After nearly two years of test marketing, fine-tuning and searching for the best location, Public House Coffee is about to open at the Jacksonville Landing.
President and CEO Dana Atkins is having a noon-6 p.m. open house and barista job fair this week and next while the finishing touches are applied to the former Starbucks space of the riverfront mall.
His path to the coffee shop isn’t what you might expect.
A Boston native and political science and economics major, Atkins went to law school, but had an epiphany before he considered the Bar exam.
After three years of study, “I knew it wasn’t for me,” he said.
Atkins then joined the Air Force and flew B-52s.
He later became an instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, where his love for coffee shops was born.
When he left the service after several years of working with the military space program in Washington, D.C., Atkins started businesses in fields from graphic arts to nightclub consulting to a nonprofit that mentored startup environmental organizations.
Along the way, he met a former Starbucks executive who’s now a partner in Public House and they opened a coffee shop in
Atkins was attracted to Jacksonville by thoughts of establishing an Irish craft brewery, but his thoughts kept returning to caffeine.
To test the market and fine-tune the product, Atkins opened a stall at the Jacksonville Farmers Market on West Beaver Street, where Public House’s coffee that’s custom-roasted in Jacksonville and pastries baked in Savannah were served.
Intended solely as a place to test-market the products, Atkins said the venture was showing a small profit when he started looking for a more permanent location.
He and his partners scouted sites throughout Jacksonville and settled on what he calls the “north urban core.”
“We think Downtown is on the upswing,” said Atkins.
When they discovered the former Starbucks space at the Landing, the partners knew it was the flagship location for what they hope will be a franchise business.
Atkins said there was practically no renovation or remodeling to be done when he took over the space Starbucks left in 2011.
The Public House menu includes brewed and iced coffee beverages, Celestial Seasonings teas and Italian soft drinks.
After the display cases arrive next week, pastries will be offered — sweets such as biscotti and muffins, plus breakfast croissants with eggs, meat and cheese and lunch pastries with pulled pork and meatballs.
The shop also is a gallery for local and regional artists and Atkins has hired an event coordinator who will schedule live music and karaoke in the evenings.
“We want Public House to be a place for people who work Downtown to stay after work or come Downtown at night,” he said.
The partners have plans to expand the business with franchisees and they’re looking for a place in Springfield where they could relocate the bakery operation.
For Atkins, opening the shop is the culmination of much of what he’s learned about business and it satisfies his passion for a particular beverage.
“There are three liquids you want to sell — petroleum, alcohol and coffee,” he said. “And I love coffee.”