Kelly Brown is a former chief financial officer, a certified public accountant, a numbers guy.
But he’s also a coffee guy.
In fact, he may be the most jovial java maker anywhere.
He’s the co-owner, operator, coffee roaster and head greeter at Java Stop on Hutchins Street.
Java Stop is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Once a drive-through dairy where milk and cheese were sold, the Java Stop under Brown is a bustling purveyor of fresh-roasted coffee, along with smoothies and bagels.
All of it is served up with infectious amiability.
“This is kind of like ‘Cheers,’ where everyone knows your name — and knows what you like to drink,” said Dean Eldridge, one of many Java Stop regulars. As soon as he arrives, Eldridge said, the barista on duty, as if on cue, starts preparing his 24-ounce cold-brewed coffee with cream and a packet of Sweet and Low.
Java Stop does things a little differently, a little more personally. On Mother’s Day, for instance, moms get a flower with their coffee. On Father’s Day, dads get a Hot Wheels car.
A heart for Lodi
Brown and his wife, Shelli, a school principal, bought Java Stop five years ago from Bob Casalegno. It was Casalegno, Brown said, who had the vision of turning the long-closed dairy stop into a coffee house.
“Bob cleaned out all the pigeon poop and got things rolling,” Brown said.
Each day, up to 250 Lodians drive through for a mocha or strawberry smoothie individually crafted by one of Java Stop’s baristas.
In the adjacent coffee lounge, walk-in customers enjoy the aroma of roasting coffee and fresh-baked bagels.
Where national coffee chains are modern, sleek and formulaic, Java Stop is comfortable and homey.
Cushy chairs are set right next to the cheery red-and-gold coffee roaster. Vintage photos adorn the walls. Hand-scripted signs offer greetings.
At a time when at least one major coffee chain has decided not to carry newspapers any longer, Java Stop is stocked with several copies of the local paper each day. Customers are encouraged to pick one up and browse, gratis.
Brown likes to emphasize that Java Stop is locally owned and operated, with a heart for the Lodi community. He learned some months ago that a fire truck that carried Santa through town during the holidays had been idled for lack of repairs. Brown and several other business people stepped up, raised the needed money, and got St. Nick rolling again.
Most recently, Java Stop began raising money to help replace the bleachers at Tony Zupo Field destroyed in a recent fire.
Many customers drop by, sip, chat, and linger. And no matter how unusual the drink request — one regular asks for 14 shots of vanilla latte mixed with equal parts almond and dairy milk — the baristas are quick to respond.
The coffee crafters are encouraged to develop their own concoctions. Brenda Solis, for instance, likes to mix lavender syrup with expresso, honey and almond milk for Brenda’s Special.
Brown loves that kind of initiative.
“I want my employees to feel empowered, to be able to experiment and be creative. I want them to feel OK to fail, too,” Brown said.
Taking creative chances is encouraged. A failure to smile is not. A few times, Brown has had to pull new hires aside and explain that they simply don’t bring the energy and enthusiasm that’s expected.
“We have great people here. I am not a micro-manager, but I hope I set a tone of being upbeat and friendly,” Brown said. “Java Stop would not exist without its great employees.”
The feeling, apparently, is mutual.
“He’s so positive,” Solis said of Brown. “The best boss I’ve ever had.”
Fresh bagels on the menu
Customer service is key, but so is serving premium coffee at reasonable prices. Water for the coffees is purified through a sophisticated filtration system. All the coffee beans, whether from Sumatra or Columbia or Rwanda, are organic. Brown typically arrives at 4:30 each morning to do the roasting himself, greet the first shift of workers, and say hello to early birds needing caffeination. When the coffee is ground and all is well, he slips away to his CPA practice, fueled by his own favorite morning beverage, the “Red Eye,” a shot of expresso with black coffee brewed with beans from Guatamala.
Like any thriving business, Java Stop is constantly evolving. A few weeks ago, Brown started serving up Willy’s Bagels, with flavors ranging from spinach artichoke to chocolate chip. Bagel sandwiches, such as pastrami and chicken salad, are also available.
Drive-through service will continue to be a mainstay at Java Stop, but Brown hopes the addition of the bagels, which are baked on site, will build his walk-in clientele.
While the menu may evolve, there is little doubt a legion of Lodians will continue to visit Java Stop each day, drawn to a warm and inviting space where good feelings flow as freely as the fresh coffee.