Dorien Bolden '02 is back on campus with Beyu Blue

Opening a coffee shop on Bryan Center Plaza gives the alumnus memories of his beginnings.
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October 24, 2018

During a sunny lunchtime on the Bryan Center Plaza in the first week of classes, a throng of students crowd around Dorian Bolden ’02, surrounded by his wife, his kids, and some associates, as he uses a giant pair of Duke Blue scissors to cut a long Duke Blue ribbon in front of his brand-new coffee shop, Beyu Blue. “It is by far the coolest thing as an alum to come back on campus,” Bolden says, “and be among all of us students.” He laughs. “Well, all of you are students,” he says. It’s an easy stumble to make—time has flown.

That Bolden finds himself back on campus as a business owner is satisfying; that his business sits a few steps away from where he met his wife, Taineisha Bolden ’04 (then Sledge), is delightful.

But “the irony,” Bolden says, “is I never thought I would be doing something with my major.”

He started out aiming to study computer science, but a misplaced semicolon convinced him to give up on programming within his first couple days. “I fell in love with sociology, first class,” he says. “How do you identify? Who are you? How do you identify yourself?” Everyone in the classroom saw himself or herself as belonging to some race, class, gender, or other group, and Bolden was hooked on figuring out how we decide who we are. The name he selected for his downtown Durham coffee shop, “Beyu,” is pronounced—and it means—just what it looks like: Be you.

At Duke, Bolden majored in sociology and economics, with a certificate in markets and management—but upon graduation, he almost immediately went to work in finance, living with Duke friends in New York. He experienced two life-changing events while there: For one, he traveled to Jamaica. Bolden grew up in Decatur, Georgia. Despite the fact that he found Duke eye-opening (“I had never been around so many white people!”), he says he first saw real poverty in Jamaica, and he began “fighting for the changes I want to see.” For another thing, his father died, and he began to recognize that “tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”

When his company merged with another, and he saw people he trusted and people he looked up to lose their jobs, “it became less about money,” he says. “I lost that appetite just working for someone else in general”—and he left. He quickly stepped into the retail jobs he had held all his life, and got work in a coffee shop, which he found suited him.

“I enjoy making a person’s day brighter,” he says. “I think there’s a level of nobility in that: A smile, and ‘have a nice day’ has value. We forget that.” And when it was time for Taineisha to go to medical school at UNC, “I knew it was time to take the chance and follow her.”

That’s a Duke story in itself. Dorian and Taineisha met cute at the Bryan Center. Taineisha, new to campus, couldn’t locate an event for her B.N. Duke Scholarship program. Dorian, working the information desk, explained that he couldn’t direct her to her event if she didn’t know where it was. She expected more help, which “started an argument,” Dorian says, laughing, and more than fifteen years, one business, and two kids later they’re still working things out. Taineisha is a physician, working in Roxboro. “Beyu is his thing,” she says, smiling, though she calls finally seeing it fully open on campus “surreal.” When the space came available and Duke approached Beyu, “I was more excited than he was.”

Beyu Blue is its first satellite location. The spot opened up after a much-publicized incident last spring in which, after a Duke administrator’s complaint about music at coffee shop Joe Van Gogh, two employees were fired; soon afterward, Joe Van Gogh cut its ties with Duke.

Opening a second location, on campus, pleases that old sociology major. “When I was at Duke, white was the majority, and now nonwhite is the majority.” He sees the Beyu message as an opportunity to remind the Duke community: We have “so much more in common than we do differences.” He knows the students walking the Bryan Center Plaza, noses in their phones, will face a world changing as rapidly as the composition of the Duke student body has changed. “People try to find a way of dividing us, polarizing us. How do you bridge all that together?”

You might start with a cup of coffee.

  • Scott Huler is the senior writer at Duke Magazine.