By Carol Best

Tanner Stevens (’11), pictured right, is just one year out of college and already a successful business owner. One of two proprietors of Quay Coffee (pronounced “key”) in Kansas City’s historic River Market, Tanner says the establishment’s goal is to be an extension of your living room—one that happens to serve great coffee. Patrons find that the welcoming environment, as well as the coffee, provide plenty of reasons to hang out or even work from the location. 

Though not quite a year old, Quay is already established as a neighborhood favorite for business owners, residents, and visitors of the tight-knit neighborhood. Tanner, who majored in intercultural studies at MNU, and Cory Stipp, pictured left, a 1998 graduate of Olivet Nazarene University, say the coffee shop is more than a business to them—it’s a mission. 

The friends, who met when Tanner was in high school and Cory served as his youth pastor at Central Church of the Nazarene in Lenexa, Kan., had talked for three years about what it might be like to have a coffee shop that would allow them to build strong relationships with a community.

“A group of friends had a kind of ‘think tank’ about what it looks like to be Christ-followers in our own personal lives,” Tanner says. “That formed all this.”

In 2011, Tanner and Cory got serious about a business plan and sought help from that same group of friends. Other MNU alumni lent their expertise: Josh Klekamp (’09) built the web site, Nate Johnson (FS ’07) created the branding, and Tanner’s wife, Liz (Tader ’09) Stevens, helped with décor, and works at Quay on weekends. Others helped spruce up the shop’s interior. The result is what patrons see today—a rustically beautiful, historic building with an inviting vibe and friendly, informative baristas who serve what some locals call “snob coffee without the attitude.”

But what’s so great about this coffee shop? Everything about the business is designed with the patron’s experience in mind. For instance, the bar behind which Quay prepares and serves coffee is built low to encourage eye contact and interaction between baristas and customers. 

“It reduces any barrier,” Cory says. “I can look them in the eye and have a conversation. We want them to see every aspect as we’re making the coffee. We want to engage in conversation. That’s the goal of the shop—to make relationships. We just want to serve and care for them as a person.”

Even coffee preparation enhances that interaction. Quay serves pour-over coffee, a brewing method which takes the time to hand-pour water, heated to exacting temperatures, over freshly ground coffee. 

“You let it sit 30 seconds and the coffee blooms,” says Cory. “The flavor notes open up. That’s what helps make it an amazing cup of coffee. It takes time. We’re having interaction with the people because we’re taking time to make their coffee.”

And it’s not just any coffee. Using local Kansas City micro roaster Oddly Correct, Quay is able to serve an unusually fresh product. 

This coffee hasn’t been sitting on a pallet for three weeks before the shop gets it. Quay only serves in-season coffee from all over the world. Because both Quay Coffee and Oddly Correct are passionate about assisting coffee growers in less developed countries, their supplier is Café Imports, whose mission is to “increase the quality of life for those involved—from tree to cup—through the commerce of coffee.”

It’s kind of neat to say that with everything going and moving constantly …we’re kind of that foundational piece, that rock that’s here, where people can come, anchor, and hang out.

In fact, increasing the quality of life is what this business is all about. And if the coffee brings people in, the environment makes them come back. Even the name of the shop is meant to convey what the owners hope will happen there.

“A quay is a harbor or dock along a moving body of water,” said Cory. “It’s kind of neat to say that with everything going and moving constantly …we’re kind of that foundational piece, that rock that’s here, where people can come, anchor, and hang out.”

Tanner and Cory agree that the best thing about Quay Coffee is the people from the neighborhood they’ve come to love. Whether it’s a photographer editing photos from his favorite seat in the shop, or a neighbor that stops in daily, the business thrives on people and their relationships. 

“The community here is very strong,” Tanner asserts. “Everyone here is open with their lives. It’s easy to call on someone if you need help.” 

While they acknowledge the role of the neighborhood in their success, the owners say opening Quay Coffee was a labor of love involving friends and family who did everything from creating the branding, to building the web site, to designing the interior.

Coffee and relationships—it’s simple. But it doesn’t get much better than that.