For Johan Jo, owner, manager and head barista of Ristretto Lounge, his business is more than a place to simply serve coffee and pastries.
“Coffee is just a tool that I use to be able to bring people together,” Jo said.
Jo was born in South Korea, but has since lived in Canada and all over the U.S. His experiences in different parts of the world grew his desire to create a space for different types of people to gather and feel welcome, he said.
“To have been raised with two different cultures at the same time, I feel like a platform was already created for me,” Jo said.
Before the construction of the two-story lounge, Jo spent several months in his birth country connecting with his dying grandmother and fine-tuning his coffee-making skills with his aunt, who runs a barista school in Suwon.
Jo said he would wake up at 4 a.m., ride the train to Suwon and spend the day expanding his knowledge of coffee and earning the necessary certifications to successfully run his business in Opelika.
Jo brought the lessons he learned in Korea to the coffee lounge that he said will be a place to conjoin all of the diverse groups in the area.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Jo said the lounge will be the ground for his customers to experience personal growth, learn and build relationships.
“We’re all humans and we want to belong, be wanted and needed,” Jo said. “The coffee shop owner wants every person that walks through his doors to know that Ristretto is a ‘come back home’ place. Wherever they go out in this world, they can always come back here and feel loved.”
The walls of the shop are all empty, but Jo intends to change this by displaying the art of people in the community.
Jo said his mission is to tear down the barriers that separate people culturally and socially, and reconnect them through art.
“All of the walls right now are blank, because every single piece of these walls is going to be covered with somebody’s art. That’s the vision,” he said.
Jo said he wants people to be able to experience personal growth through relationships with fellow creatives. Artists can showcase their work in his shop and collaborate with other artists and grow alongside different people and cultures.
“People need to be able to challenge themselves and challenge each other creatively,” Jo said. “If you don’t challenge yourself creatively, then you won’t be able to bust out of your comfort zone.”
Additionally, Jo said the space will be used to host large-scale events such as live music or pop-up shops for thrifted clothing.
The owner is open to holding different events that cater to the needs and wants of the community.
“It’s up to God,” he said. “Just to see a whole movement of people around here...[That] is what I’m looking forward to.”
The location of the shop on Corporate Drive in Opelika is special to Jo and his family.
“My grandmother prayed over this lot over ten years ago before it was paved,” Jo said. “God already had this planned out for us to be at the center between the two cities.”
Jo wants to tear down barriers between groups. He views Ristretto’s location between Auburn University and Southern Union State Community College as an opportunity to connect people between colleges and between Auburn and Opelika.
“I pray that this place can be a lighthouse and a bridge between the two cities,” Jo said.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman