SoHo Cafe & Gallery on South Rangeline Road in Carmel is truly a hometown establishment that supports the arts. Besides being longtime residents, proprietors Vivian and Larry Lawhead have deep roots within the Carmel community. As a result, the family-owned cafe not only serves up tasty beverages and treats, but also promotes local artists and causes.
“We feel such a part of the Carmel community, especially the old Carmel,” Vivian Lawhead says. “My dad, a builder, moved my mom and me to Carmel in the late ‘50s when I was a preschooler. My husband was born here. My first job was in downtown Carmel at my dad’s real estate office. Our four kids were born here and all six of us are Carmel High School grads. I taught in Carmel Clay Schools for years – first, fourth and fifth grades. Then I was media specialist at Carmel Middle School, where I attended years before.”
Ten years ago, Lawhead inherited what was then called Mohawk Shopping Center. At that time the brick-and-frame center, which was built between 1970 and 1973, was 75% occupied and needed a facelift. The Lawhead family realized it could be a great opportunity for growing businesses as well as a way to promote Carmel.
“One of our sons is in commercial real estate,” Lawhead says. “He told us, ‘It’s an old building but look what we could do with it.’ We did all the work ourselves. Our goal was to fill the center up and we did. People started paying attention, and gradually I began hearing people give directions by saying, ‘It’s over by the SoHo Cafe.’”
Recently, the cafe’s SoHo To Go coffee vehicle has been traveling to neighborhoods, schools and offices. After not being used for more than four years, the Lawheads spent the early part of the summer fixing it up, and it was on the road in early August.
Along with high-quality pastries and bagels, the truck has a full espresso bar on board. It visits locations within an approximate radius of eight to 10 miles. A two-hour time slot can be requested by calling the cafe. Popular times have been mornings and around 3:00 p.m. to beat afternoon slumps. Since one barista operates the truck, it is best used for small groups.
“Using the SoHo To Go coffee truck again was in response to this time of COVID,” Lawhead says. “We were shut down for almost eight weeks. We aren’t a big carry-out restaurant – besides organic espresso beverages and over 20 varieties of brewed-onsite teas, beer and wine, we serve sandwiches and salads. We are fortunate to have a big patio and old-time retail space inside the cafe. In May we sponsored a Mosaics and Wine class. Everyone was able to spread out and wore masks.”
From the beginning, the concept behind the business has been to give back to the community by way of the art world. Pieces are sold on consignment, and the entire gallery side of the cafe is covered in works by Hamilton County artists. Greeting cards, photos, jewelry and large pieces from local artisans are available for sale.
“Many of our relatives are artists, musicians and singers,” Lawhead says. “Larry is on the boards of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra and the Indianapolis Brass choir. We wanted to pull in the arts by having live music and showcasing artists. There is a waiting list for artists to have their work hung on the gallery wall. Many of them have never had their pieces displayed anywhere else.”
The cafe’s Facebook page and Instagram feed keep customers informed about upcoming events. Besides art classes for children and adults, SoHo also allows nonprofit organizations to hold events at the facility. The Carmel Arts Council, which promotes student art, has held its annual local art fundraiser within the cafe’s large interior space. The facility has hosted music on the patio, birthday parties, class reunions, rehearsal dinners and even a wedding.
“We do all we can to promote the community but still sustain ourselves,” Lawhead says. “We don’t charge nonprofit charities for space. We let them cater in as long as the food is from a commercial kitchen, and they buy the drinks from us. This fall, plans are in the works for the Carmel Symphony Orchestra to hold concerts in the middle of the center’s large parking lot. It will be sort of like going to a drive-in movie. We will have the coffee truck out.”
Lawhead is quick to praise her staff.
“They are loyal, hardworking, friendly and willing to help in any way,” she says. “Our baristas know people’s names and their orders. So many customers make it a point to stop and tell me what great staff members we have.”
SoHo Cafe & Gallery is located at 620 South Rangeline Road in Carmel. For more info, call 317-564-4800 and visit sohocafecarmel.com.