When Justin Forgey had a grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with late-onset adult epilepsy in 2008, his life changed instantly. For the next four years, he bounced around from job to job, having seizures along the way. “It made the typical 9-5 very difficult,” Justin reflected. “I was not the most reliable employee.”
But Justin chose not to be defined by his disability. He was eager to find a way to support his family. One day, he mentioned to his wife Jenny that he was considering self-employment, owning a brick and mortar coffee shop. She replied that they should talk more about it. The next day, Justin quit his job.
Stonebridge Coffee Beginnings
As scary as that must’ve been for Jenny, the couple moved forward. In 57 days, Justin raised $20,000 through Indiegogo, fueled by his social network, his friends’ social networks, and the virality that the Internet offers us all.
The Indiegogo success was encouraging, but Justin soon realized that $20K wasn’t enough to get a brick and mortar concept off the ground. A food truck was an acceptable alternative, and fortunately Justin had an old high school friend who could help: Wes Hurt, founder of Hey Cupcake.
At the end of Justin and Wes’ first brainstorming meeting, Justin bought an airstream. He tore down a section of his fence, so he could fit it in the backyard. Jeremy at JEKCreations gave Justin a crash-course in how to overhaul a trailer and retrofit it for use as a food truck. “Jeremy would give me a 20-minute lesson on how to install flooring, and then I would install the flooring,” described Justin. Five and a half weeks after purchase, the food truck was ready and sitting on a lot at 6400 McNeil in North Austin.
What Is Stonebridge Coffee
About 1,000 yards from where Justin and Jenny live, an empty field became the home of Stonebridge Coffee on October 26, 2013. The business tagline, “where the neighborhood gathers,” is a concept that Justin pursues every day. He’s passionate about “keeping Austin Austin with neighborhood spots,” and the neighborhood has rewarded his spirit.
- Lamb’s Tire down the street donated washer pits, the manager and staff arriving with shovels, granite and PVC to do the job themselves.
- A customer donated tables from his backyard.
- Another customer gave Justin an $100 tip on a $2 coffee to go buy shade for the tables.
- When Justin returned from the store and was seen struggling to erect the huge canopy by himself, a state trooper pulled up with a “yeah, we can do that,” and helped with the set up.
It’s an atypical – some might say miraculous – tale that you just don’t hear every day. But after you meet Justin and sense his friendliness and kindness, it may not come as much of a surprise that others are inspired to reciprocate. “I want to be a light in the community and bring hope to those who are hopeless,” Justin told me. “At the same time, I want to give them a damn good cup of coffee and good food.”
The coffee is worth talking about (Anderson’s Coffee), and breakfast tacos or morning pastries like cinnamon rolls, muffins and danishes are a good pick-me-up on your way to work. You can choose from mochas, lattes, cappuccinos and hot tea, with iced coffee and tea in the hotter months.
But you won’t be wowed by the presentation – this is a simple place. Instead of hiding behind a shiny espresso machine, Justin will come sit with customers while they drink their coffee. He listens to their stories, and he cares. That’s a dose of simplicity we could all use.
You’ll find Stonebridge Coffee at 6400 McNeil, south of Parmer. Justin is there from 7:30-12, Tuesday-Friday, and on Saturday from 8-12. It never hurts to call ahead to make sure the window’s open for you, and 512-698-5555 is the number you’ll need. Cash only.
Justin wants his life story to prove that “people with disabilities can do whatever the hell they want.” Epilepsy hasn’t stopped him from moving forward with his dreams, and I suspect it never will. Stop by and see for yourself. And while you’re at it, ask how Stonebridge Coffee got its name – there’s a story there too.
Have you met Justin at Stonebridge Coffee yet? When you do, come back and comment about your experience.