The name Thou Mayest refers to a passage in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that examines the importance of choice – thou may and, by implication, thou may not. Literary and philosophical? No doubt, but isn’t coffee the stimulant of choice in cafés that fuel great thinkers, artists, activists and, well, the rest of us? Bo Nelson, co-founder of Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters, would gladly discuss such notions over coffee. For Nelson and co-owner, fellow roaster and general manager Bill Holzhueter, coffee starts conversations that lead to connection, community and change. Heady ideas, exquisite coffee and hip retail digs in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District have garnered the micro roaster an instant audience since opening several years ago.
How did you and Holzhueter meet? We’re nature boys. I grew up around horticulture. We met at Family Tree Nursery, my family’s business. Coffee became our hobby. Bill was previously a barista and began exploring roasting as we met. We got a place together and roasted in the garage.
What distinguishes your roasted coffee and shop from others in town? Quality is a given. The product is fresh. Roasting coffee is like art; it’s subjective. We roast, get out of the way and let people judge. People are attracted to our irreverence. We don’t take roasting too seriously. Thou Mayest is bigger than coffee. Coffee is a conduit, a thing to help the moment “be.” It gets people talking and experiencing a moment.
You started as roasters with limited distribution before opening a shop, right? Our business plan shrunk from a six-year timeline to nine months. We planned to build up social media and leverage those accounts to know we’d have a steady stream of customers. Our mission statement was to serve great coffee quickly. The shop was an experiment that went from idea to location very fast.
How do coffee shops function as a place for social exchange today? Coffee shops were meant for political, religious and social ideas to collide. In the 21st century, we have technological exchanges, not physical. We want to facilitate conversation where people meet and solve problems. Ideas are powerful. How do we promote them? You can’t do that in a sterile modern shop. It’s not primal. That’s why we have old materials as decor versus plastic and metal. We’re creating a space for creative people.
You’re collaborating with other local businesses, too. Our beans will be used in Torn Label Brewing Co.’s beer. We’re talking to The Sundry Market & Kitchen [a market/kitchen opening this month] and Lanmou Chocolates, where we’re collaborating on chocolate-covered espresso beans, mousse and more.
Thou Mayest also serves a full bar, which is unusual for a coffee shop. Thou Mayest operates a liquor license as a partner with One3Studios. Offering beer and cocktails was a happy accident. Bartenders Arturo Vera-Felicie and Vic Rodriguez said: “We love how you approach coffee. We do the same with cocktails.” We have a full bar but the service, hours and food are still developing.
Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters, 419 E. 18th St., Crossroads Arts District, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.213.4593, thoumayest.com