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    JIM JAMES, BARISTA

    “Heine Brothers’ was my favorite job of all time other than being an artist,” says Jim James, frontman of My Morning Jacket. Back in the early 2000s, James was a barista at the Chenoweth Lane location. “I remember it being a very friendly and accepting atmosphere that respected people of all walks of life,” he says. “It was a place for people to come and feel safe no matter their race or creed and also get a great cup of coffee. We need places like these in our communities that provide room for creative thought and inspiration.” Management accommodated what he describes as an “insane schedule” during the band’s tours. “I don’t know if I could have made My Morning Jacket work in the early days had it not been for the kindness and flexibility of Heine Brothers’ to keep employing me during those crazy times,” he says. “I always enjoyed working there, even when I had to get up at 5 a.m. to be there by 6 a.m.”

    — Katie Molck

     

    THE REGULARS
    Interviews by Nikayla Edmondson

    Joyce Robertson, National Guard, Schnitzelburg location
    “There’s an older gentleman, Jim, a widower. I sit and talk to him and have coffee. He walks to Heine Brothers’, Walgreens and the church nearby because he lives close. We all kind of look out for him. He’s 90-something and it’s just him and his cat.”

    Damian Nordmann, mindset coach, Hikes Point location
    “The baristas — I think of them as friends. When season eight of Game of Thrones was coming out…that was an interesting time. We’d have good laughs and talk about theories.”

    Bill Oldham, lawyer, Longest Avenue/Mid-City Mall
    “When my son was just eight months old, we went to Bermuda and took a Heine Brothers’ cup and got a picture. My son is 24 now.”

     

    ON THE GRIND FOR A QUARTER-CENTURY

    Andrea Trimmer, 43, started working at Heine Brothers’ eight months after it opened in October 1994. With 24 years under her belt at the local coffee chain, she is the longest-tenured employee. When Trimmer started, she was just a 19-year-old U of L student with little knowledge of coffee. “Or at least not good coffee,” she says. She eventually worked her way up to operations manager. “I’ll never forget: After putting in (the first) drive-thru, the manager asked me how it was all going to work, and we didn’t have an answer. We’ll just figure it out. And that’s pretty much how we’ve done everything from the beginning,” she says.

    She was once put on bed rest indefinitely when she was 19 weeks pregnant with her second child. “We were prepping for a store opening, and back then we pretty much pulled all-nighters to get stores ready. I just went in for an ultrasound, and they pretty much put me in a wheelchair and rolled me to a bed,” she says. Trimmer says she needed to continue working for income and to maintain her sanity, so co-owner Mike Mays came to her hospital room and set up her computer. “We had numerous manager meetings in my hospital room,” she says.

    — KM

     

    WHAT'S POPULAR?

    The “Coffee of the Day” is the bestseller at every location. After that, things start to look different.

    Blankenbaker Parkway: White Mocha

    Chenoweth Lane: Frozen Cappuccino

    Douglass Loop: Latte

    Fourth Street: Americano

    Frankfort Avenue: Mocha

    Gardiner Lane: Mocha Iceberg

    Hikes Point: Midnight Mocha

    Main Street: Nitro Cold Brew Coffee

    Mid-City Mall (the original Longest Avenue store relocated here last year): Dirty Chaiberg

    Northfield: Miel

    Omni Hotel: Caramella

    Outer Loop: Banana Chaiberg

    Schnitzelburg: Cold Brew Iced Coffee

    Shelbyville Road: Iced Caramella

    State Street: Beekeeper Iceberg

    Veterans Parkway: Caramel Vanilla Iceberg

    Vint: Beekeeper (Vint merged with Heine in 2011)

     

    LOUISVILLE'S FIRST COFFEE SHOP

    Owner Mike Mays reflects on 25 years in business.
     

    Gary Heine (left) and Mike Mays about a month after opening in 1994.

    “I moved to Northern California to learn the brewery business, thinking I could open a brewpub in Louisville. It was there I found the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Co., which was my first experience with what today we know of as a coffee shop. I got to know the baristas and other customers, they got to know me. It became an important part of my day to drop by the coffee shop. Sometimes I would go more than once.

    “There were no coffee shops when I returned to Louisville in 1993. I had multiple people tell me that opening one was one of the dumbest ideas: ‘You can’t make money selling coffee. Restaurants give that stuff away!’ I’d read a story in Louisville Magazine about Gary Heine, who called himself Heine Brothers’ Coffee and had an espresso cart in a Kroger. I drove by, introduced myself, and we did the opposite of hit it off. I think I got a coffee and went on my way. I ended up working for a gentleman who had the franchise rights to a coffee-shop group called Gloria Jean’s. One day, Gary came in. He had closed down his coffee cart. I said, ‘Hey, I remember you.’

    “One day we were walking Bardstown Road and happened to go into Carmichael’s (at Longest Avenue). On a handshake with the building owner, basically that afternoon, we leased the space. With one piece of paper, I dissolved what (Gary Heine) had been operating as Heine Brothers’ Coffee. And with another piece of paper I incorporated Heine Brothers’ Coffee with Gary Heine and Mike Mays as 50-50 shareholders. We opened our first shop Oct. 1, 1994. We were very traditional: drip coffee, latte, cappuccino, a few mochas. That felt like a lot. We had five years to build brand loyalty before Starbucks got here, which really helped us.

    “In 2008, we borrowed money to get two stores open, probably north of a half-million dollars. Then the economy started tightening up. (Gary and I) were looking at cash in the bank wondering ,‘Oh, my God, are we gonna make payroll?’ Then Hurricane Ike came through. Some neighborhoods lost power for as much as two weeks, but none of our stores did. We went to Target and bought them out of power strips. People were hanging out in our shops to charge their phones, they were blow-drying their hair in our bathrooms, and we did something like $60,000 more in sales in that one week than we typically would have. That gave us another six months for those new stores to get their legs under them. I call that the hurricane that saved the company.

    “A business partnership is like a marriage, in some ways. You’ve gotta work on your communication. Gary and I had let ourselves grow apart a little bit, which works fine when things are going well, but when things aren’t going as well, it’s harder. As we got into 2009 and 2010, I felt like we were running in place. I decided to trigger (the provision) that provides for the breakup of a 50-50 partnership. The non-triggering shareholder then has two weeks to decide: Do I want to buy those shares or sell? Those are the only two options. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tense. Gary spent some time looking hard at it. At the end of the day, he decided he wasn’t going to buy. At the two-week mark, I paid Gary for his shares.

    “We’ve got 19-year relationships with some of these small farmer groups. I’ve been to most of the countries in Central America and Rwanda, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. And I’ve taken my children with me. I’ve been lucky enough to share meals with some of these people in their homes. When we travel, I’m not staying in the Four Seasons in the capital city. This is down and dirty. I’ve slept on the coffee warehouse floor. Buying coffee through the fair-trade system isn’t solving all the problems or making their dreams come true, but it is meaningful and important to these farmers in building a foundation.

    “Coffee has gotten very competitive. It’s never been easy, but when Starbucks wasn’t as big of a presence, and when there weren’t as many well-run local competitors as there are today, maybe it was a little easier. Twenty-five years from now? I think what’s still going to be standing is a coffee shop that serves as the community gathering place and connection hub that happens to feature great coffee.”

    — as told to Karisa Langlo

     

    This originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline “Still Brewin’.” To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Cover photo: Pexels.com

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