In a season of despair for the hospitality industry, it feels like tempting fate to report some good news. But we’ll take the glimmers of light where we can find them, and right now, they’re at a small eastside coffee shop that reopened last month under new ownership, busy from day one with grateful neighbors who feared Rabble Coffee (2119 E. 10th St.) had gone dark for good.
Jessica and Mitchell Tellstrom took over the space this summer after Rabble’s original owner, Josie Hunckler, decided not to reopen when stay-at-home orders were lifted. Hunckler broke the news of her decision to close on Instagram and offered to hand the keys over for a good price to anyone who was up for the challenge. Mitchell Tellstrom had worked in the coffee business for more than 20 years and dreamed of opening his own neighborhood coffee shop even as he made his mark on the local scene with positions at Milktooth, Open Society, Pioneer, Black Market, and Gallery Pastry Bar. But the brutal parade of local closures and the near-certain realignment of the hospitality industry after COVID-19 had Tellstrom looking for a way out of the fickle business. He was going back to school to get his M.B.A. (with eyes on something more stable, like accounting) when word of Hunckler’s decision to close came down. “This was my chance,” says Tellstrom. “I knew if I didn’t do it, somebody else would. And if I passed up the opportunity now, I might as well walk away and stop trying.”
The Tellstroms took ownership of the building in August and got to work on the space even as they continued their full-time jobs—Mitchell at Gallery Pastry Bar and Jessica at her long-time gig in medical manufacturing. They briefly considered changing the name, but decided it was perfect just the way it was. “Mitchell and I talk about politics constantly, and what more perfect name for 2020 than Rabble?” says Jessica. “Because we’re both kind of misfit troublemakers and rabble rousers, or at least we were in the past. So we felt like we wanted to continue that, and we feel really honored that Josie allowed us to keep it.”
Mitchell, who grew up in Greenwood and graduated from Indiana University, has taken lessons from his two decades in the business to map out the coffee shop of his dreams. His first job was as a dishwasher at a cafe when he was 15. He learned the roasting trade during a decade spent in Austin and Los Angeles and got his high-profile barista bona fides at Milktooth. “The amount of information I took in at Milktooth was incredible,” says Mitchell. “I was definitely a sponge and did my best to learn how to serve in a high-volume, high-stress situation. It was a fantastic setting, but I just kept thinking about being at a place where someone could be at the beginning of their day, maybe still waking up, and ask me, Can I get a large coffee? I just want to be able to say, Yeah, of course you can.”
In keeping with that, Mitchell’s first order of business was designing a simple menu. While you can order a small or large drip or iced coffee, everything else is one size only, and there’s no upcharge for nondairy milk alternatives. (Exciting news for folks who have become accustomed to paying extra for almond or oat milk in their lattes.) He makes all of the syrups and flavorings in-house and sticks to two roasters for his coffee beans, one local and one rotating national. Right now, he’s brewing locally owned Circadian Coffee and Austin-based Barrett’s Coffee Roasters, the business he worked at for eight years when he was in Texas.
The food case is stocked with drool-worthy treats made by Jordan Justice, a local baker with a loyal following at King Dough and Commissary Barber & Barista (get to Rabble before noon if you want a slim chance at grabbing a piece of the cinnamon coffee cake before it sells out). Croissants by Gallery Pastry Shop will be added to the menu soon.
The Tellstroms lightened up the visual feel of Rabble, painting all the walls white, stripping red epoxy from the concrete countertop, and installing ceramic tiles around the service counter that add warmth but still support the crisp, clean aesthetic. They plan to highlight the work of local artists on the walls, including a mural that will be painted soon by Emily Gable of Bootleg Sign Co.
While the thought of opening during a global pandemic was scary (“We were terrified, understandably,” says Mitchell), it wasn’t just business fears that kept the Tellstroms up at night. They have a medically vulnerable son, who is preparing for his third open-heart surgery since he was born less than three years ago. Keeping COVID at bay is priority number one, but they ultimately decided they could protect themselves and their family, and still open up a shop that would contribute to the life of the neighborhood they live in. “Our son is high-risk, and that’s scary,” says Mitchell. “But at the same time, there are other things that are very important in a community. My community also needs a place to gather. Even if you’re just waiting five minutes while your coffee’s finished and you see the person that lives a couple streets down that you haven’t seen in a while, those experiences are important to a neighborhood. And I saw it slipping away if the coffee shop went away.”