One night in July 2015, Cassie Johnson dreamed of a bright and spacious coffee shop in downtown Mount Vernon named Happy Bean. Less than a year later, in February 2016, Johnson and her husband Nate opened a shop under the same name on South Main Street in Mount Vernon.
The Johnsons have been Mount Vernon residents for six years and were disappointed with the limited activity and business options, so they opened Happy Bean to help revitalize the downtown scene. The other coffee shop in Mount Vernon, Sips, closed in late March.
“It was a really big deal to me that we’re part of a shift in the atmosphere downtown,” Johnson said. “I felt like there was a feeling almost of hopelessness and just lack of joy downtown. And so we really want to be intentional about being a part of that shift. And we’re both obsessed with coffee.”
Happy Bean is located in the downstairs entry space of Hunter Hall on Mount Vernon’s South Main Street. While Mount Vernon Nazarene University uses the building for classroom spaces, Happy Bean has no connection to the university itself.
In Happy Bean’s corner of the building, natural light streams in through windows that make up the entire front wall, and exposed brick walls stretch from the honey-colored hardwood floors to the white ceiling. Happy Bean has the atmosphere of an artsy, big-city coffee shop without the crowds.
“They’re trying to specialize,” Shannon Hart ’18, frequent customer of Happy Bean and friend of the Johnsons, said. “The menu is small, and there’s lots of focus on really good coffee.” Happy Bean does not offer specialty coffee drinks, unlike Starbucks or Wiggin Street Coffee. They feature pour-over and drip coffees that absorb the flavor of their Baba Budan blend and Costa Rican roast.
Hart enjoys how the environment of Happy Bean invites customers to spend time in the shop and savor their drinks, as opposed to grabbing their coffee and going. Visitors of Happy Bean include Mount Vernon residents, Mount Vernon Nazarene University students and Kenyon students. Johnson mentioned that a Kenyon art class came to Happy Bean a few weeks ago to work on art and drink coffee.
Happy Bean is the Johnsons’ first coffee shop. Before it opened, Cassie Johnson worked as a preschool teacher, but she now works full-time at Happy Bean. Nate Johnson has continued his job as a high school math teacher during the week but works at Happy Bean on the weekends. The pair hopes that once Happy Bean increases its profits they will be able to do more for the community.
“We’re hoping to support local efforts for long-term drug rehabilitation and empowering families,” Johnson said. She wants to partner with local churches and existing efforts to better Knox County. Johnson and her husband hope that their special blend of bean-based community support will help more bussinesses sprout downtown.