Life Unfiltered

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It would be fair to say Bartow’s newest coffee house started in a Brooksville field – the idea for it did, anyway. CEO and Creative Director of Unfiltered Coffee, Geanie Folder, worked in a nursing home for most of her life. A fierce creative, Geanie always kept a “vintage side hustle” upcycling clothing and furniture with her company Rebel Juju.

The Beatnik Exchange is Born

When her last child left home, she left her job at the nursing home and started the Beatnik Exchange. Like many of Geanie’s ideas, the Beatnik Exchange was unapologetic, free-spirited, eclectic and kismet that gathered folks of the artistic and innovative variety.  Geanie explained her idea to friend and owner of Vintage Warehouse in Lakeland, Mendy Michalec.  Geanie was dreaming of an annual artisan-driven market. The plan was to keep the market one-third farm to table food, one-third artisan, and one-third vintage. Mendy cheered on the idea and said Vintage Warehouse would even sponsor the event, along with Robyn Story Designs.

The first-ever Beatnik Exchange took place on Geanie’s Brooksville farm in 2016. And that’s sort of where everything started for the magical Bartow coffee shop. “I kept gathering people – artful people – and we grew from there,” said Geanie. They started gathering artists as they took the market to events like Sun n’ Fun. A few years in, Geanie and her Beatnik Exchange partner and dear friend, Luke Dickerson decided to open Luka Blue Vintage next door to Vintage Warehouse.

Coffee was central to Geanie’s vision. “How many deals, and friendships, and sorrows, and celebrations have people had over a cup of coffee?” she said. She met Lisbeth Pacheco and Jolian Rios, the founders of Ethos Coffee Roasters and started serving their fair-trade coffee at Luka Blue Vintage.

This Is It

After a year, Luke decided to open a real estate company, Luke Blue, LLC and Geanie decided to get back to her fashion roots and nurture that aspect of her creativity for a while. The pair closed their Lakeland location.  Looking for a private space to sew in, along with a painting studio for her friend, Linda Cassels-Hofmann, the two met with the landlord that owns the Stuart Building to look at office spaces. They rented an office space and the landlord, whom Geanie described as “such a great friend, such a visionary,” had a space he wanted to show her for a future shop. Earlier that day, she told him, “If I’m going to do this thing, I’m going to do it right – I have to find the right building. When that comes to me, I’ll know it.”  The moment they walked through the back door, Geanie turned to Linda and said, “This is it.”

“The spirit of Bartow and the spirit in this building drove me from that day to come here and open this place,” she said. “It just chose me.”  The 120-year-old building has lived many incarnations, Geanie found out during a trip to the historical society. It was first a hardware store carrying a selection of groceries and dry goods. Next door to Unfiltered is The Wine Stable, originally a livery stable. According to Geanie, folks would leave their horse and buggy next door at the livery stable and come do their shopping. One-sixty South Broadway Avenue has also been a furniture company, grocery store, and auto parts office.

Geanie and her landlord collaborated to open and renovate the space. “I say that very lightly because really the building did it, the building told me,” she said.  “I stood in one corner and I said ‘Okay, here’s what we’re going to do here…’ and we just kept chronologically moving around the building and it kept happening. […] I know that sounds strange, but it is so true,” she said. “I didn’t set out with this grand plan on paper.”  There were a few things she was certain of. “I knew it would be earthy, I knew it would be open. I knew downstairs I would have to keep my hand down on the color palette, but equally, I knew upstairs I could bring every color to the moon.”

The Unfiltered creative director knew she wanted to have a bar. “I wanted to model it like a home,” she said. She asked herself, ‘If you came to my home, what would I do? How would I treat you? How would I serve you?’ Well, she would serve you off of one of a kind pottery plates and mugs made by other artists.  “Ninety-five percent of what was used in the store came from my personal collection that I procured over the years,” complete with kitchen equipment and silverware courtesy of the Lakeland Yacht Club, according to Geanie.

Even the bookshelves for their in-house bookstore, The Unbound Bookery, were made with wood recycled from doors, made by Luke Dickerson. Geanie paused and thought about the space. “It has been a collection of goods, a collection of people, a collection of art.”  The food and drink offered at Unfiltered were not an afterthought. Ethos Coffee Roasters out of Lakeland continues to provide the joe and Unfiltered has partnered with Uncle Nick’s Bagels, and Got Candy & More. Some treats are baked in-house – like their gourmet waffles.

The Right Stuff

“Every little detail fell in place here,” she said. Like the stained-glass front door she found in St. Pete, created by an artist in 2011 that had never been hung.  The tile on the bar is from Miami. She drove there and dug the tile out of someone’s backyard, which had been there for some 40 years. “The whole building, little by little, was built like that.”

“The right stuff just shows up,” she said. “Along with the talent we have here.”  Like her friend and performing artist, Sandi Silverman who she met at a photoshoot at her Brooksville farm. “Sandi planned and took a year to curate all her books and put a bookstore in [the shop],” said Geanie. The Unbound Bookery is a gem mine of books spanning genres and generations.

The interior of the shop has all but a conventional vibe. From the carefully curated pages lining the shelves of The Bookery, to the mismatched furniture, a plush chair on a hanging platform, art abounding, and nooks and crannies ideal for a chat with a friend or a moment to yourself with a piping cup of coffee.

The murals were painted by Linda Cassels-Hofmann. Painting for over 40 years in Polk County, Linda is versed in everything from painting, paper hanging, plastering, murals, faux finish, craftsmanship, and is “experienced in all types of the decorative arts, specializing in trompe l’oeil.” In a nook closest to the aqua lava lamp of a stained glass entrance, is a mural by Cassels-Hofmann depicting two stone women with flowers and greenery sprouting from their heads like every blooming idea that grew Unfiltered into what it has become. Other murals depict Edgar Allen Poe, an Alice in Wonderland themed bathroom, and a hippopotamus they call Phil on the back door.  Cassels-Hofmann, with her business, Castles in the Air, will be one of the four resident artists working out of the second-floor studio at Unfiltered. “Castles in the Air means to daydream or imagine,” said Cassels-Hofmann. She has always liked painting whatever people can dream up.

A Bit of Bartow Magic

On March 6, 2020, Geanie Folder and her son, the co-owner/ COO of Unfiltered, Tray Towels saw a line around the block for the shop’s grand opening. “Bartow is so beautiful. It’s not me, it’s not the people who are here with me like Linda and Sandi, truly, this whole thing surrounds us in Bartow,” she said.

The grand opening crowd has been but one of the ways the community has embraced the indie coffee house. After closing their doors in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Geanie racked her brain for ways to keep the burgeoning business afloat. It came to her to do what she knew best – art kits! The morning after posting the art kits online, she woke up to around 45 orders from locals. “Bartow has been so good to us in that way,” said Geanie. “It’s magic.”  Humbled by her experience downtown, Geanie added, “In all the entrepreneurial things that I’ve done that have led up to this – and there have been a lot – never have I felt so loved and embraced and loved upon. It’s incredible.”

An Artist Haven

Ascending the stairs of the off-beat coffee shop will be a new experience for Unfiltered patrons as the second floor just finished renovations. “It’s as if you took Pinterest and dropped it in the middle of the floor up there. It’s like an artist’s haven,” said Geanie.  Whitewashed brick walls, a rainbow explosion of colors, a claw foot tub for photography, pottery studio, paint studio, and working space for four area artists. “Every inch up there is art,” she said. Among these artists are metalsmith Cassie Bock, mixed media artist Danita Lyn, textile artist, Kimberly Boothe, and painter Linda Cassels-Hofmann. Three other artists sell their art at the shop as well.

Upon reopening post-COVID-19, the shop will offer an assortment of classes from Geanie and the resident artists. Geanie eventually wants to host outside artists to come and stay at the studio as well.  This second floor of Unfiltered will offer space for birthday parties, bridal and baby showers, and overflow seating for the coffee shop.

Coffee & Connections

Unfiltered is more philosophy than name. “People are always apologizing. ‘I’m sorry about what I have on today. I’m sorry about my car, I’m sorry about my house, I should have picked up,’” she said. “Why are we spending our lives apologizing for the ways we choose to live?”

Geanie aims to empower people to live their life unfiltered – a way of life she has refined. “I’m one of those people, probably to my detriment, I don’t really care what people think,“ she said. “My life has never been too much worrying about what other people think. […] I’ve always had a good peace of mind with that.”  Geanie says she would like to see five stores in five years. “I’m just putting that out into the universe and if that’s what’s meant to be, that’s what’s going to happen.”

As for Unfiltered Bartow, Geanie Folder will keep forging connections. “I wanted this to be a place of connection. I wanted this to be a safe place where people could come, have a cup of coffee, make art if that’s what they want to do, read a book, get on their computer if they work from home and just connect,” said Geanie. “Connect here with this building, in the same way I connected with it, and with all of us artists, and connect with the community.”


Unfiltered Coffee

160 S Broadway Ave, Bartow, FL

FB @UnfilteredBartow

IG @unfiltered_bartow

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