Great Grads: 1989 Dunbar grad runs “the people’s coffee house” in Dayton

Third Perk owner Juanita-Michelle Darden

Juanita-Michelle Darden’s face still lights up when she remembers the first time someone told her she had created “the people’s coffeehouse.” 

It was near the end of 2017, more than two years after the 1989 Dunbar Early College High School graduate opened Third Perk Coffeehouse and Wine Bar, when she knew she had accomplished what she set out to do.

“I felt like Third Perk had become a true reflection of our community,” Darden said in a recent interview. “It was something that happened organically.”

But that achievement didn’t come by chance. Darden, who is also an assistant professor of mathematics at Sinclair Community College, had owned a business before and has a business administration degree from Franklin University. She also has a certification in math from Central State University and graduate degrees from the University of Dayton and the University of Cincinnati.

With Third Perk, Darden sought to create a community space that was sophisticated yet fun. She wanted to serve quality food in an environment where everyone felt welcomed. Dayton, she said, was lacking such a space. So she decided to create it. 

The Dayton native had tried her hand at opening a business before. Juan-Michele, The Boutique on North Main Street, opened and closed within six months in 2002.

Lessons from that venture — such as ensuring a “winning business plan” is in place — gave her more confidence when opening Third Perk.

In June 2015, Third Perk opened its doors. Darden, who has taught math for the Dayton Public School District at Meadowdale High School and at her alma mater, Dunbar, is now a registered caterer for the district. 

Being connected to Dayton Public Schools is important to her.

“I’m proud of my Dayton Public background, and I always talk about it,” she said. “I believe in the district. I believe that our students are amazing and they deserve a quality education.” 

And Darden wants to give back to the community she has always called home. Third Perk has a not-for-profit side called Dream Driven. Through Dream Driven, the business gives back. An example of that is the PERK-E-Lator — the coffeehouse’s version of Shark Tank. Since 2015, the PERK-E-Lator has awarded $7,500 to Dayton entrepreneurs and small business owners. The Dreamer’s Gala, a dinner buffet and auction to support entrepreneurs in the City of Dayton, another product of Dream Driven, is the primary fundraising event for these grants. 

Darden hopes to give away more money in 2020. 

As for the people’s coffeehouse, Darden said a lot is on the horizon, including developing “new food concepts.” 

For more information about Third Perk, visit