Tiwanna “Ko-Ko” Hagans, owner of KoKoMo’s Coffeehouse on Fourth Street in uptown Charlotte, died Monday night.
An official in the Mecklenburg County medical examiner’s officer said a cause of death is expected Wednesday.
Hagans grew up in suburban Maryland and was a 1994 graduate of Johnson C. Smith University, where she had planed to open the school’s first on-campus coffee shop later this year.
On Aug. 3, Hagans was featured in a Monday Business column on Qcitymetro.com. She spoke openly about the seizures and brain condition that threatened her life. She said doctors had warned her that too much stress could exacerbate the condition.
Friends on Tuesday expressed disbelief.
Damian Johnson, co-owner of No Grease Barbershop and a fellow graduate of JCSU, said he had known Hagans since 1991 and that she was like a big sister to him.
“If you couldn’t appreciate Koko, then you couldn’t appreciate life,” he said. “She was a creative, peaceful and loving person. She was a go-getter and I admired her for being a black woman who left no room for excuses, especially in business. She was a fighter and full of life.”
Benny Smith, JCSU’s public relations director, sent out an email today notifying university staff and officials of Hagans’ death. He said details would be made public later about the future of her franchise on campus.
“Our prayers go out to her family and friends,” the note ended.
Ironically, Hagans said JCSU was not her first choice.
“My mama told me I was going, and that was that,” she told Qcitymetro.
Over time, however, she grew to become one of the schools biggest boosters. She credited JCSU with giving her the foundation she needed to succeed in business.
Hagans worked several jobs before choosing the coffee business. She was a computer programmer at the National Science Foundation, a Prince George’s County (Maryland) police officer and a real estate investor.
While working as a police officer, Hagans said, she began buying rental properties in the Washington, D.C., area. She also made frequent trips to Charlotte, meeting old friends in her favorite coffee shops around town.
It was during this period, she said, that she decided to open a shop of her own, in part at the urging of friends.
That first store, in 2005, opened in Huntersville, and Hagans returned to her police job, leaving her mother and employees to run the business. A second store, on Fourth Street, would soon follow.
Under the stress of her police job, managing her real estate holdings and keeping track of her coffee shops, Hagans said, she began developing seizures. Something had to give, doctors advised her.
Hagans retired from the police department on disability and moved back to Charlotte. She underwent brain surgery earlier this year and closed the Huntersville store.
Hagans said she loved the coffee business. She said she wanted her shops to be a place where people felt free to relax.
A good coffee shop, she said, is like a “sanctuary. It’s not like a gas station where you pick up and go.”