Brewing up some business

Patty Meier, Mojo's owner, right, talks to manager Meg Leatherman behind the shop's counter.

The refrains of the ?Happy Birthday? song echoed through the java-scented air at Mojo?s Coffee Bar one March afternoon as several young men sang to a friend after purchasing a variety of beverages at the North Newton business..

This vignette in time is a perfect example of what patrons do at Mojo?s ? gather, have fun and drink great beverages.

Those young men are just some of the people who patronize Mojo?s, which is in Schultz Student Center at Bethel College. (Mojo?s also has a kiosk at Newton Medical Center.) A multitude of people gather there, whether it?s to meet for coffee and chat, conduct business meetings, have first dates or be on the receiving end of interviews. It?s a place where people can enjoy a relaxed time and have fun.

?We all have home and we have work, and we all need a third place where you feel comfortable and welcomed, and we want to be that place,? said Patty Meier, Mojo?s owner.

Meier doesn?t know of any love connections that have been made there, but she said, ?I bet we have (had some).?

?We have a lot of people that meet here for different things,? she said, sitting at one of the tables.

Meier estimated about 40 percent of Mojo?s customer base is comprised of students, faculty and staff at Bethel College, while 60 percent comes from the community.

In addition to serving customers, the coffee business has brewed up a variety of events, such as Music on the Patio in the summers; a Harry Potter-themed night when Kidron Bethel Village resident John Buckner and his crew made wands for attendees; Trivia Night; and performances by a variety of groups and individuals.

Meier said Music on the Patio probably will return this summer. For that, musicians perform on the outside deck, and the street in front of Mojo?s is blocked off so people can sit and listen. The event draws 40 to 50 people.

?That?s so much fun,? Meier said.

Fun isn?t the only goal Meier has in mind; she?s also community minded. The proceeds from the Harry Potter night went toward Joplin tornado relief.

Trivia Night happens a couple of times a month, Meier said.

?That?s been really popular,? she said.

Groups from Bethel College, such as Woven, Open Road, jazz and an improv group, have performed there, as well as ?The Voice? contestant Kaleigh Glanton, who started playing there when she was in high school. Glanton also performed there while she still was a contestant on ?The Voice.?

Mojo?s also has had a couple of coffee cupping events, where the public is invited to learn about coffees from different areas, Meier said.

Having gatherings and serving coffee are reflected in the coffee bar?s mission, which is three-fold, Meier said: to serve exceptional coffee, to provide extraordinary service, and to make friends and have fun.

?As a staff and with our customers, I feel like we?ve made a lot of friends, and we have fun,? Meier said. ?This space has become everything I?d hoped it would be. It?s an open space for all. It?s very intergenerational.?

Customers range in ages from the very young to residents at Kidron Bethel, a North Newton retirement community, Meier said.

?Our clientele is so loyal,? she said. ?I?ve just made so many good friends just being here.?

The idea of opening a coffee shop had been percolating with Meier for some time.

?I had actually wanted to have a coffee shop since I was probably about 20 years old,? she said. ?I?ve always loved coffee culture.?

However, she didn?t have the ?guts or the money? until she was 44. At that time, she opened the Newton Medical Center location in December 2009, which has been in the main lobby area. Meier had heard NMC was interested in having a coffee shop there, and she had also looked at some spaces in downtown Newton.

?In conversation with (NMC), it sounded like a really good option,? Meier said.

At the hospital, they mainly serve drinks and a few pastries. However, that location wasn?t without a challenge. During the first year, the Mojo?s kiosk wasn?t hooked to plumbing, so they had to cart water in water tanks. The hospital later added plumbing for them.

Later, Meier was approached by a group working with the Bethel College Student Senate to get a coffee shop on campus, although she wasn?t the first person they asked.

?It was nothing when I came into it,? Meier said of the space Mojo?s occupies that?s been called Bubbert?s. ?I think it had been a year since something had been here.?

Mojo?s opened at Bethel in Septem?ber 2010. In December 2014, Mojo?s celebrated five years of being in existence with Newton native Chris Beck performing and cake being served.

?I?ve been so enriched being here,? Meier said. ?I?ve definitely achieved my dream, for which I feel fortunate.?

She said she achieved her goal better than she ever dreamed possible.

?Not many people get to pursue something that?s been a lifelong dream,? Meier said. ?I feel very fortunate to have met all the people who have walked with me in this journey.?

Meier said she couldn?t have done this without her husband, Shane. ?He does everything. He is awesome.?

One of the things Shane does is fix machines, and he built a pour-over station.

Like many businesses, Mojo?s needed to build on a name, but first Meier had to come up with one. Her mother?s name is Jackie, and Shane?s mother?s name was Margaret. They discussed calling it MJ?s after their mothers, but as Meier played with the letters, she came up with Mojo?s. She researched the definition of ?mojo,? and found it meant magical or charmed.

?So it seemed perfect,? Meier said.

The tagline for Mojo?s ? Meet at Mojo?s ? also seems perfect.

A business is nothing without its employees, and Meier seems to have fun with them ? joking around, smiling and working hard together. The majority of her employees are Bethel College students, although the business is separate from the college. Her managers are Erin Engle, a BC grad, and Meg Leatherman, a Bluffton grad.

One thing they?ve worked on is having the baristas become good at latte art, and they?ve even attended some latte art competitions.

?They were so nervous,? Meier said. ?We work very hard at training all our baristas about coffee and all aspects of coffee.?

One of Mojo's managers, Erin Engle, holds a glass of her latte art.

In addition to all the people she?s met and friends she?s made at Mojo?s, one of Meier?s favorite things is an annual event with employees.

?One of my favorite things every year is the whole staff goes Christmas caroling,? Meier said. ?We go one evening,? which usually is on a Friday night after they close the shop.

While spreading great tidings of joy, they visit homes of some of their regular customers.

These regular customers, as well as anyone from the public, can order from the wide variety of offerings at Bethel, such as a large selection of coffee drinks, salads, paninis, pastries, cinnamon rolls and cookies, including Grandma?s Cookies.

?We make everything here,? Meier said.

All of their coffee drinks can be ordered hot, iced or blended. They also have a full line of non-coffee drinks, such as hot chocolate, chai, fruit smoothies and craft sodas, like bottled artisan and Italian sodas. Mojo?s also has more than 40 varieties of loose-leaf tea.

Meier didn?t just jump into the coffee business blindly.

?When I decided I was going to do this, I went to coffee school in Oregon,? she said.

The school was intensive regarding a variety of topics, such as opening a coffee shop business, getting a business plan, how to run the shop once it?s open and how to choose a roaster.

Meier picked PT?s Coffee Roasting Co. in Topeka as her roaster.

?Right after we chose them, they were chosen as Roaster of the Year in the United States,? Meier said.

PT?s does a lot of direct-trade coffee, which means they have a direct and personal relationship with farmers who grow the coffee.

?They pay a premium for their coffee, much higher than fair trade,? Meier said.

Coffee is grown in the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, which are 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator. These include places such as Indonesia, South America, Central America and Ethiopia.

Even thought it can just take a few minutes to consume Mojo?s coffee, the journey it takes from bean to cup is a long one. The coffee comes from a lot of hard-to-reach places, and most is hand-picked, and washed and dried by hand. It?s a very labor-intensive process, Meier said, so many people have a hand in getting the coffee to her shop.

?We respect that,? she said.

The coffee then goes through a distributor, to the roaster, to Mojo?s and then the consumer.

Meier didn?t start her career in the coffee business. She has a bachelor?s degree in speech pathology and a master?s degree in education. She taught for eight years in Hesston public schools and five years at Hesston College.

Although Meier considers herself kind of a foodie, she enjoys her coffee.

?Coffee?s probably my biggest hobby,? she said, smiling.

Article and photos by Wendy Nugent

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