Walking inside the dimly lit bar at J&J’s on a Thursday morning, you don’t expect lightly burned espresso beans to be the first smell that hits you.
But the smell shows progress — it was the second week of training for Jona Rupnicki and her staff, who were preparing for the opening of the latest addition to J&J’s Gallery and Event Space, 917 N. Kansas Ave.
At the far end of the bar, under a spotlight, sits Rupnicki’s new espresso machine, La Marzocco Espresso, a shiny three-group espresso maker painted a deep cherry red.
“She needs a name,” joked Bobbe Kearns, one of the training baristas.
“She really does,” agreed Kendra Palmer, who was leading the training. “Ours was named Bella.”
With that, Palmer forcefully banged the group handle filled with used coffee grounds against the back of the bar, smiled at the three trainees around her and assured them it wouldn’t break.
Palmer should know. Until last May, she was the NOTO Arts District’s resident barista as owner of Bunker Coffee Company, 822 N. Kansas Ave. Bunker was the sole place to get coffee in NOTO, and the district has noticed its absence in the past few months.
“I’m almost positive we’re the only fully stocked bar in Topeka to offer espresso,” Rupnicki said.
Beginning Jan. 15, the bar will expand its hours, opening at 6:30 a.m. as a coffee bar. J&J’s menu will feature gourmet coffee, tea, cocktails and craft beers, as well as its current drink menu. In addition to the bar, J&J’s has a limited kitchen menu, which Rupnicki said she hopes will soon include a mac and cheese menu.
The bar previously functioned as a weekender open at 3 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and staying open as late as 2:30 a.m. With its new schedule, J&J’s will be open 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, in addition to its bar hours.
Rupnicki said J&J’s hasn’t solidified times and is waiting to see what customer demand will look like, but she tentatively plans to offer coffee until 10 p.m. on weekends so people won’t be wired on espresso at 1 a.m., she said.
“I’ve been explaining to my bartenders that the prices are similar to a bar,” Rupnicki said. “We have wells, calls and premiums, so Homer’s (Coffee) House is like your well, and espresso — Stone Mother — is going to be your premium.”
Rupnicki listed the brands of coffee and espresso J&J’s will offer. One, Stone Mother, is a family-run Native American roasting company — a nod to Rupnicki’s heritage.
“I just found the back papers on them the other day, I’ve been saving them since 2012,” Rupnicki said. “I found Stone Mother by connecting with another Native American business coffee owner. She’s done a lot of research and recommended two different companies, and this was the one I narrowed it down to.”
Finding a bartender who doubles as a barista is virtually impossible in Topeka, Rupnicki said, but she’s happy to train dedicated employees who want to learn. She said, hopefully, J&J’s will need to hire more baristas to cover the day shifts, as long as business is steady.
“She already has such a successful bar already, she’s got what it takes to rock things in NOTO,” Palmer said. “When you get down to the brass tacks of it, it’s really similar, Jona is really good at translating coffee to bar and bar back to coffee.”
Contact reporter Savanna Maue at (785) 295-5621 or @CJFoodFun or @SavannaMaue on Twitter.