First, allow me to butcher a little Steinbeck:
“…there are millions…who feel predestination in [the phrase] ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win…”
— John Steinbeck, ‘East of Eden’
Inspired and eager, hungry even, are descriptors one can pick up on when first introduced to Bo Nelson, half of the ownership duo of Kansas City’s new cafe/bar/roastery Thou Mayest. When naming their new venture, Nelson and partner Bill Holzhueter were intent on referencing Steinbeck’s East of Eden as more of a mantra and a call to arms than a mere name. “We want to start a revolution,” said Nelson. “In the past, coffee shops were where people met to start movements and get things done.”
To create a space where creativity, bravery, and decisiveness flourish is no easy task. This is where that inspiration enters in and becomes infectious. When you first walk into Thou Mayest, you can feel the buzzing energy of a lively space where intentions abound. Nelson and Holzhueter have been roasting and working together for two years, and Thou Mayest is a realization of that work, in collaboration with local craftspeople at Utilitarian Workshop as well as a diverse array of both friends and specialists, the goal always to learn and grow as a group.
The space is predominantly constructed from raw and reclaimed wood, including the the classic bar as well as the slat-lined walls. Several components were made from recycled and repurposed materials such as the retail display and the menu board, which Mr. Nelson constructed out of oaken crown molding from his grandparents’ house, and then lettered with genuine varsity letter jacket cutouts. These little bits of endearingly kitschy Americana live throughout the shop—a rack of vintage fishing rods in one corner, baseball pennants hanging in the windows, and reinvigorated enameled tray tables available for couch-sitters. Classic camping gear and rucksacks line the walls and shelves, reflecting the outdoorsy interests shared by both Nelson and Holzhueter.
Sharing the shelf space is a collection of various plants and terraria raised by Family Tree Nursery, Mr. Nelson’s family business that has spanned several generations. This leads me to one of the most unique coffee offerings I’ve ever seen in a shop: you can actually purchase your very own coffee shrub! Seriously, my jaw dropped. Who else is doing this? Is this a first?
The bar is set up to accommodate all manner of beverages, both coffee-based and alcoholic, available throughout business hours (alcohol legally becomes available at 9AM). To quote retail/coffee manager Garrett McGraw, “If you want to wake up to a beer and a muffin, yeah, you can do that here.” The coffee program currently includes the usual assortment of manual brewing methods as well as espresso drinks made on a La Marzocco Linea, with custom graphic finish by (you guessed it) Marty Roe at Kansas City’s About The Coffee. “We chose to go with the Linea for its modesty and because it’s a workhorse of a machine,” said Nelson. All of Thou Mayest’s coffee offerings are roasted in-house on a fire-engine red 5-kilo Ambex coffee roaster. The plan for the coming months is to expand coffee offerings and to get a feel for what the baristas and the neighborhood are into, another chance for collaboration to ensue.
The alcohol bar is well-stocked, offering several (mostly local) beers on tap and a great selection of hard liquors. Again, collaboration and exploration will help lead to a signature cocktail menu to be offered in the near future.
Baristas at Thou Mayest are also the bartenders and vice versa, and based on the opening celebration event I attended, it seems to work pretty smoothly. Because the brewing station, espresso machine, and liquor bar are given such equal prominence, it feels natural that the workstations would meet and overlap as opposed to being disjointed or segregated. And while I’ve seen this concept executed in coastal cities, this makes a first for Kansas City.
Retail-wise, Thou Mayest currently offers the aforementioned coffee plants (I can’t wait to get mine!) and a modest supply of t-shirts, whole bean coffee, and their bottled cold brew. But given the creative zeal already exhibited I am sure there are plenty more ideas being concocted for the very near future.
While Bo Nelson and Bill Holzhueter have been roasting and collaborating over the past two years to see their vision come into fruition, it feels like Thou Mayest has just launched their ultimate journey. A carpe diem mentality and wealth of inspiration have laid the foundation for that revolution sought after by Thou Mayest’s duo-in-chief, and with that thought and spirit in mind I would quote the Roman poet Virgil in saying “Go forth a conqueror and win great victories.”
Charlie Burt is a Sprudge.com contributor based in Kansas City. Read more Charlie Burt on Sprudge.