Buying a business was not in Allison Folkers’s immediate plans at the end of 2018. She had worn several hats over the years, a florist being one of those hats for seven years. Yet a small coffee shop off Lewis Access Road caught her attention around the holidays that year and a little push was all it took to become interested in the business.
“When I saw the Java House was for sale, it piqued my interest, but I thought it was nothing more than a dream,” Folkers said. “Then I had a friend talk me into at least asking about it. I took a 180 and went in a totally different direction.”
Allison and Stephen Folkers had settled in Center Point in 2016 and weren’t planning on going anywhere, especially with Stephen finding good work as an electrician. With those details in mind, the couple made the decision to approach O’Brien’s Java House in March of 2019 as the previous owners focused their attention on their growing granola business. Negotiations and planning took several months, but then the business was officially theirs on July 2.
“My vision for the place was already happening: a place people could get their coffee in the morning and ice cream later in the day,” Folkers said. “But I wanted to make the business even more coffee-specific. A place kids can hang out after school, or people can work remotely, or anyone can just be with friends here.”
For the first several months, Folkers “got her feet wet” with running the business and getting to know the employees who stuck with the business amid the transition. Folkers credits them for being “rock stars” and helping her through an “overwhelming start.” By the 2019 holiday season, their new owners were comfortable in the new setting. Allison was responsible for the day-to-day management while her husband took care of maintenance of the store.
“I got to know more people in the city, learned their names and interacted with them more than I had ever before,” Folkers said. “I felt like I was a part of the city.”
COVID-19 came in March of this year and soon after, all restaurants were forced to shut their doors for dining. Folkers was admittedly terrified as a new small business owner.
“I had taken over the business only eight months before, and then I was facing this huge challenge and uncharted territory for seemingly everyone,” Folkers said.
The pandemic in many ways proved beneficial to O’Brien’s as they transitioned to carry out and drive-thru only. Folkers offered more lunch options to customers, including bread/soup bowls and wraps. Ice cream continues to be popular. Delivery is free in Center Point and Urbana during the week. Plus, the drive-thru exploded in popularity over the weeks as the community continued to support the small business.
“I have been so grateful for the people in our town,” Folkers said. “So many people say they support local businesses, but don’t really back it up. I have people coming to our drive thru I’ve never seen before and becoming regulars. I don’t feel like we’re struggling to be honest.”
On Wednesday, business owners across Linn County and 21 other counties heavily affected by the virus received the news they may open their doors again with limited capacity and guidance from the Center for Disease Control. Weighing the option to open her dining area or continue her current operation, Folkers has decided to wait a little longer on her choice. Folkers also is continuing to transition the business from O’Brien’s to a brand new name to be unveiled later this year.
“We’ve honestly had the most fun over these last two months and now I feel I have a handle on things,” Folkers said. “I’ve come up with all these different ideas to make this place our own. I don’t plan to make any drastic changes. It’s more the name change and a few new vendors we’ll sell here. We want to get an expresso machine to make this place a legit coffee shop.”
If anyone had told Folkers all that has happened while she was first taking note of the business in late 2018, she feels she’d never believe it. Yet now, Folkers and her employees are keeping Center Point caffeinated, stocked up on ice cream and preparing for the next adventure with the business.
“I’m really proud of how we handled everything, and where we are at now,” Folkers said.
O’Brien’s Java House is located at 4215 Lewis Access Road in Center Point. Business hours are 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. O’Brien’s Java House is also on Facebook.