Loving Something More Isn’t Just for Amateurs
May 29, 2020 11:43AM
By Virginia Kathryn Gallner
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
On a typical day at Amateur Coffee, there might be a student working on digital drawings on one side of the bar and another experimenting with charcoal pencils. Many creatives gather in the parlor at the edge of the Joslyn Castle neighborhood and around the corner from Lisa’s Radial Café for coffee and camaraderie.
The owners, Jasmyn and Jacob Wichert, are artists in their own right. Jasmyn does all of the graphic design work for their shop and roastery. Jacob is a musician and member of indie rock band Bokr Tov. Throughout the parlor’s first two years, they have had several musicians on staff, including Nate Van Fleet of See Through Dresses and Heather Hottman of the Hottman Sisters, as well as a filmmaker and a writer.
In 2012, Jasmyn was working as a barista in the Old Market, and Jacob was studying philosophy. He met Matt McCrary, the owner of Muglife Coffee, and fell in love with coffee culture.
Often, people come to coffee because they are talented in other areas, he said, and coffee offers a safe environment for self-expression.
“Coffee is something you can never get bored with, because there’s so much to know,” Jasmyn said.
That love of coffee led them to start roasting at home. During their first few years exploring the industry, they took a lot of trips to Kansas City and other nearby cities to see the thriving culture around coffee.
What sets them apart, though, is that their shop is entirely vegan.
Jacob grew up in a standard Nebraska meat-and-potatoes family. When Jasmyn was young (around middle or high school, though she wasn’t sure which), she chose to become vegetarian. Her parents followed in her footsteps. The day that Jacob decided to go vegan, she asked if their coffee shop—which, at the time, was a dream project—could also follow her lifestyle.
For Jasmyn, it’s all about values. “How can we provide an excellent specialty coffee experience without hurting animals?”
Jacob remarked that “it was scary, but it was a decision that felt right.”
In a town known for steak, coffee lovers have been very supportive of this all-vegan parlor. The word of mouth has spread to the coasts as well, with people traveling from east and west looking for vegan breakfast options. People looking to learn about coffee culture reach out to Amateur now, just as Jasmyn and Jacob did when they were starting.
In late 2018, they developed a sustainable option for to-go orders, replacing paper cups with whimsically designed glass jars. When patrons return the "to-go cups," they can refill or receive a one-dollar refund (useable, as noted on their social media, toward the cost of a banana).
Balancing their work and creative lives has been a seamless process, for the most part. Jacob described one recent morning: waking up before the sun to record music, eat breakfast, and open the parlor.
“You’ve got to fight for it if you want it,” he said.
As an artist, Jasmyn takes a playful approach to her coffee designs. She wanted them to reflect the story and personality of every roast, striving for a whimsical experience “like a coloring book.”
Some of the art reflects the places where their coffee is served. Modern Love, the all-vegan restaurant in Midtown Crossing that has gained international fame, has its own signature blend, as well as Saddle Creek Breakfast Club and Vala’s Pumpkin Patch.
Jasmyn said their partnership with the pumpkin patch has been a dream come true. “Vala’s is such a part of Nebraska culture,” she said. “[Now] we can support each other.”
Their community partnerships go beyond coffee. They source herbal and caffeinated blends from local business Artemis Teas. Some of the drinks showcase tea blends, such as the Lady London Fog, which focuses on rose instead of the typical lavender.
Katina Talley Foster, owner of Sweet Magnolias Bake Shop, is happy to call Amateur Coffee business neighbors and pastry partners.
“Developing vegan recipes for Amateur’s menu has been a personal favorite project of mine,” Foster said. “It’s important to me to create vegan products that are just as mouthwatering and indulgent as the traditional items in my own shop.”
Having studied food science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Foster enjoys the challenge.
“I’ve loved learning the science behind baking with various nondairy fats and milks and egg replacers and which combinations give me the specific product attributes I’m hoping for,” she said. “It allows me to stretch my artistic muscles.”
The Wicherts started Amateur Coffee as a reflection of their values. Jasmyn firmly believes it has been worth the risk of introducing an all-vegan coffee parlor to a meat-and-potatoes state.
“We only have one life to live,” she said. “You’ve got to give what you’re good at.”
Visit amateurcoffee.com for more information.
This article first appeared in the June 2020 issue of Omaha Magazine.