surprising.

“I really like learning about coffee and roasting it,” Mr. Gray said. “It started when I was cleaning stores and buildings, one of which was a coffee shop. The owner offered me a free cup, with a catch: I had to make it myself. He wanted me to like black coffee.”

Mr. Gray, 23, who worked as a soy candle maker and as a truck driver, said owning his own coffee shop is his true calling.

When a prime corner spot in Hazelwood was for rent, Gray went to the U.S. Small Business Administration to help turn a shuttered venue into a neighborhood gem. He devised his business plan while crisscrossing the country as a truck driver.

“I researched templates online and started writing; I even calculated sales projections and it took me about a year,” he said. He learned that Bridgeway Capital provided microloans from the federal agency, applied and was accepted.

Small Business Administration Western Pennsylvania district director Kelly Hunt said microloans are a great source for small-dollar financing for entrepreneurs like Mr. Gray.

“Borrowers can receive up to $50,000 in capital and free assistance to help their business succeed,” she added. “Last year, 92 area entrepreneurs received $2.7 million in funding.”

Armed with capital, Mr. Gray’s vision began to fill the space. The once-dark interior was hand-painted in a palette of warm colors. A mural, new tables and chairs and a large decorative chalkboard menu were added.

Believing the café should be a community asset, Mr. Gray perked up the fare with special events.

“We have open mic day, a paint and sip day and a single and mingle day, along with fall festival, Halloween and Christmas shopping,” he said. “We get 20 people for the paint day. It’s nice to see people not on their phones and instead talking and enjoying the atmosphere and each other.”

His café is now a hot spot for everyone from lawyers to college students, Pittsburgh’s mayor, the local city councilmember and area painters and artisans.

“I never imagined this. It’s crazy how life changes,” he said. “I’m a social person and now get to connect with people in my own shop.”

Not only is the décor local, so are the ingredients. “We locally source our sauces and milks,” Gray added. “I make my own tea blends and hope to do the same with roasted coffees and name them after streets in Hazelwood. I can’t duplicate the energy of the café. Friendships are made here. We donate free meals to homeless area high-school students. And one customer noticed my door hinge was broken, went to his car for tools and fixed it for free.”

Janet Heyl is the public affairs specialist for the Western Pennsylvania district office of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Learn more at

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