The name of MOXI Junction coffeehouse is an apt play on “moxie” – as in courage, determination and purposeful activity. How better to sum up Joanna Kilgore’s determination to open a business that serves the general public while providing employment for individuals with special needs?
“I never intended to own a coffee shop,” Kilgore said. “It’s not been a dream of mine. I think God just decided ‘I think you need to put a coffee shop here,’ and I said ‘okay.’”
What Kilgore did dream about was finding a useful activity for her son, Laren, who is 27 years old and has autism. After leaving high school, Laren was unable to find a job. “He was pretty much laying around the house, totally depressed, I guess,” his mother said. Kilgore knew her son loved to watch traffic, especially school buses. When she spotted a property with three dilapidated homes on it for sale on a busy street near Maize schools, she got an idea.
“I thought I’ve got some friends who have kids who would love to work in a coffee shop,” she said.
The idea for MOXI Junction was born, with MOXI standing for “Mothers Of Exceptional Individuals” and Junction representing “a place where all our hopes, dreams and community could come together,” Kilgore said. But dreams don’t become reality overnight. It took four years to get the place open. Kilgore originally wanted to renovate the property’s homes. That plan fell through when they collapsed.
So she decided to build new, in a style that reminded her of an old home and that would fit into the surrounding residential area: a one-and-a-half story white home with blue trim and a porch that ran around two sides, with a pergola and patio to complete the picture. A location was just one hurdle to leap.
“Everything took me longer because I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Kilgore, who had no previous experience in the hospitality industry. “I just refused to give up. I just plodded along.”
MOXI Junction opened in July, serving specialty coffee drinks, tea, smoothies, fresh-baked goods and lunch. On the main floor are the kitchen and seating for about 25 people. Upstairs is a room used by community groups for meetings. There’s more seating outside.
“Each hour of the day, I get kind of a specific set of customers,” Kilgore said. “I have parents who come in with their kids before school; I’ve got parents who’ve already dropped off their kids; I’ve got some business people who come in for the Wi-Fi. We do a lot of bridge clubs and book groups. In the afternoon, we get parents picking up their kids. The middle school [students] come in after they get out of school.”
Fifteen special-needs individuals come to the coffee house most days to work and train for jobs. Kilgore works with the Maize school district and Maize TransNet, which helps individuals up to the age of 21.
“They mow the lawn, they do our laundry, recycle boxes for us,” Kilgore said. “I’ve got two bakers who are absolutely awesome and a cleaner who’s about the best employee ever. Instead of fitting them into a job, I made a job that fit them.”
That includes her son, who is MOXI’s greeter. “He comes at 6 in the morning and stays until 5 at night,” she said. “He opens the door for absolutely everyone. He speaks to them. He’s autistic, so talk- ing is a huge deal.”
Kilgore thanks her “nonspecial” employees – manager Richard Rathbun IV and baristas Kerensa Brillhart and Sierra Butler – for much of the place’s success. The coffee house displays original work by local artists and has hosted events such as a jazz concert. Kilgore said she believes the coffee house has become a welcome addition to the area.
Kilgore credits her businessman husband, Leonal Kilgore, for providing financial backing. As good as it feels for them to provide those opportunities, Kilgore knows MOXI will only survive if it continues to meet the expectations of customers.
“First of all, we are a very high quality bakery and coffee shop,” she said. “Our focus is on quality and customers. I want them to know we just happen to employ many special-needs individuals.”
MoXi Junction | 319 S. Park, Maize | 316-644-1216 | moxijunction.com