The man behind Jittery Joe’s

A little over 17 years ago, Bob Googe never would have imagined that a fundraiser for his daughter’s elementary school would have such a profound impact on his career path. Little did he know that through selling coffee that day, he would soon become owner of one of Athens’ most notable coffee shops — Jittery Joe’s.

Googe moved to Athens in 1996 when he worked at the Presbyterian Student Center as a campus minister. There was a Jittery Joe’s nearby, and he remembers how often he visited.

Courtesy of Athens Georgia Kiwanis

“I used to spend a lot of time there,” he said. “I wrote my sermons there, I worked with students there.”

Googe also had a consulting practice, which is where his main source of income came from. After 9/11, the business collapsed and left Googe searching for a new job.

Acquiring the business

Shortly after, Googe agreed to help at his daughter’s school to raise money for the Spanish language program. He was handing out warm cups of coffee with his friend, Charlie Mustard, the Jittery Joe’s roaster. Googe began to explain that he was looking for another job. Mustard told him that the Jittery Joe’s location at Five Point was for sale. Googe asked how much the owners were asking for.

“It was a really irrelevant question because I really didn’t have any money,” Googe said.

That question marked the beginning of his journey with the company. In just 13 months, he not only owned the cafe at Five Points, but also the location on the East Side, and had opened one in the University of Georgia Miller Learning Center. He said could not have guessed that nearly two decades later he would be where he is today.

“I have always loved coffee, but I never, ever would have imagined myself being in the coffee business,” Googe said.

Overcoming adversity

Googe has successfully expanded the business — he now owns 17 different locations and sells to customers all over the country. The road was not always easy, however. He vividly remembers “borrowing money against the house, the maxed-out credit cards,” and asking his friends and family for financial help.

Brothers Keith and Karl Kortmeier started Jittery Joe’s in 1994 when they opened the first location next to the 40 Watt Club in Athens. With the help of Charlie Mustard, the main roaster at the time, Jittery Joe’s started to develop. In 1996, Mustard bought the business from the Kortmeiers and began to roast full-time. It wasn’t long before he had a growing list responsibilities, a full fledged staff and an enormous job in front of him. Mustard knew that he was passionate about the coffee more so than the business, which caused him to put the Five Points location up for sale.

Googe heard about the location in 2002 and decided to seize the opportunity. When he took the company over, he realized just how big of a project he had taken on. At the beginning, Googe said he didn’t know the difference between a cappuccino and a latte. He relied on the staff to help him learn the ropes and teach him what he needed to know. Through working behind the counter as a barista he discovered how much he enjoyed working with customers.

Courtesy of Georgia Department of Economics

While Googe worked to understand the inner workings of the coffee business, his wife Deborah stepped in to take over the administration. He credits her with “saving Jittery Joe’s” as he reflects on her help.

“If it weren’t for my wife, I don’t think we would be here,” Googe said. “But if it weren’t for me, we wouldn’t own it.”

Jittery Joe’s: An Athens favorite

With numerous locations and customers all over the country, Jittery Joe’s has developed its brand as a local Athens favorite. Addie Capuson has been working as a barista for a little over four months and has noticed the effect the company has on the community.

“I really like how it unites Athens,” Capuson said. “I feel like everybody in this town, especially everyone that goes to UGA knows and loves Jittery Joe’s, which I think is really cool.”

From Athens to Watkinsville to Atlanta, the coffee shops serve as a place to study, catch up with friends, or simply enjoy a cup of coffee. With over 40 drinks on the menu, customers have a variety of beverages to choose from. Julianne Price, a fourth-year student at The University of Georgia, said her favorite part about the company is the atmosphere.

“It’s a pretty calm environment if you did want to study or just meet up with someone to talk,” Price said. “Also, the coffee is pretty great.”

What does the future hold? Googe says he isn’t quite sure. What he does know is that when his time at Jittery Joe’s is over, he wants someone else to pick up where he left off in order for customers to continue enjoying the coffee for years to come.

Originally published on April 14, 2020

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