John Steinbeck fans will recognize the symbolism of the name, Thou Mayest, right away. It is the act of choosing and, most importantly, owning your path in life. If somehow you haven't read East of Eden, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy immediately. You will devour the novel and it will leave you feeling inspired to choose and take ownership of your destiny, something that owner, Bo Nelson, embodies though the movement he has created in the community through coffee.
Nelson and his business partner, Bill Holzhueter, started roasting coffee as a hobby on nights and weekends in their Wyandotte county garage. Bo talked about their "pipe dreams" of being able to make money on the coffee ten years or so down the road.
One Wednesday morning, the pair pitched their idea in front of 1 Million Cups, which is just about the coolest thing to come out of Kansas City. Founded by the Kauffman Foundation, the members meet weekly and listen to early-stage startups present their business plan for 6 minutes followed by a 20-minute Q and A session. They then provide feedback and ask how they can help this start up prosper in KC. After this presentation, Bo spent hours in the back room of Aixois at 55th and Brookside Boulevard in all day meetings with members of 1 Million Cups. As "cosmic serendipity," a phrase borrowed from Nelson, would have it, one of these meetings landed them in their current space.
Fast forward 5 years and you see company with a loyal following and owners looking to do their part to grow the community through coffee.
Located on 18th street in the Crossroads area of Kansas City, there is something inherently different about the space. Reclaimed wood lines the space on all sides leading you to the back patio freckled with plants, lounge chairs, and a family-style picnic table. Vintage wall hangings surround the main space creating an undeniably comfortable feeling, even if you've never been there before. Everybody seemed to know each other and there was a constant hum of conversation while still feeling quiet enough to get lost in a novel. I can only assume the late night party-goers have an entirely different opinion of the building. They have been known to move the tables aside to make a dance floor while getting lost in the music and projected visuals working in tandem to create an atmosphere catered to all of your senses. As we sat at the bar, we talked everything from Siddhartha and the symbolism of the river to Ayn Rand to the hilarity of criticism only found in Yelp reviews all while sampling the cocktails they have planned for their upcoming Derby themed party for the next First Friday (and yes, the cocktails are just as kick-ass as the coffee).
Thou Mayest has the goal of becoming more than a coffee shop; they want to be a hub of the community. To foster discussion, relationships, and in turn make major changes happen in Kansas City through community involvement. To "shake up the ant farm," as Nelson says. A couple of the issues on his radar? Gentrification in Kansas City and how it can be stopped and how we can improve the public school system. It's easy to see why so many people support Thou Mayest as a movement rather than just a coffee company (that happens to have a liquor license and throw amazing parties). The company is a vehicle to support radical change in the community. This is only just the beginning for Thou Mayest, and I personally can't wait to watch the significant change they make in our community. Maybe it was the caffeine or the intrinsic positive energy of the building, but I walked away from our rainy morning meeting feeling inspired. It is the effect that a conversation with Bo Nelson will have on you and it became clear that Thou Mayest is shaking up the ant farm in Kansas City and you should jump on board.
Because as Nelson put it, "If not you, then who? And if not now, when?"