New Market’s Business of the Year, Jackson’s Corner Cafe, is a favorite stop for locals and travelers alike. The shop is housed within the historic Lee Jackson building. The building has a more than two hundred years of history with shoppers, Civil War generals, overnight guests, and travelers. Today it is a pleasant place to sit and sip fresh roasted coffee, indulge in the best scone’s Virginia boasts, and talk awhile.
Kevin Fox, owner of Crazy Fox Coffee, sits across the table with his trademark red mug, ready to talk business and coffee. From the walls, the Generals and townspeople of old, look on from 1800’s photographs. Some of the younger locals sit at nearby tables.
“How did you end up in the coffee business, and in this location?”
“Well, it’s an interesting story,” he says. “A few years ago I would have never expected to be where I am today. I started roasting coffee as a hobby in my garage. I learned from a man named Tracy Shepherd. He had a coffee roasting business at the time. Then I joined a Green coffee buyers club online. Between members, we were buying about twenty types of beans, in one hundred and fifty pound bags, from all over the world. We experimented with roasting and mixing them. We’d exchange beans, and our roasting notes, and learn a lot that way.”
“How did your interest and experimentation with coffee begin to turn into a business?” I ask.
“I shared what I was doing. I had more coffee than I knew what to do with so I started to give it to friends. Pretty soon people started asking to buy it. Then I was invited to roast coffee and sell it at a Little League Fundraiser. That was my first event and it pushed me to make my hobby into a legal business.
“A year later, I was asked to fill outstanding orders for Monty, the man who rented this shop, before suddenly passing away. Filling orders led to teaching Monty’s son how to roast coffee, in preparation for him taking over the business. When he decided he didn’t want to take over the business I was asked to buy it. Several women who had been working at the shop agreed to stay on and help me and so I decided to go ahead and buy in.”
“How do you build credibility in your cafe?”
“I roast coffee on site and am knowledgeable about the process and the bean’s origins and qualities. We offer consistency and friendliness in the cafe. I am very involved in everything that happens here. I will jump into any of the tasks that need doing, whether that is helping get the food out, or cleaning tables.”
“What is a typical day like,” I wonder.
“I am here between 6:30 and 7 am. Anna and I open up the shop. I will either help make breakfast sandwiches or get ready to roast. I am usually roasting coffee by 8 am. Around 11 am I help with lunch. The afternoon is filled with bills, invoices, and paperwork. I also fill and bag orders and sometimes deliver orders on the way home.”
It sounds like a full day.”What sacrifices have you made for your business?”
“Time and finances are sacrificed.”
I nod. “What do you enjoy about being a business owner?”
Kevin looks thoughtful. “I enjoy having the freedom to make my own choices and reap the benefits or suffer the consequences. I love what I do and I get to make a living at it.”
It is a privilege many dream about, but not all are willing to sacrifice for.
“What has surprised you along the way?”
“The people I have met have surprised me in a good way. The loyalty of people has been positive. The hours I have had to put in and the expense of running this place has been surprising too.”
I have a moment of gratitude for the sacrifices made to run the cafe, given that it is one of a kind here in town, and a favorite stopping spot. A combination of locals and travelers are served at Jackson’s. It is an eclectic mix of people that appreciate and populate Jackson’s Cafe.
I ask Kevin to explain what sets his cafe apart.
“I have a roaster here. We are the only local shop that combines the cafe with a roastery. I do the roasting myself. I don’t put the beans on a timed cycle. It is a hands on process. I gauge the cycle myself, using sight, smell and sound. After about six minutes I am looking for smoke, then I am listening for the beans to crack. At about seven minutes, I am smelling the beans. They smell like fresh baked bread. The process is a mix of art and science and you have to get the timing right. It isn’t something you can rush, or neglect.”
Kevin speaks next about his staff.
“Local women and girls work here. The community works here and I think people like that. Staff aren’t coming and going like they might in a college town. The locals expect and appreciate familiar faces behind the counter, someone who knows their order, and also their family.”
“How do you get the word out about all the good you have going on here?”
“I support local businesses and events. I am at the Farmer’s Market in Harrisonburg. I go to stores that carry my coffee and brew and give out samples.”
When Kevin starts talking about continuing education in the world of coffee his enthusiasm is infectious.
“Everything is always changing. It is important for me to keep up with what us happening with coffee around the world. I read trade magazines and go to a few shows a year and take classes. This spring I hope to go to Costa Rica with a buyer and visit the farms where a large portion of our coffee beans are grown.”
The spark in his eyes speaks to his love of coffee.
I sense that the combination of enthusiasm, hard work, high quality product, and knowledge of coffee, will draw customers far into the future. I glance at the wall with a picture of the Generals sitting straight and stoney faced. One of the signs beside a copy of a 1800’s picture speaks to what a bitter brew Civil War coffee was. If their coffee had the qualities of Crazy Fox coffee, maybe they would have quirked a smile, despite their reality. The process of coffee making has been refined over the years; and Kevin has mastered both the art and the science. Cafe customers smile around us to say it is so.