MoThanJo pops up around town

MoThanJo founder Kayla Edwards. Photo courtesy Edwards

Among the many coffee shops in Tallahassee, there is one that uniquely stands out. Most of the coffee shops in town are not owned by a POC, which is a potential reason why their spaces are commonly occupied by primarily white students. However, Kayla Edwards is here to change this narrative.

Edwards, a Jacksonville native, is an environmental engineering major at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. She also serves as the chapter president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).

Edwards’ coffee shop differs from Tallahassee’s many other shops because it is actually a portable coffee cart that serves as a pop-up around town. Her business’ name — MoThanJo —  hints that her menu goes beyond coffee, aka, more than “joe,” a nickname for coffee.

Investing in a coffee cart was not a dream that happened overnight.

“I’ve always been interested in doing things with the community and planning events,” Edwards said. “It began with planning Bible study events and conferences, and whenever I got to college I joined NSBE and did a lot of outreach and research. I just wanted to open my own business, but I’m so focused on community and a lot of that doesn’t bring money.”

Unaware of how to actually begin a coffee business, Edwards reached out to local business Lucky Goat Coffee for information.

“I called them [Lucky Goat Coffee] to ask about prices on wholesale coffee beans, but they ended up just saying to come see them to get into the coffee business,” Edwards said. “I thought we’d just be talking about prices, but we ended up meeting the owner.”

Edwards admits that although it is usually intimidating to hear how much the coffee business is to begin — she was still on-board and the owner of Lucky Goat noticed that in her personality.

“That was a really cool way to gain a mentor, and he’s a great start to building connections,” Edwards said.

Her mentor, Ben Pautsch, is the owner of Tallahassee-based Lucky Goat Coffee and is looking forward to seeing how Edwards’ business blossoms.

“Kayla has been a joy to work with. She is working hard to learn more about coffee and developing her ideas,” Pautsch said. “I look forward to seeing what she decides as her business, but I’m sure she will ultimately be successful with something in her future just because she is determined.”

Opening a coffee cart is a costly investment. Edwards created a tier of donation rewards for those who funded her coffee business. Silver members, who donate $1-$100, receive a sticker of the logo, secret text updates on the business, and a shoutout on her social media pages. Gold members, who donate $101-$500, receive a T-shirt, personalized thank you call, and the silver member rewards. Elite members, who donate $501-$2000, receive a 10% punch card valid for three months, certification of support, and the gold member rewards. Finally, for the highest tier, VIP members receive a dinner with Edwards, 15 drink punch cards, and the elite member rewards.

Although it is an investment, Edwards sees the benefit of having a better option for students to grab tasty coffee without the time consuming lines at her competitors.

“I’ve had a couple instances going to Starbucks with a long line, and I go to another with an even longer line,” Edwards said. “I asked myself ‘Why are there no other options?’ so I decided to make that other option.”

With about 10 locally owned coffee shops in town and a plentiful amount of Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, Edwards is right. It seems like college towns never have enough options for coffee shops. Whether students have a caffeine addiction or they’re having an all-nighter for an exam, coffee shops are thriving as long as there are students in town.

After receiving her goal of $15,000 to fund her cart, Edwards’ is planning to have the drive-thru cart open without her continuous presence, due to school, and to expand even further throughout town.

To those interested in getting involved in the coffee business, Pautsch has advice for a successful start.

“Experience and passion combined is the best advice that I can give to anyone.  Ideas are great but knowing or learning how to do something and being truly passionate about it is very important to ultimately being successful,” Pautsch said.

To find out Edwards’ exact whereabouts for her next pop-up, donate toward her goal or support her, you can follow her Instagram business account at @MothanJoTally.