The Mocha Moment Story

The Mocha Moment Corner as it was

It is Wednesday, July 18, 2007. Earlier this month, for the first time in five years, I could think of nothing I "had to go do." I suppose the time has come to tell the Mocha Moment story. Dozens of times I've been asked, "Was this a lifelong dream?" Honestly, "No." Having been in my former career for 30 years, I thought I would live, work, and die at Oakhill. But the time simply came "to move on." With nary a thought as to our future, in March, 2002, I walked away from Oakhill (For the record, I do still teach school there part time.). We had discussions with our youngest three children, Amber, Seth, and Jordan, as to what we should do. "Coffee shop" soon surfaced as a viable option.

"Coffee shop" isn't as crazy of an idea as it first appears. We had the following assets: multiple forbears with family businesses, hospitality skills (Our house was and is "Grand Central."), and a baker in the house.

Location: Why the South side? We South siders are forever explaining this. We live here! As a one vehicle family, we bicycle many places. Our children were young, and we knew we could greatly reduce commute time and expense while allowing our youngest three to work with us and be independent of us for rides. We tried unsuccessfully to buy several properties within the more normal business area on busy Center Avenue; each fizzled for different reasons. As Spring came and went, we were still without property and puzzled.

A digression: Our overwhelming success often causes us and friends to observe, "Mocha Moment was supposed to happen." I've never been one to say, "God blessed me with a car, safe trip, etc." "God sends rain and sunshine on everyone, good and bad alike." But with the collusion of dozens of unlikely events, I do think, "Mocha Moment was supposed to happen. We are indeed fortunate." Our location was the first of many unlikely events.

Original view from the woods

Dame's Rockets as First Seen

With no land development experience, Kathy and I were riding our bikes on Sunday afternoon, June 9, 2002. Like countless others, I'd passed 1121 Center Avenue hundreds of times in my lifetime. But for the first time I noticed our corner in "property search mode." Here's what I saw: the property was for sale, it was in the middle of a business zone, and it was vacant. I thought, "This can be rezoned." Excited, we parked our bikes and hurried behind the house; we viewed the woods for the first time. The Dame's Rockets were in full, purple, magnificent bloom. Immediately the concept was in my mind: build a shop back by the woods and face the woods—not the street.

And that is exactly what happened. When we now pass properties we had pursued, Kathy and I periodically remark, "Scary, isn't it! We might have been there." Yes, we were supposed to be at 1121 Center Avenue; our shop was supposed to be an oasis in a busy city, a respite with woods and gardens and flowers, and an affordable treat with friends and family.

We needed public hearings for two matters: rezoning and deck seating. Only one person opposed the petitions, commenting that we would ruin the historic significance of the corner. The public will have to decide to what extent we've ruined the corner.

The City of Janesville became our significant opposition. I said, "We want to build on the South side." The planner said, "You can't. You'll go broke. Build on the North side." I said, "I want to build back by the woods so people can enjoy the woods." He said, "You've got to build by the street so people can see it." I said, "I want Mocha Moment to face the woods so people can enjoy the woods." He said, "You have to face the street so people can see it."

At this impasse, my longtime friend, Sheila, who created and maintains our website, sent me an Emerson quote: "If a man can preach a better sermon, write a better book, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door." The quote now hangs over our deck doors, etched by our cousin, Dawn, on barn board donated by our friend, Dennis.

...though he build his house in the woods...

Brad insisted on our access drive

But our impasse with the city never turned confrontational. Once Brad approved our project, he was more than helpful. I had not seen the possibility of buying an easement through the end of Marquette Park. Brad saw the opportunity for the access drive, and guided us successfully through approval. I'll never forget Gail's superb presentation of our project to the zoning board and city council. Can you even imagine all the Mocha Moment traffic routed through the single Center Avenue entrance? Thanks, Brad, for grasping the access drive. These men that "couldn't see" our project at first, are now regulars at Mocha Moment. They tell me Mocha Moment is an illustration in current city presentations "that the city doesn't always see it all."

We were fortunate to be pointed to our attorney, Fred. Fred's experience guided two novices through the maze of city government and a business startup. The confidence and peace of mind that he provided allowed us to focus on starting and running Mocha Moment. And Fred is not only our attorney, he's become a friend.

And yet another signficant connection came through lifelong friend, Joel, of Johnson Bank. Joel introduced us to the good people there who would ultimately have enough confidence in us "unknowns" to finance our project.

Another godsend was our excavator, Roger, of R & R Concrete: We had no experience, and the excavation, fill, and concrete work was no ordinary project. With years of experience, Roger was committed to excellence and to us. The design called for rebar, Roger added much more. The plan showed floating door stoops, Roger attached them. The designed drive-thru angle was too sharp, Roger said, "We'll continue with fill and alteration until I can drive my truck through your drive-thru. Your business needs this drive-thru." The drawing provided no curb bumper at the drive-thru window. Roger said, "People will destroy your building." And so Roger poured a 14" bumper. Wow! Did he know! And to this day we count Roger a friend.

Demolition Begins

Empty Lot

I've lost count of all the people who have since told me that "they thought whoever was building that place was nuts." That's understandable. Most of our friends thought so, too. Looking back, we were a little nuts, I guess.

Observing Mocha Moment today, one might conclude we had smarts, experience, and money. We had none of the above. But we did have friends; we never knew we had so many friends. Longtime friend Keith offered to plumb our shop—as a friend. Two good friends, Gordy and Dennis, recently retired, showed up every day for weeks to help us build. So many people offered to help the first week that I knew it would be "too many Indians, and not enough Chiefs."

My Florida nephew Jon solved this problem. Jon was a framer. I offered to buy him a ticket and top his wages to come help frame. Ben, another friend, of Hughes Custom Carpentry, was our builder. And so it happened that on Saturday morning, October 12, 2002, two crews (each with a professional and several handy volunteers) began to frame Mocha Moment.

Our son, Jared (striped cap), was a senior and helped us as much as he could.

Our Florida Nephew Needs a Cap

Many Friends Framed Mocha Moment

Although Dennis and Gordy stayed on every day for the duration, most of the volunteers gave me just one week. And we had a big crew. But with both Jon and Ben, we had plenty of direction. Framing went quickly.

Three other friends, Christian, Sean, and Brian (each with jobs of their own), helped every spare moment that they could.

Even longtime neighbors came to help. Bill spent hours helping until Arizona called.

Another friend, Mike, a painter by trade, working long hours and weekends because of the immense amount of wood, beautifully finished the exterior, ceilings, woodwork, and walls at Mocha Moment.

Morning temperatures for the week were in the low 30's; daily highs were in the 40's or 50's. This was worse than winter to Jon.

Jon loved to Karaoke—every night... late night! Having to get up early and make sure the tools, generator, and equipment were all ready, I couldn't keep up with Jon. How do these young guys do it?

Florida Jon Needed a Fire

Our Son Caleb Roofed Mocha Moment

Our oldest son, Caleb, had roofed for a few years while going to school. Other than bringing us shingles, Caleb asked only that we stay out of his way.

We had begun framing on Saturday morning. We did not work Sunday. By the following Friday evening, Mocha Moment was under roof. Not bad for 2 framers, 1 roofer, and several handy friends.

I've known Ben, our builder, for most of his life. First, as a student, then as a friend. We had often worked together on various projects for those in need. Ben is a perfectionist and had gained a good deal of experience—just look at the ceiling! and the molding abutting the fireplace! Because of our relationship, Ben was cool with my acting as general contractor (that is, taking care of all the details that I possibly could), and himself being the skill and actual builder. Between the volunteer help and my acting as general, this arrangement allowed us to build Mocha Moment at a significantly lower price than market value.

See what I mean? Lots of real friends!

Mocha Moment Ceiling, a Work of Art

Fireplace, Wireless, Antiques, Clock

Four Special Gifts:
Fireplace: Uncle Ron owned his own masonry company. He had done projects on many mansions on Lake Geneva (We're proud of him!). He and son Michael donated the stone (from a canceled job) and built us this welcoming and magnificent fireplace!

Wireless: Another lifelong friend, Joshua, said that "we should do it right": a wireless system. Josh just happens to design and maintain the computer network for UW-Madison's engineering department. Our little job was "pocket change" to him. Josh and his brothers, Jason and Jeremy, installed our system. (Josh maintains our system and gladly aids customers who need a little tech support to logon.)

Antiques: Our cousins, Dawn and Judy, spent countless hours acquiring the amazing antiques which look down approvingly on Mocha Moment's tranquil scene. So very many customers have commented on this notable decor.

Clock: Kathy's large and supportive family donated the remarkable clock which hangs over the mantle.


Brian made his famous pies for our open house celebration the evening before. Later, Brian would make his mouthwatering pies for our customers every weekend for about a year.

How many friends would use a vacation day to make sure you succeed? Brian was with us at the opening 5:00 a.m. tick of the clock on Monday, January 13, 2003.

Brian's Pies for the Open House Party

Phil's Open House Band

How many friends can bring a band? Guitarist Phil brought his band for Open House.

Four More Friends:For two years, Barb woke up early to bake faithfully for us. Shadowing us for months, Sean and Sheila, supplied youthful energy when we were exhausted, insuring that we succeeded. Niece Nikki and Cindy supplied many a helping hand in the early months.

Barb, Sean, Nikki, Cindy

Kathy's family is huge: 8 sisters and 3 brothers. And they are "there for each other." Sue owns a barbecue house in Texas and so had plenty of experience to contribute. Carol, Sue, and Sharon trekked north from Florida and Texas, stayed for a week, and helped us open our shop. Southern girls braving Wisconsin January for a week to make sure we succeed. Now that's family loyalty.

Kathy's fun-loving and receptive family had strongly influenced me in the capacity for hospitality which pervades Mocha Moment. Our shop exudes their characteristic welcome, warmth, openness, and inclusiveness. Thanks forever.

We didn't advertise on purpose. We had no experience and didn't want to be overrun and perform poorly. And so with no fanfare, we opened for business at 5:00 a.m. on Monday, January 13, 2003.

Three of Kathy's Special Sisters:
Carol, Sue, Sharon

Three Original Baristas

It was a family business from the start: Jordan (9), Amber (15), and Seth (12) along with cousin Dani were the original team. Good times! Parents' dream come true: working with your children who love to come to work!

Seth could see over the counter. Mostly.

Jordan buses a table

And Jordan was the center of attention at the bar! Making a great latte at age 9, and unable to see over the bar, Jordan was the center of attention. All the ladies said Jordan made the best lattes, and all the moms wanted to have someone like Jordan at home.

Jordan worked the Drive-Thru—
with a stool!

Familiar Islands by Matt & Colleen

A memorable moment was the dawning consciousness a few weeks after we opened that some customers were feeling "connected" to Mocha Moment. Again, I had no experience, and did not know what to expect. Totally unanticipated, a community was developing. People felt a part of Mocha Moment and wanted to contribute. We didn't know Matt & Colleen before our shop began. Who were these dear people who just "showed up" with plants from their gardens and planted them by headlight in a late spring evening of our first year? The same Matt & Colleen who were in Janesville's Garden Walk, 2007! People remark daily about the gorgeous Black-Eyed Susans and other amazing plants in our islands. Thanks.

We never advertised. We had no experience and didn't want to be overrun with so many people we couldn't treat them well. We thought that if we served all the people who came well, they would tell their friends and return. And that's what happened.

And our prices are quite moderate. I thought that if I priced drinks moderately, everyone would feel welcome: old people, young people, children, professionals, laborers, retirees, workers, black people, brown people, and white people. And that's what happened.

Steep Hill shaped and seeded by Rod and Sean.

And Matt & Colleen were just the beginning. Rod and Tonya came for coffee every day. Rod said he'd bring his dad's bulldozer and skid steer to shape and seed our steep hills. And so Rod and Sean spent over a week spreading loads of topsoil, creating our familiar look. The hills were so steep that the men slid, so our little guys, Seth and Jordan, walked the hills and stapled the erosion mats.

Who ever heard of a stranger bringing heavy equipment for a week and working long hours to see a new friend succeed? Well, now you've heard it.

Hills shaped and seeded by Rod and Sean.

Keith and Jeanne, Friends Forever.

As already mentioned, Keith plumbed Mocha Moment as a friend. Working long hours, Kathy needed a baker much more than Jeanne needed a job. So Jeanne mixed batters every Friday and came in early many Saturday mornings to give Kathy a break.

But life doesn't always turn out the way you'd like it. After a brief bout with cancer, Jeanne went home on September 22, 2006. We still miss you, Jeanne!

With a donation, we planted one of Jeanne's favorite trees, a Redbud. Make sure you look at it next time, especially in the spring when Redbuds bloom. And remember...

Jeanne's Redbud, "I Can Only Imagine."

Harvest Decorations by Dawn

Our cousins, Dawn and Judy, had spent countless hours decorating our shop. Dawn took ownership of the annual autumn and Christmas decorating. Dawn and Kevin, and Kathy and I, now have the tradition of decorating for Christmas on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Then we have soup and bread and cheese by the fireplace. Amazing how Mocha Moment has been a catalyst for us cousins, who really didn't know each other well before our shop.

Carl brought in the "Mocha My Day" sign. Eric made and mounted three wren houses. And Harv made and mounted a bluebird house. Josh gave us a sun dial to go with the "Moment" theme. Jerry and Vicki donated a "Welcome to the Woods" banner. Bud & Myra created an eagle to watch the woods. And LeeAnn gave us the "Mocha" cup art mounted behind the bar.

Our little community was established. People often compliment us on what we have done. Actually, Mocha Moment is what we and our friends and community have created. "No man is an island, entire of itself."

Another exceptionally fortuitous development was the purchase of the corner property, now the site of Timberland Builders and our gardens. We had originally wanted the corner but were unable to acquire it. I knew Rory only from the shop. Rory suggested that we buy the corner together, that he restore the building for his office, and that I landscape the grounds. I explained that the owner wouldn't sell to me and wanted way too much money. Rory said that the owner would probably sell to him with a written cash offer. He was right.

My slight bit of squeamishness was that I had wanted to own the corner outright. Without knowing that intent, Rory further suggested that I buy him out in 2011.

Timberland Builders as it First Looked

Timberland Builders Today

Timing again! Had I acquired the corner at first, I would have demolished the building and landscaped the corner. So thankful that didn't happen. It would have been beautiful, but no income. And the building belongs there... don't you think? And Rory has an office, and we have planted a buffer between Mocha Moment and Center Avenue. Further, we each needed only half the capital and half the labor. And the two properties form a perfect match. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

And that's not all. Rory's daughters work for us, our families have similar values, our children are friends, and a superb business-social relationship has evolved. We can't imagine Mocha Moment without Sabrina and Shantelle.

Finally, our daughter Amber, will eventually (hopefully, within two years) have her own salon in the Timberland Building. A parent's dream come true!

Another unanticipated development: the best baristas in the world—right at Mocha Moment! It's my ongoing privilege to be associated with such wonderful young people—and some great moms. I simply can't relate to standard complaints about "young people these days."" Almost five years later, I've never had a young person simply "not show up." Oversleep once in a while, yea, but hey... And I've never lost a young person to another job. Baristas move out of town to college, on to full time jobs, or careers—but not another similar job, not once. Not yet. And I've yet to have real tension or gossip among the staff, not once. Not yet.

Outside of our own children, Hope has been with us the longest, all through college, going on five years. And Dawn is a mainstay. The "kids" call her "mom." "Dawn, you are on our short list of 'greatest gifts in our lives.' We love you."

Mocha Moment's Treasure: Our Staff!

Mocha Moment gardens with the Round Deck

And one more area needs highlighting: the gardens. When we acquired the corner, Scott, whom I barely knew, asked me who would landscape it. I said, "My friends and I." Scott offered to help, but I said, "I know who you are, and I can't afford you." Scott replied, "I like this place, and I want it to succeed. Can I help?" And "help" he did.

Only minutes before Rory was to construct a plain deck at Timberland, I "coincidentally" introduced Scott to him. After a brief discussion, Scott said to me, "We've redesigned your deck. Your place is too beautiful. You should have a rounded deck. I'm building it." And that's why we have a round deck. (And after years of indecision on what to do with the space immediately outside the front door, Scott said to me one day, "I know what belongs there!" And that's how we got the pergola.)

Jeannie grows wildflowers! And how! Jeannie has planted the gardens surrounding the Timberland building. And she and husband Chris faithfully nurture and water it all.

When the corner was still bare, Scott said, "People will want to get married here someday." Just a couple of weeks ago, a woman said to me, "What a perfect place for a wedding."

Jackie Jackson

Finally, the Mocha Moment story would be incomplete without a word about the development of our benefits. Again, unforeseen. Since we are closed Sundays (and I pay my bills in six days), Sundays can be used for benefits. The staff donates its time, so my cost is "food and drink cost." We donate 100% of gross sales, plus donations.

In five Sundays, the Mocha Moment community raised $7,381 for Jackie Jackson, a Katrina victim in Mississippi. And a construction team evolved out of Mocha Moment to go and rebuild her home. This benefit made the annual Gazette Thanksgiving front page story.

And in three Sundays, our community raised $2,209 for Bryan Jordan, a Hufcor supervisor with extreme medical needs. (A complete detail of our benefits is available.) Since we opened, the Mocha Moment community has donated $26,107 in gross sales and donations to various persons in need and charitable works.

Bryan and Lauree

Two of the most loyal friends a person could have: Sean and Sheila. These two dear and young friends spent countless days and weeks "hovering over us" and "strengthening us" when we were exhausted. When we were fatigued, they pitched in so that we would succeed. Sheila subbed at school, so I could concentrate on Mocha Moment. Sheila built our web site. Sheila sampled our entire menu, and gave feedback. Sean built the hills. Sean planted trees. Sean was "always there." We love you guys!

People often remark about how peaceful and tranquil Mocha Moment is. By design, three common items that appear in similar businesses are missing at our shop. Can you guess them? Phone, merchandise, and advertising. Who can be tranquil with a phone ringing or unwind in a commercial ambiance?

Winter Repose

Steve and Kathy

The very first morning that we opened our second parking area of 13 more spaces, the lot was full and people were still parking on the street. I remarked to a customer, "Pave it, and they will park."

Recently, a customer from California told me a familiar tale: Starbucks bought up my favorite coffee shop and closed it. That story made me think, "What would I take for Mocha Moment." I could only answer myself, "Not a million, not two, nor three." Mocha Moment is a trust that our family has been given for the benefit and enjoyment of our community. To dump it so that it could be closed would be a betrayal of my children, my friends, and my community.

It is Sunday, August 5, 2007. Three weeks ago I began writing; today I finished. How fitting that we are hosting today the reunion of the Cecilia Rockstead family, who lived here for decades. Thanks, Cecilia and family. Thousands enjoy the grounds you took care of for so long. Your woods welcomes you today.

From time to time, when our place is buzzing with happy people, a customer will ask me, "Did you ever think, when you built this shop, that it would turn out like this?"

My standard response: "Never!"