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Cuppa inspiration

Stephenie Jekel went from down to coffee grounds.

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Stephenie Jekel, owner of four Java Flow coffeehouses, knows a thing or two about triumph over adversity. Eight years ago she was homeless, addicted to methamphetamines, a domestic violence survivor, and mother of two small children.

Jekel attended her first 12-step meeting at Java Flow in downtown Olympia in 2000. “That was my first day clean,” she says. “I was on welfare with two kids and living in my car.”

As she embraced sobriety, she moved into a small, broken-down singlewide trailer that her mom and stepdad purchased for her. The trailer came with some conditions: no more drugs, and she was not to allow any men to move in with her.  “I didn’t need that because I had already made those affirmations for myself, but it was nice to have that structure,” she says.

The first night the pipes burst, and the mattress on the floor she was sleeping on got soaked. The next day the sun came out, and the trailer stunk to high heaven. Luckily, her stepdad came over and fixed the pipes. Over the next year she developed a keen do-it-yourself ethic that would serve her well later. In that trailer she learned how to install carpeting, install countertops and windows, paint the walls, and perform many other home repairs. As she fixed up and remodeled the trailer, she began to put her life back together.

Jekel also developed life skills and became an active participant in her children’s lives. 

“If you ask me if I believe in love I’d have to say absolutely yes. No one can give you unconditional love the way that your children do. My children are straight A students and very hardworking. We work as a team. My son will be the first person to jump up and get the door for somebody. My daughter noticed that a girl at her school wore the same shoes every day. She had been given a new pair of shoes that didn’t fit her, so she wrapped them up all cute and gave them to the girl,” she says.

“I came to a place where I wanted to go to work, but I had no job skills,” she says. Instead of using this as an excuse, she worked in community service and volunteer programs and built up her resume.  

Five years later she found herself in talks with the owner of Java Flow about buying the business. She was still on welfare, but with the help of friends she wrote a business plan and began applying for a business loan. Three banks turned her down. Then a friend stepped in to cosign for her, and she was off and running.

Not even a year later she met someone in the community who owned two small coffeehouses, and he approached her about purchasing one of his businesses that was near her home. This time when she applied for the start-up loan, she got it on her own.

Then four months later the man asked if she wanted to buy his other store. She took out another loan and bought that one too.

Jekel says competition in Olympia is very tough since there is a coffee shop on practically every corner. But as her business acumen increased, she noticed that Tillicum didn’t have a coffee shop at all, and she got the expansion bug again. She found herself occasionally cruising through the neighborhood in Tillicum to see if there was a place for Java Flow number four. A year and a half later she found the perfect space. “I parked my car, looked in the window, and I’m not kidding, I could see the place just as it is now in my head.”

She credits many people for her success even though she has worked 14-hour days for the last three years.

“I learn as I go. I’m pretty grateful that I learned honesty and integrity along the way. I’ve had to suck up my pride and ego on a lot of things. I ask for help when I need it. I ask a lot of questions.”

She says that another coffee shop owner, Grabajava owners Thomas “Tucker” Jones and his wife, Christene Jones, were a big help to her. “They are truly amazing small business people, especially in such a cutthroat business.”

She says that her coffee roaster, Terry Ziniewicz of Olympia Coffee Roasting Company, inspired her to be a better business owner, a better barista and a better person. He also offered free coffee making classes. She laughs now about how she dutifully attended the classes under the guise of supporting her employees. Then, when her employees went home, she would go back to her store to practice.

“I faked it until I made it,” she laughs. “I learned by trial and error.”

Then she developed her own style. “Now if you go to any of my four stores you’ll get the exact same drinks,” she explains.

Jekel says espresso making is an art form, and when it’s done right it’s like a fine cognac or a fine heated brandy. She explains that in Italy one must study three to seven years before qualifying to be a barista. She says her drinks have just a hint of chocolate and that she strives to maintain high quality ingredients while keeping a median price. All of her coffees are fair trade organic. She also has coffee from a women’s cooperative coffee, which she says is a big seller.  

The downtown Olympia Java Flow offers live music Friday and Saturday from 8 p.m. to whenever the bands finish. She says anyone who wants to play is allowed to regardless of skill or experience. Her philosophy is this: “Somebody allowed me to follow my dream, so why shouldn’t they have a chance?”

Starting in March, the Tillicum Java Flow will offer live jazz/blues every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.  For more details, go to

[Java Flow #1, 207 Washington St. N.E., downtown Olympia]

[Java Flow #2, 9347 Yelm Highway S.E., Olympia]

[Java Flow #3, 2726 Blacklake Blvd. West, Tumwater]

[Java Flow #4, 15109 Union Ave. S.W., Tillicum/Lakewood]

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