Broad Porch Coffee’s ‘big wins’ rejuvenates beloved downtown space

Two people smiling and leaning on their elbows
Phil Dunteman and Jill McMullan have a vision for Broad Porch — and the space that used to be the Artful Dodger. (Photo by Sarah Golibart Gorman)

Harrisonburg has welcomed back a cherished community space with the opening of Broad Porch Coffee’s third location at 47 Court Square. It was the former site of the beloved and ultimately troubled Artful Dodger, a genre-defying cafe, music venue, and dance club affectionately referred to as “Harrisonburg’s living room.” The Dodger closed abruptly in late 2018, and the Habana Café, which occupied the space next, barely got going before the pandemic hit. 

Broad Porch co-owners Jill McMullan and Phil Dunteman, alongside their regulars-turned-business-partners Ryanne Hodson and Jay Dedman, were scouting for a third location in Harrisonburg when the Court Square property went up for sale. 

Dunteman spearheaded the purchase: “We have to buy that building. That has to be Broad Porch Coffee.” 

Broadening the business has been a gradual and intentional journey. From roasting coffee in one-pound batches on Dunteman’s Broad Street porch, to opening their first location in Agora Downtown Market in 2017, and a second cafe in Luray in 2021, Broad Porch Coffee has been “fueled by small victories,” a phrase McMullan coined early on.  

“I remember the first day we broke $100 in sales. That’s not much money at all, but it was a small victory. And that’s been our motto for the last like five or six years,” Dunteman recalled. 

For Broad Porch, small victories have paved the way to big wins, like the unveiling of two years of renovation work. 

“The last city permit for construction was pulled in the ‘90s,” Dunteman said. “And so there was at least 20 years where any work may have not been up to code.” 

They stripped everything down to studs and brought their vision to life from scratch. 

Entering the bright, open cafe through the double doors feels both deeply familiar and entirely new. Where an impressive collection of mid-century modern clocks once hung above a cozy, dimly lit bar, a row of new windows now allows sunlight to illuminate the lush green ceiling and ample seating.

People write and type of laptops on wooden tables.
People find the refurbished space that used to be the Artful Dodger a pleasant place to work. (Photo by Sarah Golibart Gorman)

Townies, students, and families alike are streaming in like moths to a flame. In this era of remote work and freelancing, young professionals are looking for places to gather. 

For instance, when he’s not on the road playing guitar with Illiterate Light or in his home studio, my husband Jeff Gorman works from Broad Porch. “People are longing for a hub, a place where you know you’ll see friends and get a great cup of coffee,” he told me.

Allie Motika, co-owner of Heartworn Vintage in Agora Downtown Market and avid supporter of the local food and music scene, said it gives her “great joy” to see Broad Porch grow and inherit the former Artful Dodger’s space. 

“I can’t wait to see music there and see what all they do with the space,” Motika said. “I’m so stoked to have that spot in Harrisonburg back.”

Broad Porch will be one of the many host venues for MACROCK 2024, Harrisonburg’s annual DIY music festival and conference on April 4-5. On Friday night of the festival, local band Machine State will share the Broad Porch stage with bands like Pons out of Brooklyn and PINKLIDS out of Massachusetts. 

This was all part of McMullan and Dunteman’s plan. 

“We want to be a place where people can be comfortable,” Dunteman said. “Where someone could get a cup of coffee and knock out a paper in five hours. We also want to be a place where four people can come and have a work lunch or a place on weekends where a family can come and enjoy brunch before a football game.”

They intentionally designed their space to meet these different needs, enlisting the expertise of Ned Gearing and Rhett Miles of Rocktown Urban Wood. In recent years, Harrisonburg Public Works has had to remove ash trees from city parks because of how the invasive emerald ash borer had decimated them. 

Rocktown Urban Wood’s mission is to divert wood from the landfill and repurpose it for local businesses and residences, a goal they achieved beautifully in Broad Porch’s light-filled space. The long bench along the wall sits beneath a newly installed skylight, and tables can be pushed together or apart to accommodate solo studiers or groups of diners.

For McMullan, who went to school for interior architecture, the design of the space and menu are opportunities for her to lean into her artistic background.  

“Food is creativity. I feel like food and space are two of the best ways to make art practically applicable,” she said. 

Guided by taste and inspired by global flavors, McMullan and kitchen manager Maria Cooper aimed to develop a menu that you couldn’t get anywhere else in town. Cooper’s grandmother’s cheesy, herb-flecked arancini are on the menu alongside coconut ‘ceviche,’ meal-sized salads, and of course tots, a nod to the Artful Dodger.  

When it comes to enjoying this well-curated, light filled space filled with coffee, food and friends, how long is too long? 

“If there are open seats, no amount of time is too long,” said Dunteman. “If there are people waiting on a seat and you’ve been here for two hours, that might be time to move along.” 

Another solution? Make a new friend and share a table. That’s what coffee shops have always been about, gathering to share ideas and connect with friends old and new. Buy a coffee, maybe stay for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Order a bottle of wine to share. 

Sarah Golibart Gorman, a.k.a. The Friendly City Foodie, provides her insights about the local food and restaurant scene for The Citizen.

A ceramic bowl filled with greens, orange slices and ham
Broad Porch’s Citrus Arugula Salad with Prosciutto, which includes turmeric couscous, grapefruit and blood orange, pistachios, honey thyme delicata with tahini dressing. (Photo by Sarah Golibart Gorman)

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