A pair of young Iowans have launched Tru Coffee (Instagram) in Iowa City, inside the space in which they first met as baristas.
Haley Kesterson and Tucker Shephard, both 22, opened the coffee bar within weeks of some other major life changes.
“We moved into a new house, opened this shop and are getting married — all within three weeks,” Kesterson recently told Daily Coffee News.
Tru Coffee is nestled into a quiet corner of downtown, walkable from the University of Iowa campus, and surrounded by popular local food and beverage spots such as Wild Culture Kombucha, Goosetown Café and Oasis Falafel.
Kesterson and Shephard met as baristas working for Dash, and they credit the business for laying the foundation upon which Tru Coffee now stands. Said Shephard, “They taught us everything we know about coffee.”
The nascent coffee business is named after Kesterson’s mother, Trudi Kesterson, who passed away two months ago due to pancreatic cancer.
“We wanted the shop to be very people-focused,” Kesterson said. “My mom had 600 people at her visitation. She loved people so well.”
Written in bold letters across their front entrance is the slogan, “People first. Coffee second” — a motto created to reflect the couple’s service-driven approach to high-quality coffee.
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“I would get so burnt out just making coffee and not having that connection with people,” said Shephard. “It’s part of our shift [that] if we see someone we know, to sit down with them and chat for a bit.”
That spirit of approachability also applies to ordering and drink prep, too, as the shop caters to various tastes.
“I wanted to be that place where if someone wants that single-origin espresso or that caramel iced latte, they can have that,” Kesterson said. “Or if you want to learn about coffee, we can teach you.”
Syrups are made in-house and feature ingredients sourced from a local cooperative throughout each week. Kesterson prefers plant-based milk in her own drinks, and there is no upcharge for plant-based milks for guests.
The coffees themselves are currently roasted by the progressive Santa Cruz, California-based roasting outfit Cat & Cloud, whose outspoken support of producer-focused sustainability resonates with the Iowans. The couple said they may eventually add coffees from additional roasters to the mix.
Emphasizing sustainability throughout their retail operation, the couple plans to swap their disposable to-go cups entirely with glass jars. They also plan to roll out a manual pourover program.
“We think a hand-poured cup of coffee tastes better,” Shephard said. “It gives someone a job and it is more intentional.”
As the retail operation settles in, the owners hope to take further advantage of the large space through open mic nights, morning yoga classes, and perhaps even some nighttime cocktail popups.
For now, Kesterson and Shephard are basking in the bliss of an entrepreneurial honeymoon. Asked what it was like going into business with a significant other, Kesterson said, “Everyone says, ‘Don’t do it,’ but it’s been the most fun we have ever had.”
Emily Azzarito lives in Iowa City and attends the University of Iowa School of Law. She studied cello performance and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her preferred coffee order is an iced oat milk cappuccino.