Jesse McCue-Gomes, co-owner of Whole Note Coffee, has been passionate about coffee since he was a young kid. Which, in the scheme of things, is really not that long ago. McCue-Gomes is 24.
Not that you could guess his age watching the relaxed, self-confident way he interacts with customers, prepares orders, and gives instruction to staff. You certainly can’t presume age has anything to do with knowledge or experience because McCue-Gomes know a hell of a lot about coffee and the roasting process.
He talks about when he first attended a training program with Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Company, out of Richmond, VA, and drinking coffee that tasted like blueberries and raspberries. They weren’t flavored, he said, this was the flavor of the bean.
“Coffee is actually first a fruit,” he said. “Then it transitions during the washing and the drying process and ends up becoming the brown bean after you roast it. So, normally, depending on the process you use, it can end up being fruiter. Having a coffee that will be smooth and tasteful is what we should be shooting for.”
The ‘we’ in that comment is the other owner of Whole Note, wife Casey Kerins. No, they didn’t meet over coffee, but their first date was at Compass Coffee in DC. Soon they realized they wanted to do something together. “It wasn’t my dream anymore,” he said, “it was both of ours.” They thought about other opportunities, even considered opening up an ice cream shop. But their hearts always circled back to coffee. They even had a name for this future business they envisioned. “Casey and I weren’t even married yet,” he said, “when one day the name ‘Whole Note Coffee’ came out of nowhere. She and I are both musical. I play the guitar and she plays the piano and we both sing. It came to me that there are notes in music, but there are also notes in coffee. And that was that.” Their logo carries that concept, showing a coffee bean inside a ‘whole note.’
As with any entrepreneurs starting out, the couple learned the business from various specialty coffee shops and roasters in Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. They started looking for a place of their own, preferably on the Eastern Shore to be close to family. And then they found out this past June that Evergrain Bread Company had closed in Easton.
“We started talking to the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (who own the building) back in June,” McCue-Gomes said, “and things happened pretty quickly after that. We had meetings and interviews and found support from them in whatever we needed to get this thing up and rolling.” Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting was chosen to provide the shop training with and beans. They also found support from various business owners throughout Easton, including Turnbridge Talbot, who currently supplies their pastries, Eat Sprout, and The BBQ Joint, to name just a few.
After a soft opening in October, Whole Note Coffee officially opened on November 2. “The community showed up. Our family showed up, as did people that we knew. But 90% of the people that came in were brand-new faces, which was really nice. So, we’ve been really overwhelmed with the support. We already see regulars every day.”
And as for their future, the duo is realistic but have inspired ideas. “We want to keep low overhead right now,” says McCue-Gomes, “but we also want to provide brew and espresso classes and coffee tastings.” He envisions pairing Turnbridge’s lemon and poppy seed muffins with a lighter roasted coffee to show how it brings out the citrus flavor. “We have dark roast coffees, of course,” he says. “But I prefer something that’s going to be smoother tasting, and that’s a lighter roast.” They’ve also had conversations with the Art Museum about hosting open mic nights and featuring an art gallery where artists could sell their work.
As McCue-Gomes and Kerrins continue to build their business, they keep as a reminder their mission statement, which confirms their ‘passion for community, connection, and coffee–in that order.’ And so, Whole Note offers a discount for EMTs, police officers, and hospital workers. “I know their shifts are long, and so we wanted to offer something for them,” he said.
They also have a message for everyone else. The couple are sharply focused on making sure that everyone who walks in their door has both a good drink and a pleasant experience. “We want people to leave happier than what they were when they came in.”
Before we left, we had to try a cup of coffee. Wouldn’t you know it, it did taste like blueberries!
Whole Note Coffee is located at 114 S Washington St Suite 106 in Easton.