@story and images MARCUS COKER
At first glance, Jon Smith seems like a typical nineteen-year-old. He lives in Siloam Springs, attends John Brown University, has a girlfriend and a couple jobs. He's majoring in construction management, and one day he'll design and build his own homes. But Jon's already built something remarkable, and that's what sets him apart. Last year, when he was eighteen, Jon opened his own business, Pour Jons Coffee & Tea Company.In June of 2010, Jon moved to Siloam Springs from Colorado after his dad got a job at John Brown University. He'd graduated high school a year early and needed something to do, so his brother-in-law suggested opening a coffee shop. Jon, instead of asking why, asked why not.
"When we first looked at it, we thought, We’ll open a coffee shop, no problem," says Jon. "But there's a huge learning curve from graduating high school to opening a coffee shop. Thankfully, a lot of people in the business world, especially in Siloam, were really helpful."
Jon, who partnered with his family to open the shop, found a building on the corner of W. Ashley and N. Wright Streets in downtown Siloam. "The building had been abandoned for twenty years," says Jon. "It used to be a flea market, and before that it was a produce store in the 50s and 60s. We didn't take out a loan for the place, so we just worked with what I made at working at JBU on the grounds crew--which wasn't a lot. And my family put in a bit too. Since our budget was so tight, it forced us to be creative."
They left the concrete floors as they were, covering them with a clear coat of polyurethane. As for the walls, they left the bricks alone and painted the sheetrock. In spaces that needed wallpaper, they used pages from old books, like Robinson Crusoe. They covered the bathroom walls with comic book pages, as well as tin foil. Jon and his brother-in-law did all the woodwork - including booths and bookshelves - using salvaged materials, mostly pallets.
While they were working, Jon and his family kept huge curtains over the windows. Jon says, "There was a lot of hype. People would ask, 'What are they doing in there?'" Finally, in the spring of 2011, Pour Jons opened. "We got the name from Poor Richard's, a pub. It's sort of a play on words."
Already, there are hundreds of quotes and drawings on the walls, all contributed by customers with a Sharpie. There's a bar in the middle of the room, where friends often gather to play one of the many board games the shop provides. There's even a stage. "We try to get live music as much as we can. But we've also had poetry readings, even people who spin their own wool."
One thing you won't find at Pour Jons is a cash register. That's because they use an iPad, along with an application called Square, which allows them to take credit card payments. It also lets them receive orders and questions via text message. Admit it, it's hip. But what else would you expect from a place that stays open until 2 AM during the school year in order to accommodate students?
Ironically, when Jon first decided to open a coffee shop, he didn't know anything about coffee. Since then, he's learned a lot, and makes a mean mocha. As he leans on the counter, he says, "Coffee beans are grown across the world, then sold to a roaster. We get them from him, and take steps to get the best taste out of it." One of those steps is making sure none of the beans they get from their roaster are older than two weeks, since the optimum time for grinding a roasted coffee bean is three to fourteen days. "We also grind the coffee when you order it, because coffee loses fifty percent of its aromatics four minutes after you grind it."
Jon could talk for hours about what makes their coffee special. For a coffee novice, the information could be overwhelming. But Jon says, "I recommend just learning the basics of your coffees. That's huge. To start, there are brewed coffees and espresso drinks."
As Jon leaves the shop for the day, he passes part of a Jack Kerouac quote someone’s written in black marker that reads, "The only people for me are the mad ones." Jon’s nowhere near mad, but he is ambitious. And he’s hopeful what he’s doing will inspire others, no matter what their age, to do something new and exciting. All you have to do is look past the obstacles and see the possibilities that percolate in the most unlikely places.
How to Espresso Thyself
Espresso: A lot of coffee in a small amount of liquid; base of everything (that's not brewed coffee)
Doppio: Double espresso
Americano: Espresso with water
Latte: Espresso with steamed milk
Mocha: Espresso with steamed milk and chocolate
Macchiato: Espresso with milk foam on top
Cappuccino: 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk, 1/3 milk foam
For more information, visit pourjons.com. For coffee facts, including brewing methods, visit pourjons.blogspot.com.