Some of Ashley Harrell’s first memories involve coffee.
"My Grandfather worked for the city as a sanitation worker, and he’d look after us while my mom was working third shift,” she says. “My grandfather was so involved in my life, from walking us to the bus stop in the morning to meeting us there after school. At night he’d make coffee and we’d sit and have these long conversations.”
Harrell pauses. “It’s debatable whether or not I should have been drinking coffee at that point in my life. But, that doesn’t matter. All the facts of life he taught me and the lessons he shared about life are still invaluable to me, and they helped to form who I became as an adult.”
Harrell credits her grandfather, who passed away in 2019, with not only her lifelong love of coffee, but also the drive to create community and connections in her own life.
In fact, his memory is among the key drivers behind the Boujee Cup of Joe coffee pop-ups, which debuted in fall of 2020, and which Harrell hopes will garner her the support and interest needed to build the coffee shop she’s been envisioning for years.
Harrell says that, although the idea for a coffee concept has been in the back of her mind for a long time, she didn’t commit to the idea of launching her new business until she found herself with extra time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I kept thinking of one of my favorite Nina Simone quotes,” she says. “‘Freedom is no fear.’ And that idea really inspired me.”
From there, she says, she threw herself headlong into education.
“I had the time to really think about it and experiment with different drinks,” she says, noting that she spent days on end binge watching coffee tutorials on YouTube, collecting ideas from Pinterest and experimenting with various techniques.
Along the way she says she committed to using Blue Mountain Jamaican Fair Trade coffee, a choice she made as a nod to her late grandfather, whose family is from Jamaica.
“There’s so much coffee out there,” she says. “But I wanted to serve a brand that I knew something about and really felt a connection to.”
Harrell's simply crafted beverages (priced at $4-5) currently include options like the American Gangsta (Americano), the Al Puccino (cappuccino), Brewed Up cold brew and the Nina Simone (dark coffee with nutmeg and cinnamon), along with ATL Southern Bell (peach ginger tea).
In addition to beverages, Harrell also creates what she calls “Self Care Goddess Baskets,” kits containing a variety of items from books to incense, candles, journals and affirmation cards.
“How often do we really take care of ourselves? The pandemic has taught us that we move too fast and that we need to stop, slow down and take time for ourselves. So, these kits are created to help people do that. It’s about caring for ourselves so we can do better and be better.”
Harrell says she’s currently working to get a website up and running. But for now, she features the kits on her Facebook page and interested customers can reach out by email to make their purchases.
Pouring over details
Harrell, who currently works as Director for the Burke Early Education Center at COA Youth & Family Centers by day, says that both community and coffee have been at the center of her world for a as long as she can remember.
Ultimately, she says, she’d like to bring those two worlds together and open her own cafe.
“I absolutely need coffee to operate in the morning,” she says. “And for years now, I’ve been lamenting that there are no coffee shops in the 53206 zip code.
“Coffee brings joy. Tea brings joy. And they both connect people,” she says. “We all have things to share, but we don’t always connect as we should. So, my dream is to create a space where people can do that… a cafe that brings people together from different walks of life, where everyone is welcome.”
Harrell says her vision isn’t so different from spaces like Busboys & Poets, a community gathering place, book shop and cafe in Washington D.C. that has become a hub for art, activism and the sharing of ideas.
“I’ve read so much about how people like Malcolm X and Dr. Huey P. Newton’s ideas started as conversations in coffee shops,” she says. “And it’s so inspiring to think of creating that type of space where people can connect and refuel so that they can go out into the world and do great things.”
Harrell says she’s busy working on a business plan for the shop and connecting with people she hopes can assist her in making the inroads she needs to find the right location.
“I’d love to be able to open my own space by the end of 2021 or 2022,” she says. “If I can make that happen, it would really be my dream.”
In the meantime, customers can follow Harrell’s progress on the Boujee Cup of Joe Facebook page and support her at two upcoming pop-up events
Feb. 20: Society Market & Small Business Expo
She’ll be serving coffee at Salute Society Studio, 2372 N. MLK Drive from 1 to 5 p.m.
Feb. 27: "Do It For The Culture Experience"
In honor of Black History Month, Harrell will be hosting a free virtual coffee shop event featuring a virtual open mic style event, which will take place from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. [More information]
Programming will include a Bullet Journaling 101 seminar with Lina Nguyen at noon, poetry readings, open mic style discussions and a book talk at 6 p.m. with Diana Mora, author of “Bitter and Unbitter." Mora's book will be the first featured in a new Boujee Book Club launching in March.
Folks interested in participating with a cup of joe in hand can purchase a Boujee Cup of Joe coffee kit featuring Blue Mountain Coffee, as well as a Bullet Journal Kit ($15 includes a journal, fine tip pen, ruler and Washi tape) in preparation for the event. Kits can be ordered through the Boujee Cup of Joe Facebook page and will be available for pick-up or delivery by Feb. 23.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.