Knowledge Perk Coffee Company opened its second location in Fort Mill, South Carolina, in April 2022. (Photo by Jack Veltri)

A South Carolina coffee company is making its way to Columbia — and is taking over a former funeral home. 

Knowledge Perk will open its fourth location, on the first floor of the W.B. Smith Whaley House, across the street from the University of South Carolina School of Law. The business has shops in Rock Hill and Fort Mill, with a third coming to McAdenville, North Carolina, in December. 

The Columbia location does not have an opening date yet, said Hannah Hecker, general manager of the Fort Mill spot. 

“I hope it’s going to do good,” Hecker said. “I think it will, just because it’s a college town.”

Hecker, only 20 years old, has been with Knowledge Perk since the Fort Mill location’s opening in April. She said she plans to work at the Columbia site while she takes classes at USC next year. 

Knowledge Perk’s most popular orders are hot and cold lattes and cold brew, Hecker said. Customers also frequently buy the shop’s ground coffee. 

“We roast all of our beans in Rock Hill,” Hecker said. “(Owner Ryan Sanderson) has traveled the world looking for the coffee beans. … He’s been to Honduras and all these other places. It’s pretty cool.”

When Knowledge Perk opens in Columbia, it will not only be competing against well-known corporations, but also smaller coffee shops that are already popular with locals. 

“It’s going to be a very Cracker-Barrel style, since it’s in a house,” Hecker said. “So I hope that’ll kind of compete with (other coffee shops).”

Hecker said the Whaley House’s unique style could set Knowledge Perk apart from other local coffee shops. It was built in 1893 by its namesake, engineer W.B. Smith Whaley, who developed Columbia’s Richland, Olympia and Granby textile mills. And its design resembles the Queen Anne style architecture, with steep roofs and a conical corner tower.

“It (was) popular at that time, because at the time the house was constructed, and shortly thereafter, there were other Queen Anne-style houses in Columbia,” said John Sherrer, the director of cultural resources at Historic Columbia. “You don’t have those there anymore.”

In the mid-1920s, the house became home to Dunbar Funeral Home. Sherrer said the Dunbar company maintained ownership of the property until 1997 when USC bought it, intending to use it as a children’s law center — but that didn’t happen. Instead, the law center’s facility is now located on Pickens Street, less than 1,000 feet from the house. 

By 1979, the Whaley House became a part of the National Register of Historic Places, according to the S.C. Department of Archives and History. 

In addition to Knowledge Perk, the house will feature six apartments on its upper levels.

“I think it will be a great adaptive use of the property,” Sherrer said. “And it’s something that will certainly breathe new life into the area.”

The W.B. Smith Whaley House, located at 1527 Gervais St., will be the site of Knowledge Perk’s fourth shop. (Photo by Danielle Wallace)

Knowledge Perk’s most popular drinks include lattes and cold brew, as well as drip coffee. (Photo by Jack Veltri)

There are two murals located on the inside of Fort Mill’s Knowledge Perk. One of the murals features a colorful hand holding a cup of coffee. (Photo by Jack Veltri)

Fort Mill’s Knowledge Perk is one of many shops located in the Tega Cay Village Shopping Center. (Photo by Jack Veltri)


Jack Veltri

Jack Veltri

Veltri is a senior journalism student at the University of South Carolina. Outside the classroom, he interns at Gamecock Central, covering athletics. He spent three years at the student-run newspaper, The Daily Gamecock, covering baseball and softball and serving as sports editor. In his free time, he likes to work out and watch anything Star Wars and Marvel related.

Danielle Wallace

Danielle Wallace

Wallace is a journalism major at the University of South Carolina minoring in English. The Charleston native recently covered a drag queen bingo event as part of her interest in diverse communities. An Italian from Boston at heart, Wallace is drawn to tales of loved ones uniting in times of tribulation.