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‘A long time coming.’ Meadowlark Coffee opens brick-and-mortar shop off the Gainesville square
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JP and Sommer McKenzie have opened Meadowlark Coffee just off the square in downtown Gainesville. The coffee shop originally opened as a pop-up coffee cart last December. - photo by Scott Rogers

When Meadowlark Coffee debuted as a pop-up coffee cart nearly a year ago, the end goal was clear: to one day reside in a brick-and-mortar shop.

Today, JP and Sommer McKenzie greet customers — many of them by name — from behind the counter of Meadowlark’s permanent abode at 109 Bradford St. NE in downtown Gainesville.

Meadowlark Coffee

Where: 109 Bradford St. NE, Gainesville

Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

More info: meadowlarkcoffee.shop 

Opened about three weeks ago with abbreviated hours, the shop is set to adopt its full-time schedule Wednesday, Nov. 16, serving specialty coffees and teas from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

“It’s been a long time coming,” JP said. “We’ve always toyed with the idea of having a shop; it’s always been a dream. But it seemed kind of unattainable, you know?”

The impetus, he said, was the La Marzocco espresso machine Sommer gave him for his first Father’s Day in 2021, which came with one string attached: launch a coffee service within the next year or send it back.

JP, a veteran barista whose experience includes stints at Jittery Joe’s in Athens and Brash Coffee in Atlanta, started preparing lattes for friends in his home until December 2021, when the McKenzies pulled the trigger and launched Meadowlark as a pop-up coffee cart at Enemies of the Average

The concept was short-lived, owing to its ability to meet food service rules and regulations set for pop-up operations by the Georgia Department of Public Health, and JP’s longtime dream of owning a brick-and-mortar shop began to take shape.

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JP McKenzie, right, and Christian Conway prepare coffees Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, at Meadowlark Coffee in Gainesville. McKenzie and wife Sommer have opened the coffee shop just off the square in downtown Gainesville. The coffee shop originally opened as a pop-up coffee cart last December. - photo by Scott Rogers

When he left Brash in 2017, the owners asked JP what his five-year plan entailed. Five years later, he’s living it, pulling espresso shots — with the same La Marzocco machine, no less — and hosting customers as though they’re guests in his own kitchen.

“It worked out right on track but didn’t necessarily feel that way,” he said. “If you asked me a year ago if I thought we’d have this in a year, I definitely would have laughed. Even though (the pop-up cart) got shut down, it gave us enough of a taste to be really excited to do more. That was the push that we needed to just go for it, because it definitely came a lot sooner than we ever had planned for. But it was all, what feels like now, perfect timing.”

What was intended to be a soft opening when Meadowlark Coffee officially opened its doors in late October has been anything but, affording the McKenzies little time to train their six staff the way they’d planned. The emerging baristas, however, have risen to the occasion. 

“The moment Sommer and I got the call that we could open, we were like, ‘Let’s just be in here, train people slowly, get everyone acquainted.’ We kind of assumed every couple of hours someone would walk by, but it really started picking up quick. It’s really been trial by fire. Everyone has done so great — like, I could not be more proud of how everyone has really picked up, really gives it their all. It’s a gift that can’t be overlooked, that we have people (on staff) who really care about others but also care about really devoting themselves to what we’re doing.”

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Sarah Dickinson prepares coffee drinks Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, at Meadowlark Coffee in downtown Gainesville. JP and Sommer McKenzie have opened Meadowlark Coffee just off the square. The coffee shop originally opened as a pop-up coffee cart last December. - photo by Scott Rogers

The roughly 430-square-foot space housing Meadowlark Coffee has likewise exceeded the McKenzies’ expectations.

“It’s a cozy space; it’s small, but it definitely exceeds my expectation in the way that I wanted it to feel — like you were walking into a friend’s kitchen, that you were somewhere you were excited to be and felt welcomed and at home,” JP said. “That is what I feel here, more than I really could have envisioned.”

With Inman Perk serving coffee less than 200 feet away and Boarding Pass Coffee slated to join the square early next year while Farmhouse Coffee moves into Solis Gainesville just across the pedestrian bridge, JP sees the potential for camaraderie rather than competition.

“People who are into coffee are excited to share coffees with other people,” he said. “I think what we're very quickly going to have here is, one, something to offer to people of all different coffee preferences, but I also think we’ll have a tighter knit community of coffee professionals or baristas who can do more coffee-oriented events together. I’m really, really thrilled that we’re growing in a way that will appeal to so many people.”

He added: “It makes sense at the rate we’re growing to have several (coffee shops) more come in. Everyone will have space. I don’t really think that anyone will be hurting for customers.”

With locally sourced ingredients, including pastries from Athens’ Independent Baking Co., house-made syrups and retail shelves featuring coffee roasters around the globe who “showcase the origin notes of their coffee in a clear, picturesque way,” McKenzie expressed his excitement to offer something that specialty coffee connoisseurs may have had to travel elsewhere to find.

“At the very least, we’re introducing people to things that they never would have gotten to try otherwise,” he said. “Maybe things that wouldn’t have been part of their lives, we can offer.”

That, paired with the sense of community Meadowlark is aimed to forge, is a gift that keeps on giving, JP said.

“Being part of people’s lives through this and being able to see some of the same casts of people walk through the door, catch up and hear how their life is going — it all makes this feel like my hometown, even though I’m a transplant,” he said. “The community aspect that we’ve been wanting for so long seems to be coming to fruition.”