Jessy Dawson: The woman behind the espresso
Jessy Dawson hangs out with her son, Arlo, inside Middel Grounds Coffeehouse - Kinston. Photo by Chris Decker / ChrisDecker.com.
For years, I’ve swung open the old painted door of the coffeehouse and been greeted with the “Hey honey, how are you today?” in a sweet eastern North Carolina accent. Jessica Dawson, or Jessy, is a mother, a wife, a business owner and everyone’s best friend.
Jessy and her husband own Middle Grounds Coffeehouse, located right in the heart of downtown Kinston on Herritage Street.
This isn’t your average Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. Yes, they all have good coffee, but the similarities end there. Middle Grounds is about community with a side of coffee and a touch of freshly baked pastries. From police officers to students to friends playing a game of chess, you can walk in any day of the week and see a diverse group of Kinstonians.
Jessy says that was the intent, and truly the purpose to her coffee shop.
“I wanted to give everybody a place to remember who they were and a place they knew they would always fit in,” she said. “People tend to go along in life and forget who they are and what they want and what they’re searching for, I did, I forgot who Jessy was. So, I opened to the coffee shop to give you a place to belong.”
Beyond the threshold of the coffee house you’ll find comfy couches and chairs perfect for chatting with your best friends or reading a good book. There are broad tables that are perfect for spreading out a week’s worth of homework, and just beyond that there’s even a little raised platform with a guitar, left there for your own imagination.
Earlier this year, Jessy and her husband James became new parents to their son, Arlo. Surprisingly, the transition from having one baby — the business — to having two babies — the business plus Arlo — wasn’t as challenging as Jessy once thought it would be.
“I’m supposed to say that it’s really hard [running a business with a baby] but since Middle Grounds is based on love and community, so when I put a post out for a nanny I received so many applications from great people,” she said. “This one girl was the answer to the balance I needed in my life, and it ended up she needed us just as much.”
“I couldn’t do it without my girls [whom she trained to work at the coffeehouse once Arlo was born] and my husband. It takes a village to take care of Arlo.”
Each one of her “girls” has the same warm inquisitive demeanor like Jessy.
Jessy didn’t dream of being the owner of a coffeehouse when she was a little girl. In fact, for a long time she asked “what in the world am I going to do.” Many teenage and young adults feel that way, bouncing from one job or idea to another only to find that wasn’t for them.
“Never stop moving forward,” she said. “Life’s a journey. If I could tell my 17-year-old self one thing, it would be to not worry about what other people want me to do and to keep moving forward.”
If you couldn’t already tell, Jessy doesn’t mind veering off the beaten path.
“My favorite thing is when people are open to trying something new, or ask for a “surprise drink,” she said. “Getting people to step out of their comfort zone is so exciting and I usually end up with a creative drink that makes it to a specials list.”
Jessy is proof that there is no standard to following your dreams. She didn’t graduate from college. She didn’t know her coffeehouse was going to be successful. She simply grew where she was planted.
“I feel like I’m 17,” she said. “I’m silly and I’m blunt so it’s really exciting when important people in the community see me as an ambassador to Kinston small businesses and as a valued mind. To me, I’m just a crazy coffee lady with a family and a life that I love.”
In the future, eastern North Carolina will only be seeing more of Jessy Dawson and Middle Grounds. A location in Goldsboro will be open soon, and in terms of merchandise, if you’d wear a Middle Grounds baseball cap she’d love to know.