Chatter fills the low-lit room as students sit around tables laughing, joking and showing off each other’s tricks. Hours go by and still, it’s as if they never notice time has passed, letting the soft background music envelop them. Smoke billows from each table, but not from fire. It’s from the hookah, something that has unexpectedly brought the Huntsville community together, allowing friendships to blossom.
It is the same type of close bond that was the basis for opening Gundy’s, Huntsville’s first hookah lounge, which opened last Wednesday.
“[My friends] were so close to me, that anything I did, I wanted it to be for them,” Taylor Gunderson, owner and namesake of the lounge, said. “I wanted a place where I could hire my friends and enjoy a place that they could call their own, whether it was working or hanging out.”
Gunderson’s idea for his business was sparked by his entrepreneurial spirit when he was a high school student working in a coffee shop.
However, it wasn’t until he attended college at Sam Houston State University that he met Emily Rooke and Justin O’Neal, two people who would eventually become his best friends and catalysts for opening his shop.
“They kind of took me under their wing and when I got into the radio station I really didn’t know anybody,” Gunderson said. “They were the two that befriended me and said ‘hey, let’s show you Huntsville.'”
From then on, the trio stuck together throughout college and even after Gunderson graduated in 2011. During one visit to Huntsville is where the idea for a hookah lounge came up.”He had the original idea for a photo booth, but we were the ones who told him that hookah would be the best thing for Huntsville and for college students,” Rooke, a junior mass communication major, said. “We backed him a hundred percent to get everything running.”Despite name being “Gundy’s”, Gunderson said it was his two friends who played large roles in bringing their ideas, creativity and sometimes reasoning to make the lounge a true place for community.
“It was all three of us coming together to support and create this place,” he said. “You see them behind the scenes making coffee and serving customers and you see my face on everything but it was Justin and Emily who have done everything to get this place ready. Every idea has gone through them and it still does.”
For Rooke, that has been the most fulfilling part of the experience of building a business.”I love what I do. Making coffee and hookahs for people and seeing them enjoy it is great,” she said. “It’s our peers and all of our friends who come to support us. People wanted a lounge and a place to hang out. We definitely are giving back to them now. This is all for them.”Gunderson said that as the business grows, he hopes to expand the lounge to include more space for people to listen to live music, host club meetings and stay engulfed in the community.
For now, he is happy to interact with his customers and provide a relaxing atmosphere for them to socialize.
“I look at this table and this guy has never met these girls in his life,” Gunderson said. “These girls came in to get some coffee and they’ve been here for a little more than an hour and now their interacting and having a great time