When Johnson Public House set up shop four years ago in a largely residential neighborhood of Madison, Wis., filled with graduate students and 20-something-year-old creative types, it was kind of a big deal. While the city already had a healthy number of coffee shops and a large handful of quality, well-established roasters, JPH was the city’s first border-expanding multi-roaster shop, eventually offering individually prepared, manually brewed coffees from the likes of Intelligentsia, Verve Coffee Roasters, Madcap Coffee Roasters and Heart Roasters, among many others.
After developing a loyal following and helping turn countless patrons on to the joys of coffees sourced, roasted and brewed at the highest levels, JPH is poised to expand its influence with the recent launch of a new roasting brand, called Kin-Kin, and a new retail bar, called A-OK, planned for a renovated fur factory space.
Kyle and Gwen Johnson, the husband and wife who founded JPH, see the new ventures more as exercises in community building than logical growth. “We’ve seen so much of a customer change since we first opened. It used to be, ‘Give me something dark and give me something fast,’ ” Gwen recently told Daily Coffee News, adding that the shop is now filled with customers who regularly take the time to discuss the day’s coffees, flavor profiles associated with origins, or the work of specific roasters.
Kin-Kin, the JPH roasting brand supported by a separate warehouse space with a shiny new Probat P12, is now regularly among the fold of guest roasters, although the couple says the intention is to maintain JPH’s flagship spot as a true multi-roaster cafe.
“This shop is always going to be a multi-roaster shop because we like to celebrate what everyone else is doing, too,” says Kyle. “Heart or Madcap or Intelli or whoever, they can hypothetically all have the same coffee, but when you bring it in here and you taste what they’ve done in the roast, they all have a different style. That’s what’s so amazing.”
That’s also part of the inspiration for Kin-Kin, for which the Johnsons are currently trying to build wholesale relationships throughout town. Kin-Kin is currently sourcing green coffees from Cafe Imports and Red Fox Coffee Merchants, with a rotating line of approximately three single-origin coffees. Crediting the concept to Grand Rapids, Mich.- and Washington D.C.-based Madcap, Kyle says Kin-Kin is refining its product line to include coffees only from certain Latin American origins. (There are exceptions — a Kenya Mbeguka greeted me during my visit.)
“We’ve been working a lot with Red Fox lately,” Kyle says. “We may pay a little bit more, for sure, but the samples have been out of this world, and we’re just picking the ones we like the best.”
As if the Johnsons weren’t busy enough, they also represent one third of a food-heavy commercial project in a high-traffic, largely industrial corridor off Madison’s East Washington Ave. that will also include a wine bar and a Southern cooking restaurant. The Johnsons’ A-OK coffee bar will include a full brunch-style menu with scratch biscuits, sandwiches and salads, while the coffee-centric drink menu will also have a small wine, beer and cocktail bar.
Other plans on the horizon include a public space at the Kin-Kin roastery, where the Johnsons and their team can get deep into coffee with consumers on a face-to-face level — continuing the community growth mentality formed with JPH four years ago. “I think the goal is to always be progressing and changing and experiencing better coffee,” says Kyle. “Obviously it’s risky and it can sometimes be expensive, but I would love to see it everywhere.”