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Jasper’s Java serves coffee grounded in family

Image courtesy of @jaspersjava on Instagram
Jasper’s Java opens Oct. 14 at the corner of General Electric Rd. and Keaton Plaza in Bloomington.

Jasper’s Java isn’t the only coffee shop to call Bloomington-Normal home.

It is, however, the only one committed to helping people and pets find homes of their own. 

The business, which opens Oct. 14 following its one-week soft opening period, supports animal adoption through sales and human adoption through its charitable nonprofit supplier. With every cup sold from the double-sided drive-thru on General Electric Rd., customers support more than a small local business—they support a commitment to family. 

Melissa Livesay, one of the start-up’s four co-owners, said they have been “passionate about giving back” from the beginning.

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“We wanted it to have a bigger meaning than just coffee,” Livesay said. “We don’t think finances should ever be a reason that a family doesn’t get to exist.”

The four entrepreneurs behind the business are bound by family themselves. Livesay and her husband Curt own the business with duo Bret Williams, Livesay’s childhood friend, and Kate Thalken, Livesay’s stepsister. 

A fifth family member, Livesay’s Bernese mountain dog Jasper, inspired the iced espresso on the business’ “Signature” menu—a section the business hopes to expand with new, “Pet of the Month” drinks named after community members’ furry friends. A portion of the proceeds for all pet-inspired menu items, including Jasper’s original espresso, go to local animal shelters. 

Co-owner Bret Williams designed the drive-thru’s logo, featuring the Livesay family dog and business namesake: Jasper.

The shop hopes to have a more immediate impact on animals in need during its opening weekend. 

The Humane Society of Central Illinois will bring adoptable pets to the Jasper’s Java grand opening Saturday in an effort to find pets’ forever homes amid the crowd of coffee-drinkers, food-truck-goers and live-music-listeners.

But even customers who don’t purchase a pet-inspired drink or opt to adopt make a difference in humans’ lives with their purchase. 

Jasper’s Java buys all of its coffee, equipment and training exclusively from Gobena, a supplier that funnels 100 percent of its profits into Lifesong for Orphans

Lifesong helps families pay adoption fees, which often cost nearly $50,000, Livesay said—an “inhibitive” price tag that often stands between a child and a suitable family.

And for Livesay, family—especially chosen family—means everything.  

The friendships Livesay formed on Normal’s sidewalks as a kid, the chosen family she acquired in West’s classrooms as a high schooler, have followed her well into adulthood. 

“I’m still friends with people I’ve been friends with for 25 years,” Livesay said.

Those decades-long bonds are the foundation of the business—and they’ve already landed on the Jasper’s Java menu. 

One drink on the menu, a Mysore filter coffee—named after the southern region of India now known as Mysuru, where the drink is most popular—is inspired by Livesay’s close friend Nundhini. 

It’s called “Nundhini’s South India Filter Coffee,” and it’s a take on the hot drink that Nundhini helped the business procure.

“We want everybody to have something they love,” Livesay said. “Coffee should be fun, and it should be a positive experience for people.”

Livesay and her husband Curt know all too well the importance of having something to love, something that reminds them of their own background, in a coffee shop. 

When the couple moved to Seattle for Curt’s job a few years ago, they felt out of place. 

“The Seattle freeze is very true,” Livesay said, “where it is a little bit harder to find friendly people out there… they don’t have that warmth that Midwest people do.”

The exception to that freeze?

Seattle’s popular drive-thru coffee stands.

Offering humanizing, face-to-face interaction the region otherwise lacked, Livesay said, visiting Seattle coffee shops was “one of the only experiences that reminded [her] of home.” 

So when the couple did finally return to the “little big city” of Bloomington-Normal, a new idea brewed: opening a drive-thru coffee stand, a business model largely underrepresented in their restaurant-dense hometown.

“I bet being Midwest nice,” Livesay remembers thinking, “we could do it even better.” 

But the town’s kindness wasn’t the only thing filling the owners with confidence in their business prospects. 

For Jasper’s Java co-owner Bret Williams, who designed the company’s logo, that confidence began years ago—with the local school system.

As a member of the program Arts in Basic Curriculum between West and Bloomington High School, Williams said he felt prepared to pursue graphic design after leaving Unit 5. 

Now, Williams gets to use the skills he’s honed in an unanticipated setting: his own business. 

“I never expected to work in my field… in a company that I helped a little bit with,” Williams said.

And not just “a little bit.” 

Livesay quickly corrected the understatement: “You own it!” 

The community’s outpour of support has helped the owners digest that surreal idea. 

“Everyone’s saying very positive things,” Williams said. “That’s the whole reason why I’ve really enjoyed all of this. It’s amazing… like we assumed with the culture, the friendliness.” 

This story was originally published on Inkspot on October 13, 2023.