Last call will always be a little bit different at Thou Mayest (419 E 18th Street), where the barista bar sits next to the handsome wood bar that serves cocktails and tallboys of Schlitz. The question is: one house shot of Old Overholt to help you find sleep or one house shot off the espresso machine to keep the night going?
“You have this coffee shop with almost this elevated experience at night. Where else in Kansas City is that going on?” co-owner Bo Nelson asks. “Over the weekend, we had people ordering coffee on both sides [the coffee and cocktail side] up until 12 a.m.”
The new coffee house and bar from Nelson and Bill Holzhueter – the duo that founded the coffee roasting operation of the same name in October 2012 – held its soft opening this past weekend and is now running regular hours in the Crossroads.
“Thou Mayest [taken from a quote in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden] means the way is open. Everybody has their own journey and taste. And it’s the same thing with coffee,” Nelson says. “We just want to be able to facilitate that in a beautiful, unique space.”
The space, next to Grinders, covers two floors. Nature is figuratively and literally weaved into the space via the greenery from Family Tree Nursery (Nelson’s family’s business for three generations) and decor taken straight off the camping trail and bolted to the walls. Both floors have outdoor patios, hence Thou Mayest’s decision to offer cigars ranging from the Punch Elite EMS ($6) to the Macanudo Hampton Court ($12).
The two bars on the first floor run nearly the length of the east wall amid a series of pocket seating options: a raised table underneath fishing rods and nets, and a pair of black leather couches beneath Edison bulbs and posters that marry Thou Mayest’s insignia with bucolic outdoor scenes. It’s as if the Brawny man had a hidden sense of interior design. The real-life designer is the Utilitarian Workshop (which announced earlier this week that it is shuttering its retail location at 1659 Summit in favor of future pop-ups because of additional build/brand work).
“The coffee house is the original social network. This is the place where people sit and talk and engage,” Nelson says. “You look at what’s happening in Kansas City and I want this to be a social litmus test of what’s happening in our culture.”
The coffee menu is intentionally straightforward. There’s $2 Airpot coffee (the metallic pump you often find in conference rooms) for those who need a cup to go, as well as pour-over coffee, Chemex, espresso, cappuccino, lattes, macchiatos and mochas.
They also serve toddy coffee, available in glass jars or squat brown bottles (think Red Stripe). While the current iteration is a mix of Brazilian and Sumatra – Nelson describes it as “velvety and chocolate-y,” — they have plans to offer three flavors, the next of which should include cream and sugar in the bottle.
The early top seller on the coffee side is the Rio Ocho from Guatamela, which Nelson sees as having chocolate, nutty notes not unlike the Toddy blend the shop is serving. Thou Mayest will be expanding the coffee menu in the coming months, making their own simple syrups and are considering adding smoothies.
The pastry case is stocked with items from Heirloom Bakery & Hearth (see RD’s profile of them from May to learn more about the Brookside bakery in the works) and the Upper Crust Pie Bakery. Heirloom’s maple scones, corn crumble blueberry muffins and homemade Pop-Tarts are next to the Snickerdoodles, banana cookies, and pocket pies from Upper Crust.
On a Tuesday morning, Nelson talks about his shop amid the early crowd that includes artists, entrepreneurs (the shop has Google Fiber) and a pair of local brewers.
“Any time you come in you should expect something cool or to run into somebody that’s interesting,” Nelson says. “What are the odds? The odds in this space are pretty good.”
Holzhueter pops his head in the door frame of the second floor, checking in on the small crowd of earnest conversations animated by caffeine.
“What’s our modus operandi, Bill?” Nelson asks his partner.
“Learn by doing,” says Holzhueter, who left his full-time job last week to join Thou Mayest four years after the partners first sketched out a business plan in Nelson’s garage. “The retail operation was supposed to come much later, but what can you do when a space like this comes up?”
“Jump first. Fly later,” Nelson replies. “We’re not corporate, but we don’t want to be super micro. We’ll find some place in the middle. This is conscious capitalism. We want to influence the community in a very positive way.”
While it builds its own community, Nelson had a vision of what Thou Mayest might become with drinkers of all kinds downing cocktails made with house bacon bitters or the Ethiopian Harrar, which is “like a garden of fragrant flowers and berries,” this past weekend. He and Holzhueter are still in the process of figuring out whether or not they’ll add food options at night and are working on how to manage the space when concerts come to CrossroadsKC at Grinders.
“This is our float trip,” Nelson says. “We’re seeing where the river goes and what looks like a dead end may just be a bend in the river.”
Thou Mayest is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday.