There was a point in my early’s 2os when I would describe myself as a “locabond” — a vagabond that never quite managed to get out of the same city.
That city was Austin, Texas, where after college I moved on a whim, hoping to play music and, as Pulp Fiction’s Jules Winnfield might, “walk the earth, meet people… get into adventures.” Of course, that is a hair-brained plan, one that led me from job to job — often back and forth between selling bad coffee (I didn’t know it was bad then) and maintaining high-end pool systems in the Hill Country. It also meant that I hung my hat, so to speak, at at least nine different apartments over a period of two years.
At some point, I’d had enough of the locabond lifestyle, enrolled in graduate school and got a small studio apartment close to the University of Texas campus. I dove into my books, hauling piles of them to libraries and coffee shops throughout the city. I’d spend hours or even full days there, fueled by mostly good black coffee (I didn’t know it was good then), and the occasional espresso drink or oatmeal cookie.
The Flightpath, Spider House Cafe, Flipnotics (now closed): These places were not only my workspaces, but they gave me sanctuary outside my dingy studio apartment, as good shops often do. I became friends with other customers and baristas. A couple of the owners even greeted me by my first name. Baristas new my order. In short, I was treated well — completely unaware that I was, to use today’s parlance, a classic squatter.
Another of my regular stops was JP’s Java, a lovely small shop bordering UT’s main campus just to the north of Darrel K Royal Texas Memorial football stadium. It was the shop closest to my apartment, and I would go their early Saturday mornings, before the undergrads had shaken off their hangovers and while JP’s incredible cinnamon buns were often still warm. Coffee tastes best when all is quiet early on a weekend morning, and this is where I took mine. My Saturday morning sensory memory is strongly aligned to this place, even today.
So I felt genuine sadness when I came across this Daily Texan headline: “JP’s Java coffee shop to close next week.” A distinct pang of guilt followed when I saw this quote from owner JP Hogan:
“This place is real deceptive to people,” Hogan said. “This place is packed all the time, and it looks like it’s just making money hand-over-fists, but it’s not. It can look packed, all the tables can be full, but each person paid four dollars, and they’re sitting there two, three [or] four hours.”
Oh, crap, that was me.
Hogan later says, “I can’t keep losing money to make everyone happy.”
As I’ve come to learn only since leaving Austin, JP’s was actually one of the city’s first independent roasters to have a serious focus on coffee quality, maintaining a supply relationship with Seattle’s Zoka Coffee & Tea and helping create and raise the bar in one of the most exciting coffee markets in the U.S.
As Hogan told the DT:
“Around 2000, coffee really had a big change, and my goals were two things,” Hogan said. “One, have the best coffee in town, and two was to build a place that was homey, where people could come and relax. A home away from home.”
The dual mission was accomplished in spades and over years, despite the cruel reality in specialty coffee retail that the numbers sometimes don’t add up.
It’s strange to thank someone and apologize to them at the same time and for the same reason, but here goes: Thank you, Mr. Hogan and the all the JP’s baristas over the years, for giving me a place at the table. And I’m sorry.