“We are ‘be the change you want to see’ kind of people. Ultimately, we can complain about what is not available to us in rural West Tennessee or we can choose to change it.”
This is Katie Weatherford’s heart behind Retro Coffee Bar, West Tennessee’s newest coffee option that is on the move and popping up at events, weddings, and festivals. Based in Selmer, Katie and her husband Jake have teamed up with couple Matthew and Sarah Moore to create the delicious coffee they crave, without all of the hassle of attempting a full storefront in a small town.
“Providing access to specialty coffee through our mobile coffee bar is our small way of creating a change that we needed,” Katie said.
As the couples got to know each other working together on community projects, they quickly realized that they shared a common love for coffee. They also found they worked well together creatively and professionally.
“Over the years we would talk unofficially about how our hometown needed access to good coffee and would dream about possibly opening a coffee shop,” Sarah explained. “About a year ago we started talking more seriously about the endeavor meeting weekly wherever we could over a good cup of coffee to dream up business ideas and what starting a successful coffee shop in a small town would look like.”
The dreams started to materialize one day in August 2018 when the team began tinkering with branding and shifting towards the concept of a mobile bar. The pop-up business model would allow them to keep their regular jobs and maintain a relatively normal schedule. It was a perfect testing ground to see how far they could take their coffee dreams.
“It seemed like a great way to ‘beta test’ this coffee shop idea we had been talking about for years,” Sarah said. “We told each other that if we were going to do this, we wanted to dive in.”
And so the team marked their calendars for a handful of pop-up events for September 2018 and set to work putting their skills to use. Katie handled branding and visuals, Jake began researching coffee and methods, Matt looked into checkout options for optimal customer service, and Sarah assisted in any way she could to see their corporate vision through to the end.
While there’s nothing necessarily “retro” about their brewing methods, the name is a playful push towards counteracting the fast-paced and disconnected lifestyles of our modern age. Through their handcrafted coffee, made with care and precision, they hope it forces their customers to slow down and take things in. Each pour-over takes between three to six minutes, so their bar doesn’t mimic the in-and-out style of a Starbucks or Chick-fil-a. The result is a beautifully balanced cup that highlights the notes specific to each bag of coffee they serve. Their roaster of choice is Thou Mayest out of Kansas City, Missouri.
Alongside their warm 70’s-era branding, custom-built wood tabletops sourced from a local sawmill and a handmade three-cup pour-over coffee stand add to the feeling of high craftsmanship. They’ve even added a few retro items to fit the theme, including an old Crosley radio that has been converted to Bluetooth, menus made with an old school typewriter, and a Polaroid print here and there.
“We love making the old new,” said Katie. “If you visit our stand you’ll likely hear a tune that ranges from Jim Croce to Leon Bridges. As it relates to our brand, I love incorporating retro textures and themes. Regardless of what decade you deem retro, we want to capture a quaint feeling at Retro Coffee Bar.
"Early on, our motto became ‘Good Coffee Can Happen Anywhere,’” she continued. “For me that meant good coffee can happen in rural towns, just as it can in metropolitan areas. Jake interpreted the meaning from more of a mobility mindset. Good coffee can happen at your office party, wedding, trail run, etc. Really, it embodies both meanings for us now. We want to provide access to fresh specialty coffee wherever the need lies. With mobility comes flexibility.”
Moving forward, the team hopes to pop up at more events and festivals, develop new recipes and drink options, and host a cupping event where they can educate folks on their variety of coffee beans. Their unique business model allows them to form valuable partnerships with other small businesses. By intentionally engaging with small rural communities, they’re encouraging others to dive into an authentic coffee experience, one pour-over at a time.
Cari Griffith is a photographer by trade who loves storytelling of all kinds. After a couple of years away in Nashville, she and her husband Rob decided Jackson was calling them home, and they moved back to their beloved Lambuth area neighborhood. Cari's other loves include gardening, cooking, sharing meals with her friends, and trying to talk Rob into getting a dog.