Alex Medina talks about opening his new coffee shop, Junto Coffee, and the path that led him there.
BY ANGIE TOOLE THOMPSON
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Alex Medina
Alex Medina is the kind of person every local coffee scene needs—he’s friendly, he’s skilled, and he’s done a little bit of everything in the industry. He’s a hard worker, a team player, and the kind of guy you’d love to work a bar shift with. He’s an informed teacher, and a naturally curious individual who will lead a training session with heart or diligently organize an event just to see the community come together.
He’s the guy you go to with your niche questions, the guy you call in when you need to pull together a brewing workshop or when you have a question about green coffee buying. Now, Alex Medina’s hard work has brought him to the doorstep of his own dreams. In November 2018, Alex opened his roaster and café, Junto Coffee, with his roasting partner Connor Fagan. Alex told me all about Junto’s origins, his love for the Greenville, S.C., coffee scene, and why toll roasting works for getting a business off the ground.
Angie Toole Thompson: Alex, big congrats on the opening of Junto. Having gradually gotten to know you over the course of your coffee career, I know that this venture is many, many years in the making. Can you talk a little about your first years in coffee, and what hooked you in for good?
Alex Medina: I needed a job when I was in school at a technical college. I was walking around the mall—because I was a little mall rat back then—and I saw a Help Wanted sign at a little coffee shop kiosk attached to a department store. It was called Coffee & Crema. I was like, “Sure, why not, I’ll apply. I need a job.” So I put in an application and the owner, Shannon Hudgens, was like, “Well you don’t have any experience, I doubt we’ll call you back.” Three weeks later, the person he had hired who did have experience quit on him and he called me up. I wasn’t his first choice, but I really needed work. That was 2007, and that pretty much started my career in coffee.
They were in the process of getting into specialty when I came on board. They were bringing in stuff from Stumptown, stuff from Terroir—now known as George Howell—and that kinda got our name out there. We were pulling shots of Hair Bender at a mall kiosk. I competed in 2009 at the Southeastern Regional in Florida, and that competition atmosphere sealed the deal for me. That whole transition of Coffee & Crema getting into specialty coffee made me get into specialty coffee.
You put a lot of hours into the Greenville coffee community at that time, and you have always had a hand in maintaining the beating pulse of the coffee community here in some capacity—through small things like being a patron at every shop, to larger efforts such as throwdowns and events. What motivates you to keep the community connected, and why is it important now that you have a shop of your own?
For me it’s like, I’ve gone to other cities, and the ones that stand out the most are cities where you go to a shop and ask the baristas about good coffee in the area, and they’re able to recommend other shops and get excited about coffee in their town. From early on, I wanted all the shops in Greenville to be able to communicate and work together to improve coffee for the whole town. I don’t like when shops talk bad about each other; it brings the whole community down.
We’ve seen a lot of the Greenville coffee community come through Junto already. When baristas get off a shift, they’ll come here. They enjoy coming to a shop where they don’t work, where they can chill out and not have to be in the work mindset.
Having worked as a barista for years, and in sales for an importing company, what pointed you in the direction of a roasting program and shop ownership?
[It was] learning everything in different areas of the industry. Working for an importing company, I learned sourcing coffee and sample roasting coffee; the barista experience taught me the right way to serve coffee. I wanted to bring everything together—I made some great relationships through my experiences, and I knew I wanted to further those relationships through a roasting program and having a wholesale program. Having roasting as a part of it, in my mind, helps tell a more complete story. I got to go to Colombia and meet producers there—I want to continue those kinds of relationships and work them into Junto’s story.
Shop ownership has always been my dream. The decisions I make in running the shop—and with choices involving coffee buying and roasting—it’s the best way for me to express my love for the industry.
Your company actually began with pop-up sales of roasted coffee in Greenville and around the Southeast. You guys are having your coffee toll roasted at Joe Van Gogh’s Durham, N.C., roasting facility. How has this process worked out for Junto so far, and why did you choose to start out this way?
Knowing I don’t have years of production roast experience, I talked to Robbie from Joe Van Gogh, who is also the East Coast salesperson for Loring. He first planted the idea of going ahead and sourcing coffee and developing roast profiles, [saying] you can work with us and we will do the roasting for you. In my mind, I thought, “These guys have been doing this for a long time.” We have trust and they have experience. Who else better than Joe Van Gogh to help us on this learning experience? At this point, our roaster is installed and we are just tying up a few loose ends before we take over the reins.
The transition should be pretty easy—just a matter of tweaking things on our end, minor adjustments to fit the profiles we have developed with Joe Van Gogh for Junto. Plus, we have a bunch of new coffees that we will be introducing once we are on our own equipment. There are two new coffees I’m excited to roll out once we transition from toll roasting. One is from San Agustin in Colombia from when I got to go meet the producers there—that’s super satisfying knowing I can share that information more clearly with the customer. And then the Burundis from Long Miles because I’ve always heard such good things about them and what they do; we got a few different lots from them, and it’s just really interesting coffee.
Your physical shop space is in a transient space (although it has the look and feel of a well-established shop). Tell me a little bit about your build-out, and why opening in a semi-permanent pop-up space works for Junto right now.
There have been a lot of folks wanting coffee back in this area of the Taylors Mill. [Note: Taylors Mill is an old textile mill turned multi-use retail space.] They’ve been waiting for it since the last coffee shop moved out of here. So we wanted to open the doors to them even if it is just a temporary location. Our build-out that we are working on is in a space in the mill that has a lot of interesting character. The ceilings are so high; the windows are huge. It’s such a cool space. It was the auxiliary room, where all the pumps were, and all the heaters that provided power to the mill. It feels good knowing that we will be providing power again, in a way, to the mill.
It seems like the Great Coffee Dream come true. You’ve worked hard to get here, and knowing you, you’ll continue to work hard on your dream.
Throughout my whole coffee career, when asked, I always say, “I want to open my own shop.” Now, having done this for over a decade, it’s satisfying being able to finally do it on my own. It’s a dream.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angie Toole Thompson was voted “Most Talkative” in her eight-grade yearbook, and is the recipient of the “Ballin’ on Such An Eccentric Level” award, granted by one of her coffee-shop regulars. She is the quality control manager for Methodical Coffee, where they sometimes still let her work the bar.