Share Your Story: John Galt Coffee Company

Friday February 10, 2017 // By Dana Schlingman

Share Your Story

TJ behind the bar at the John GaltA page slowly turns, across the room a college student cocooned in ear-buds slouches into her nest of notes and textbooks. The pace is intentionally unhurried - like a meandering stream in contrast with the swift current that characterizes so many larger more commercial operations.

Shop Owner TJ Wilson
In part, I think it is the John Galt’s owner TJ Wilson who sets the tone of the shop. Distinct like a lavender and gold paisley collared shirt, but not flashy or garish, TJ somehow manages to be sarcastic, sharp, reserved and kind in equal measure. Most days he can be found sitting at the small tile-table near his register reading in between customers. An astute observer, TJ notices and perceives much, reminding me a bit of the philosopher/barber Jayber Crow from a Wendell Berry novel.

Oddly enough TJ first found his way into the coffee culture sitting at another table just a couple blocks away. After leaving college early, TJ began wading through the “in-between” working at Sears in a customer service position that was less than ideal. He started spending most of his evenings sitting at his favorite coffeeshop Margie’s Java Joint. One night, TJ overheard the manager fretting about staffing issues and he volunteered to help fill in the gaps. From the first shift, he knew that he was onto something. “The whole environment felt right,” he remembers. During his six years at Margie’s, TJ moved up into a managerial role and met his wife Joni.

The John Galt Coffee Company (mural by: Betony Coons)A change in ownership prompted TJ to start planning his own business. TJ was a member of an unconventional, emerging church that recently bought and renovated a warehouse nearby. Part of Atlas Church’s mission was to create life and community in dead spaces. Believing that coffee could be a catalyst for community, the church founders agreed to let TJ set up a small shop in the front of the building thus creating the symbiotic relationship that defines the space now. The church draws people to the shop and the shop pulls seeking and unlikely congregants out of isolation.

John Galt Coffee Company
Situated just a block from the University of Northern Colorado in the older part of Greeley, the shop is a haven for students, the homeless, teachers, an eclectic mix of makers and anyone else seeking a place to rest or connect. Lots of natural light, a dining room sized table, booths and armchairs invite people to stay. On any given day you might catch patrons knitting, playing board games, sketching or reading for hours at a time.
Because the shop opened and operated for a year without an espresso machine, there is a distinct emphasis on craft and a wide array of manual brewing options are still available. A natural researcher, TJ likes to experiment and tinker with brewing equipment. He refurbished and continues to service both of the shop’s espresso machines: Evelyn (a La Pavoni that he and Joni now use at home) and Sheila (a La Marzocco found on craigslist).

The Atlas TheaterCoffee Shop / Event Center / Church
Another component that defines the shop is the church and its patrons. The shop is literally and metaphorically marked by Atlas’s artistic attendants and their curious imaginings. A whimsical silhouetted scene adorns the west exterior of the building, a reconstituted piano spans the wall across from the front entry and every month local artists hang shows to participate in Greeley’s First Friday Art Show (Danyelle Butler)Artwalk. Likewise local actors and writers host performances and UNC students participate in bi-monthly poetry slams. Because Atlas rents out the back part of the building for events, there is a constant influx of new and diverse people - belly dancers putting on their annual fundraiser, adult literacy advocates organizing spelling bees or families celebrating special events. TJ and Joni even celebrated their wedding in the space serenaded by friends to the tune of Fievel’s “Somewhere Out There.”

Looking Ahead
sign board (illustration by: Lydia Cruz)When asked about the future, TJ is reluctant say anything definitive. So far the shop and the church have grown organically. “We really want to be responsive to the community,” TJ says. With this gracious posture, The John Galt continues to adapt with open doors.

Sometimes customers pause at the literary connection between the names Atlas Church and the John Galt (who is John Galt after all and what is Atlas?). However TJ insists that the name was not intended to be a political statement. If anything it seems to be a loose invocation to dream and to create beauty in all the spaces that lack it. Hanging just to the right of the door, Ayn Rand’s adjuration meets everyone who enters:

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.”

–Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged, mass market paperback, pg. 979)

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