Jozoara Coffee: Indie Java Spot Finds Rare Success

By Lynell Lewis

Walk through the doors of Jozoara Coffee in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (just south of Nashville), and a delicious wave of aromatic, fresh coffee immediately beckons you to the counter. There, you are greeted by a friendly, sincere smile and a polite, “How are you and what can I get for you today?” Bump into the owner, Teresa Harmon, and she’ll ask how things are going – and she seems to know everyone who walks through the door.

Is this coffee heaven? For strangers, it may seem that way, but for those “in the know” it is all part of the Jozoara experience.

The small-business graveyard is filled with independent coffee-shop dreams. Pass through any college town, and you’re as likely to see a failed, coffee-stained husk of a shop as a thriving, java-slinging palace. Even if they survive the mighty green giant, Starbucks, there’s no guarantee of profit, and if an owner wants to adhere to ideals on fair trade and the environment, those lofty goals only place more pressure on a struggling shop.

Consider this and the fact that Jozoara is a good twenty minute drive from the nearest joe-swilling university – a little island of bohemia in a suburban strip mall – and the success seems all the more unlikely.

While the coffee shop becomes an instant favorite for anyone who discovers it, for Harmon the shop is a dream that took years to achieve. She explains that her original idea was a more modest shop called “Java Mamma’s.” “I could picture it,” she says. “It was just a portable building. It was going to be painted yellow and have blue shutters and a purple door and sit in the parking lot at MTSU.”

The opportunity to open the shop came when her husband Keith Harmon called a friend, Rex Creviston, that he had been partners with and asked him to talk him out of the idea. But the conversation had the opposite effect. Rex told Keith he and his wife Tonia were thinking about opening one, too. The preparation began.

“We went to Seattle to a coffee fest and we went to a lot of coffee shops,” says Harmon. Over time, the present-day form of Jozoara began to take shape. On April Fools’ Day, 2008, they opened their doors for the first time.

The main ingredient in customer satisfaction isn’t the coffee beans, says Harmon, but rather, the people who grind them. Members of the “grounds crew” (so says their employee t-shirts) often have the orders of their regular customers memorized. Harmon says choosing the members of the Jozoara grounds crew has little to do with an application.

“There is something in that person that I can’t teach them,” She explains. “Then from there, it’s my responsibility to give them the framework to know how to give the Jozoara experience which starts with legendary customer service.”

First-time Jozoara customer, Christina Watkins said she enjoyed her time there because, “They have a nice staff, very nice people” and moments later when she received her frozen drink complete with a personalized chocolate design she exclaimed, “Oh that’s neat!”

The food served at Jozoara, such as their ultimate chocolate cake, is scrumptious and many offerings are also healthy. Harmon mentions that several menu options are vegetarian and “we don’t do pink yogurt, we offer plain yogurt, granola and real oatmeal.”

In addition to providing customers with consistently yummy treats, Jozoara is concerned with doing their part to preserve the environment. “People talk about a lot of buzz words like ‘trans-fat’,” says Harmon, who was an environmental studies major in college. “Even organic is a word that can get misused. I could have only organic and only fair trade coffee and still be doing a great injustice to you, to your children and to everybody by being irresponsible.”

Jozoara is committed to being a socially responsible business in as many capacities as possible by recycling and using Stone Cup brand coffee, who participates in the “Cup of Excellence” program which allows some of the money generated by the coffee to go back to the community where it originated.

Aside from their environmental and social justice efforts, Jozoara also serves the surrounding community. There large table is almost always host to study groups, business meetings, and book clubs. Jozoara has also hosted several fundraisers, game nights and clubs like “Chicks With Sticks,” a group of local women from all walks of life that meet on Monday nights to chat, joke around, and knit.

The shop has become a local nerve center for business, politics, and art.

Many business people use the coffee shop as a meeting place to discuss ideas, as do local politicians. Harmon shares that “the two red leather chairs seem to be the best seats in the house” and that one day a regular customer and his friend came in to have their usual chat and one of the chairs was broken. The customer went out to his truck and came back with the necessary supplies to repair the chair and afterward joked with Harmon, saying, “At first I thought I was going to have to go to a different coffee shop.”

The coffee shop operates as a gallery of fine art and crafts where local artists can showcase their talent and sell their work for 100% of the proceeds. Jozoara does not take a single cent’s commission for artwork featured in their shop.

Murfreesboro’s musical talent is also highlighted in Jozoara several nights per week. On the first and third Saturday of every month, Dan Coleman of Mastermix Music organizes and records Jozoara’s open mic night. “Dan is going to select songs that will go on the very first Jozoara coffee house cd,” Harmon says. Attending an open mic night at Jozoara allows the listener to hear the beautifully written songs of local artists and gives them a chance to perform in front of a live audience.

Perhaps their success is all in the name, although it leaves many newcomers scratching their heads. Teresa says Jozoara’s name is a combination of “Jo” as in a cup of coffee and “zoara” which means a peace of place or sanctuary. “So we’re your coffee sanctuary,” Teresa says with a smile.

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