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  • Tara Crutchfield

Jude is for All

“I’ve never had a better cup of coffee.” Those words from a customer bring joy to Jude Coffee owner Jordan Willcox. He and his wife Kelsey started Jude, a mobile coffee cart, in Lakeland last year. They hope to turn their mobile venture into a brick-and-mortar over the next five years, where they can keep serving up those excellent cups of coffee with a side of hospitality. Jude is for all, after all. 



Jordan Willcox was born and raised in Seattle. When the couple moved from Seattle to Florida, Kelsey returned to St. Pete, where she’s from, and Jordan moved to Orlando following a design job. On the weekends, the pair commuted halfway to Lakeland to spend time together. “We fell in love with the city. We fell in love with the community,” said Jordan. 


The Willcox’s bought a 101-year-old home in the heart of Lakeland where they planned to start a family and their coffee cart, Jude. The idea for Jude actually started back in Seattle. The thought was that it would be a retail accessory for businesses. Jordan was a long-time barista in Seattle to work through design school. “Now that I’ve established myself as a designer, it was time to step back into coffee,” he said. 


Putting down roots lit a fire in Jordan to start Jude in Lakeland. “It feels like it truly is my hometown now,” he said. “What’s the next thing we can do legacy-wise? What are the things that are going to help plant us in this community that we truly love?”


Jude launched in February 2022 as a mobile coffee cart for community pop-ups and private events. “I’ve always thought of coffee shops as the third place,” Willcox said. “You have your home, you have your work, and you have a third place where you have community. Coffee shops are great for that. They anchor neighborhoods. They anchor communities.” Relatively new to the area, Willcox wanted to grow an audience organically. Community pop-ups have allowed the couple to do that. “Those are really intentional to be for the people of Lakeland and the surrounding area,” he said. Jude holds their monthly pop-ups at a third-floor vintage shop in downtown Lakeland, The Curated Collective. 


A few months post Jude launch, the Willcox’s found out they were expecting. In January, just a month shy of their first coffee cart anniversary, they welcomed a baby girl named Juniper, Junie for short. Willcox already has plans to bring his daughter in on the family biz when she gets a bit older. He envisions a miniature version of his Jude mobile coffee cart to sell baked goods. They’ll call it Junie. The new father, who works full-time as a designer, described Jude’s first year as ‘exciting’ and ‘stretching.’ Though it can be cumbersome to work two jobs, he’s keeping himself at the forefront of the business. “I want people to know me and know our business.” Kelsey is a senior executive project manager for a tech company. She handles the administration for Jude and crafts recipes for their tasty syrups.


MARKETING & MERCH


To get Jude off the ground, Jordan has established a sort of subversive marketing strategy. When the couple discovered they were pregnant, he bought a billboard on South Florida Avenue announcing, “Jude is having a baby.” In the spirit of poking fun at his strict neighborhood, he printed flyers of him pouring a cup of coffee in front of a Ring camera that said, “If you see something, say something.” Jordan said, “It’s been a year of no one saying ‘no’ to my bad creative ideas and seeing some success in it.” 


Being able to fully express himself through design with no one to reject his ideas has “given me the juice to keep going. […] I think it’s helped curate our voice. I have spent the last year curating the voice of our business to be a little bit of mine and a little bit of what we want to be.” 


Leaning further into Jordan’s design background, Jude has branched into merchandise, offering hats, shirts, and stickers. What started as a creative outlet has evolved into a central piece of the business, with items selling out at their monthly pop-ups causing Jordan to shift to pre-orders. “Our brand is taking on its own life,” he said. “It’s becoming something we didn’t expect, and that’s been really fun.”


COFFEE & CONNECTION 


The company’s mantra is “Jude is for All,” a sentiment that coffee shouldn’t be limited to Americano aficionados and espresso experts. “We never want you to come in and chat with me or chat with somebody who’s working and feel like you don’t understand or you’re less-than,” said Jordan. “Our goal was to structure it in a way where if you love coffee, you can spend the time talking to me about coffee. If you just want a lavender latte, I’m going to whip you up the sickest lavender latte you’ve ever had, and we’re going to keep it moving, and each customer is fulfilled in that way. It’s accepting the person where they are when it comes to coffee knowledge.” 


Over their first year, Jude has exclusively served Little Wolf Coffee out of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Now they’re pivoting to include other craft coffee brands. “We love Florida, and we love the roasters here, but we wanted to focus on people in other smaller cities that were similar to us but doing something really important and showing people in Florida something cool,” Willcox said. “I want people to experience something they can’t get anywhere else. I want them to have that through Jude.” 


Moving forward, when Jude patrons order a latte, Americano, or cappuccino, it will be from one roaster, drip coffee from another, and cold brew, produced here by hand, from a third. Joining Little Wolf on the Jude roaster roster is Metric out of Chicago and Regalia Coffee out of New York. Jude features standard café offerings with a choice of whole or oat milk and house-made lavender and vanilla syrups developed by Kelsey using locally sourced ingredients. “I’m proud of it and think we could bottle it at some point,” Jordan said of their lavender syrup. They also offer honey simple syrup with locally sourced honey. 


Willcox’s approach to the marriage of hospitality and good coffee means he’ll likely remember your name and coffee order. “There are very few customer interactions where someone remembers you like that. I know that when someone remembers me like that, I really take it to heart.” A standard café interaction lasts about 30 seconds, according to Willcox. You order a coffee, wait another 2-5 minutes, get your coffee, and leave. Not at Jude. “Our conversation ends as I hand you that cup of coffee. […] At the end of our interaction, you get what you paid for. You get your coffee, but in that time, we got to connect.”


THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN 


Currently, Jude operates at about 70/30 private events to community pop-ups as the couple saves money to purchase a brick-and-mortar. That’s the five-year plan. “I would rather have customers celebrate that we’re actually getting to a real location than trying to fight for the customers to understand who we are,” Jordan said. He looks to the path Born & Bread’s Jenn Smurr took from simple beginnings to a cruffin cult following. “She’s incredibly smart, and I love their dedication to craft.” 


Once in a physical location, the Willcox’s hope to focus on philanthropy. Jordan has the idea for job training for the unhoused and a program where a percentage of the drip coffee sales go to Gospel Village. 

As they expand their merchandise and hone their voice, next year may see an abridged version of Jude with a semi-permanent pop-up.  


“You don’t have to live in New York or L.A. to be deemed important anymore because social media has opened up this whole avenue,” Willcox said. “You can drive through the South and really experience coffee at a degree you couldn’t five years ago.” Jordan strives to make sure Jude is one of those experiences.


Photography by Noble Photo Co.

 

Jude Coffee 

IG @judeforall

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