Husband and wife, JP and Sommer McKenzie, started the Meadowlark brand as an adorable espresso cart attending events all over town. Now with their own storefront on the Gainesville Square, I wanted to learn more about them and their story. I got to chat with them about their history and how they came to be.
Located at 109 Bradford St. Gainesville 30501 GA
How did you end up in the coffee industry?
While we were in college, I picked up a job at the coffee shop where Sommer and I would always go to study. I fell in love with the community that a coffee shop brings in. When I started touring heavily with my band, Family And Friends, we quickly got to experience specialty coffee shops around the country. For me, it was the forefront of third wave coffee that was truly enchanting. After graduating and moving from Athens to Atlanta there was a new coffee shop called BRASH opening around the corner from my dad’s print shop in between tours. Once it finally opened in 2016, I would walk there every day on my lunch break and once again fell in love with the time I would spend there. Even though there were other roasters in Atlanta at the time, there was nobody roasting or sourcing anything of that quality in 2016. I became close friends with the small crew that worked there and it changed my whole life. I started working there shortly after they opened and am so thankful they brought me into the fold. It felt like I was surrounded by people who were inexplicably great in the art of making coffee yet somehow made you feel at home while brewing it. I learned so much from the people I worked alongside and made friendships that will last a lifetime. I stepped out from behind the bar and started working alongside the Norman brothers, who opened Bellwood Coffee, helping start their wholesale program. I happily stepped into that role in 2019. Charles and Joel are two of the best people in coffee and two people who I’ve always looked up to for the way they live out their values. All the while, Sommer and I have been ordering coffee from roasters around the world and have found so many that we truly love. The coffee industry is unlike any other in the sense that it can be so intimately knit.
Why did you start Meadowlark Coffee ?
When we moved back to Gainesville in 2019, we really missed that community that a coffee shop can build. We longed for the familiar feelings of being in coffee shops drinking beautiful coffees out of ceramics and spending too long catching up with our favorite people. The pandemic hit and we realized a more desperate need for those intimate moments like the ones at coffee shops where for a second you can escape from the outside world. For our first Father’s Day in 2021, Sommer decided to gift me an espresso machine so we could get moving on the dream of opening a coffee shop together. Of course the caveat was that if we didn’t have something up and running within a year we would sell it. Our goal is to make a space where everyone feels welcome and can be a breath of fresh air in the middle of their day.
When does your new storefront open?
We are hopeful to have it open before the end of October! We are putting the finishing touches on now and are just so thrilled to share our space with everyone.
Update from the Author: Meadowlark Coffee is NOW OPEN! Grand opening coming Nov 20th, 2022. Follow them on Instagram for more updates @meadowlarkcoffee
Who has shaped your journey with Meadowlark the most?
The health department has definitely shaped it the most. Our plan was to operate as a cart for a while, but since they said we had to get legislation passed to allow coffee carts we were excitedly redirected into opening a storefront. There have been so many people who have been instrumental in the opening of Meadowlark. It has definitely taken a village. I feel like it would be more like album liner notes if I wrote everyone’s names out. The bottom line is that we couldn’t have done this alone. I’ve leaned heavily on family members while working through all of this. I’ve made so many friends who have encouraged us, everyone who came to the pop-up when we had the pleasure of being with Enemies of the Average, my friends who coached me on how to open a business. Sommer’s Mom, Susan Daniel, who split all of our dowels so we would have a cart that would stand out. And then came and helped cut new legs when the cart could no longer stand. I am incredibly thankful that we have the support that we do through all of this. And of course, the community of Gainesville who have really helped lift us up.
What is one thing you love to do in your free time?
We really love to travel and eat. Most of our trips are planned around going back to our favorite restaurants and coffee shops.
What has been the most difficult part about being a business owner?
The most difficult part so far has been rolling with the punches of renovating and building a coffee shop. There have been a myriad of surprises through this process and I’m thankful that we have a support system to help keep our chins up throughout.
What was the design process like with the new location?
The design process has been really fun and exciting. There is a lot of pressure in designing a coffee shop — especially since we are not designers. Our shop is small, so the goal was to make it feel more like you’re walking into a friend’s kitchen than walking into a coffee shop. Sommer has a really wonderful eye for design and I’ve been so proud to watch that come to life. It’s come with making a lot of really hard decisions, especially since we don’t own the space we are in. That being said, there are small touches around the shop that we can’t wait for people to see. Our contractors have been wonderful in lending their expertise and helping bring our vision to life. We have also slowly been renovating our 1930’s cottage so I think I’ll feel significantly better once we have one space finished.
What is your goal for the next 6 months? Next year?
A year goes by pretty quickly but so many things can happen in that time frame. By this time next year, I hope we have made the lives of our baristas better and made the lives of our customers better. I hope that by this time next year, we are looking for a secondary location. I hope that in 6 months we can expand our offerings to include partnerships with local businesses. I also hope that in 6 months we have a stronger program in place for reusable cups. Our friends, Horizon Line Coffee, in Des Moines have really set a standard that I’d like to model our shop after by incorporating less single use vessels.
What is your go to spot for date night?
This is a tough one! We really love any type of Asian food. If we are out in Atlanta, Gaja in EAV is always really wonderful. Incredible Korean food with great cocktails and an intimate ambiance. We also really love Eat at Thai, their whole family is so sweet and it is some of the best Thai food we have ever had. When our wedding got canceled due to COVID, we had to get married in our backyard and we knew immediately where we would get the food. Eat At Thai was a hit among everyone.
What is the hardest part about working with your spouse?
We are really fortunate to love working together. Sommer started a photography company a few years ago and we have gotten to shoot most of our weddings/corporate shoots together through the years. It makes life so much better to work alongside someone you love. The hardest part is probably the fact that while doing something as stressful as opening a coffee shop, it consumes every ounce of your thoughts. But there’s nobody in the world I’d rather walk through this with and have as support during some of these really tough moments.
If you could recommend any food spot to us, what would it be?
- Whenever people come visit us, we always take them to Inked Pig.
- Tito’s Tacos in Lilburn
- I Sodi in New York
- Thai Tom in Seattle.
We love sending recommendations for travel and this question has got us rattling off all of our favorite spots in the country so now we are just getting carried away… and hungry.