Interview with The New Coffee Kid on the Block, Barista Jake

By Mick Michaels

For communities to thrive, those within the community itself essentially are required to contribute...give back and provide opportunity for growth for all to benefit. To externally grow it has to begin internally.

Communities function on multiple levels and work in both a systematic and symbiotic way - it is all connected...we are all connected. Every action, big or small, affects the community at large. It would go without saying that the more positive actions that are done, the more productive the community becomes, the stronger its people become, thus, creating opportunity to continue to give back, time and time again.

Communities are a representation of the people living, working and playing in them. Barista Jake is a prime example of what a community can be when the goal becomes to give back and feel good about it.

I sat down with closet coffee cart owners Jake and Angela (Ang) McFarland to talk about their place in the community as they work to serve up the best cuppa joe around.

AIMPOINT: Hello, Jake and Angela! Welcome to 
AIMPOINT. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, it's greatly appreciated.

AIMPOINT: How important is it for you, as a young, up and coming local business owner to be able to connect personally with your patrons? Some believe it's not about connection at all but more about the product and service you provide. What are your thoughts and how do you go about approaching it?
Jake: Very important. Because of my Autism, I don’t usually like to socialize but I have gotten more comfortable with it over the past 6 months. Besides, everybody loves coffee right?

AIMPOINT: Is making a cup of coffee, your way, a means of self expression in your opinion? Is there a level of the "inner you" that specifically goes into each cup brewed for your patrons? 

Jake: (looking at mom before answering) Yes, I guess so.

Ang: He approaches every cup he makes like a chef creating a masterpiece. He is very focused on the color of the coffee when he adds cream and makes sure it is perfect. He seems calm when he is doing that.

AIMPOINT: Briefly tell us what led you to make the decision to not only go into business for yourself but choose the coffee trade as the model to pursue?
Jake: My dad and mom own a record store and I wanted to make coffee and tea for customers like I did at home. My dad drinks a lot of coffee and I love making it for him.

Ang: As his parents, we were never sure what the future for him from a vocational standpoint would look like. We are lucky that we identified his passion and were able to provide him with an outlet for it.

AIMPOINT: Take us through the process of creating a Barista Jake cup of coffee. Are there certain things you feel shouldn't go into a cup of coffee or is everything fair game when it comes to exploring and developing a unique blend or flavor?
Jake: I like Strong bold flavors of coffee and only hot. My mom and dad taught me that I have to let the customers order what they want, not push my way on them.

AIMPOINT: Barista Jake has taken a somewhat revolutionary approach to servicing the community.  The coffee is free but patrons do have a choice to make a donation of their choice for the cup of Joe and service.  These donations in turn go to fund your model as well as benefiting other local charities. This model has become a bit popular in the past year or so as some celebrity run/supported ventures have taken this approach, working primarily as a not-for-profit operation.  Why choose this approach, as opposed to the standard business setup? How has it been working out for you so far and how do you see this particular business model moreso benefiting the greater community at large?
Jake: I like to do good things for people and my parents wanted me to continue to do that so we made the cart a donation based business. We only pick charities that are local and that we believe in.

Ang: Philanthropy is very important to us as a family. Jake has been raised with this mindset. We have always done a lot of Charity work as a family; worked at the local food pantry and soup kitchen, participated in coat drives, food drives and the like. When you do good, you feel good and who does not want to feel good.

AIMPOINT: Barista Jake also provides employment for young adults with special needs who are entering into the workforce. Is there a vacancy in the job availability market for such a group and if so, why, do you believe other forms and types of business aren't offering or otherwise don't offer employment opportunities for this specific demographic?
Jake: Yes, we have three other special needs people who rotate weekend hours with us.

Ang: I have been in the HR and recruitment field for 30 years and I KNOW there is a need for our program. Most companies say they are an EOE (Equal Opportunity Employer) and that they support candidates with disabilities, but the reality is that is not always the case. There is a lack of awareness, knowledge and education about the depth of the capabilities of many in the special needs population. Our aim is to educate, train and hopefully change this mindset.

AIMPOINT: Do you feel there is a certain level of expectation from your patrons regarding what they want out of their cup of coffee, considering the many choices they do have?
Jake: Yes, they can go get coffee anywhere but they come to me because they like me and they know it’s a good cause.

Ang: We do provide a great cup of coffee or tea. We partnered with a local roaster and have our own blend of coffee. We carry a variety of tea flavors and enhancements for the coffee as well as multiple creamer options including Vegan options and Keto options.

AIMPOINT: Barista Jake opened its doors during what some feel as the worst economic climate the world has even seen…the COVID pandemic.  How do you respond? Are there always nay-sayers regardless of the climate?
Jake: Coffee makes people happy and people needed to get happy, so we did that for them.

Ang: When we started this, it was simply to give Jake something to do when we were in lockdown. We as business owners of a record shop were not essential so we could not be open. We set up “Curbside coffee for a cause” two weekends in May and it exploded. So, while times have been a challenge, the “feel good” aspect keeps us motivated to see this through and the results in positive changes in Jake’s growth and development prove to me that we can help other Special needs people!

AIMPOINT: If you could describe Barista Jake's style of coffee brewing, using only three words, what three words would they be?

AIMPOINT: What do you feel separates your coffee from the competition? What makes it unique in your opinion that others should know about?
Ang: It’s more about the experience and the community support than the coffee. Look, we are no Starbucks, but we are providing people with a great cuppa joe.

Jake: I don’t have long lines like the other places so you can get your coffee and go a lot faster.

AIMPOINT: To some extent, do you see what you are doing as changing people's lives? Are you dispelling stereotypes and broadening perspectives while broadening horizons for both yourself and your community?
Jake: Yes, my mom quit her career as a recruiter to help me be successful and she is going to do that for other people like me.

Ang: We talk a lot about our WHY. Our why is so that other families of special needs teens and adults do not have the anxiety and fear about what their family member will do for employment when they age out of the system…which is typically 21. We want to break down walls and make it easier for them. 

AIMPOINT: What can we expect to see coming from Barista Jake in 2021?
Jake: I want to keep making coffee and serving my customers.

Ang: Several fundraising events for our non-profit, more menu items, more community partnerships and hopefully, A LOT more coffee customers.

Thank you again Jake and Angela for spending some time talking and sharing with our readers. I wish you all the best and continued success.

Check out Barista Jake at:

ABC - FYI Philly and Local affiliates (two videos on the link):
Times Herald article:

Jake’s Baristas
c/o Vinyl Closet Records/Coffee Closet with Barista Jake
2117 West Main Street
Norristown, PA 19403

Barista Jake’s Official Mission Statement:
“Jake's Baristas aims to help teens and adults with special needs gain work and interview experience, social skills, and resume building. Through employment education, entrepreneurship, and grassroots philanthropy, we plan to eliminate common barriers to success that typically affect those with special needs. With these fundamental and foundational pillars, the individuals we serve will see increased opportunity in meaningful jobs and workplace experiences.

We are focused on the aspirations of people and communities we serve, as we fulfill Jake's Baristas' primary mission through our core values: compassion, transparency, and generosity.”

Vinyl Closet Records & Barista Jake


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