Understated and modest, an encounter with Shaun and Meg Parrish might not suggest that the couple is responsible for some of the best coffee and baked goods in the city. Their Old City Java continues to be a comfortable gathering place in Knoxville’s downtown, attracting a new generation of coffee lovers and, with this generation, internet surfers. Wild Love Bakehouse is an outgrowth of their work there and will soon open a store-front at 1625 North Central, about four blocks past Happy Holler.
Long-time denizens of the Old City, Meg is originally from Maryville while Shaun came to Knoxville from the Big Sur area of California. Also living on Florida’s central coast, he arrived in Knoxville during high school in the early 1990s and, as he puts it, “spent most of my twenties trying to leave.” Reading Jack Neely’s articles during that time made him start identifying with and valuing Knoxville more. He said, “His writing made me see it differently.”
He tried Colorado and Tahoe, but when he met Meg on a return trip, he settled back into Knoxville. In a fun twist, Shaun’s first visit to Java was memorialized by a roving photographer who asked if she could photograph his group of friends. The photographer later became a friend and the photograph is shown here.
The two met in 2005 and were married in 2006. By that time Meg, who noted that the day we sat for this interview was her 13th anniversary with Old City Java, had been working at the coffee shop for three years. From the beginning they had talked about owning a coffee shop and in 2007 when Old City Java came available, they bought it. Shaun laughs and says, “I turned thirty, got married, bought a home and a business within one year.”
Meg was in her final year at UT, majoring in print-making, while Shaun had been working at Nama for a couple of years after having helped start La Costa on Market Square. While some things went well early, there were also challenges. The business had been through several owners and had lost its way a bit. It had been open late, but as the Old City changed and Internet culture grew, it seemed to less about friends hang out. They’ve tried to regain some of that.
The building, originally a printing press in the 1880s, is owned by the Boyds and they’ve been very supportive of the business. The building had also accumulated many years of nicotine as Java was originally a smoking establishment. With the change in state law abolishing smoking in businesses coming just after the couple took possession, they had to paint the walls many times over to remove the smell. They also changed the culture of the business by, for example, removing Styrofoam cups.
In an early coincidence, at one point Alan Ziegel, original owner of Golden Roast, Shaun and Meg, and brothers Pierce and Michael LaMacchia, future owners of K-Brew all lived on the same street in north Knoxville. Meanwhile, Meg and Shaun began a quest for their coffee to be as good as the coffee they sampled when they traveled. They talked to the owners of different shops they enjoyed.
They decided to change the coffee they serve, and found Counter Culture Coffee in Durham and Asheville, North Carolina. Counter Culture tested their water, examined their equipment and eventually agreed to sell to them and helped them find the elusive quality they sought.
They bought new equipment and got support from a number of people to help improve the business. Peg Hambright who operates Magpies was located across the street at the time and only sold her single cupcakes through Java, sending people who asked across the street. They worked to improve customer service, as well. The couple noted that, “People think opening a coffee shop is easy, but it took years to grow and stabilize.”
By 2011, they felt the business was working well enough for Shaun to finally quit his job at Nama and come to work full time at Java. This simultaneously allowed Meg to pursue her passion for baking, and Wild Love became a reality. She said, “My mom had always baked. She made interesting meals and that had a big impact on why I love food.” She learned to make specialty items and says she, “loved the creativity, but also the repetition” involved. She began devoting an increasing amount of time to the baked items you’ll find at Java.
I told her how much I love her croissants, which are truly as good as I’ve had anywhere. She said they take about four days to make and laughed while telling me that the first attempt produced football-sized results. She began devouring books from the Culinary Institute of America and learned as much as possible about the science of baking. Her baked goods are also available at the Oliver Hotel and Flow.
The idea of putting quality first is something they both hold as important in coffee and in the baked items. When they began using Counter Culture coffee, for example, they doubled their costs for coffee. Shaun said, “For us it was how can we afford not to do this?” They believe in “hard work and a good product.” Noting the cost, he adds, “Coffee is one of the best culinary experiences for your money.” Bakeries, they feel, are similarly good values.
The success of the baking has led to problems with being able to produce the quantities needed. She uses a twenty-quart mixer in the small kitchen at Java and space quickly became an issue. They need more space for both production and storage. This led to the decision to open a location devoted to the baking, though it will also feature coffee and will not replace Old City Java, which will continue operation.
The new Central Street business is just over a mile from Old City Java in the same shopping development as Mid Mod Collective. It’s an area that is quickly developing its own synergy with businesses beginning to cluster along that section of the road. The new location will feature a much larger kitchen, offer storage space, will have a large coffee shop facing Central and will feature a large, beautiful patio, along with ample parking.
The full-scale bakery will produce pastries including cakes, pies and cookies. A full range of artisan breads will be introduced under the Wild Love brand, including everything from sourdough to baguettes. They will source regionally milled flour using local products, taking great care with all the ingredients. Also in the plans are catering services and some other light items like bagels, grain bowls and breakfast items. Soups and salads are a possibility, with a lean toward vegetarian and light fare. Meg noted, “When food is treated like a commodity instead of produce, something is lost.”
The new bakeshop will seat about forty people inside, with more space available on the patio. Including the kitchen, the building includes about 2500 square feet. They want the place to be a center for the communities of Oakwood and Lincoln Park. With the square-like configuration of buildings, it holds great potential for that. The sidewalks in either direction are good and more businesses not only would be helpful, but seem likely.
The location fits perfectly with what they wanted, which was to be close to downtown, but in a neighborhood. They noted that Mark Heinz and David Dewhirst had a great vision for the space and Sanders Pace has been great to work with in developing the concept. They are installing a 1500 gallon grease interceptor, so there have been large expenses involved in getting underway.
They are hoping for an early November opening and plan to be open from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM seven days a week. They also plan to have a presence at several farmers’ markets and will provide over-the-counter as well as special order service. Shaun will work out of both locations, which is made possible by people like Sarah Musgrave, who already manages Old City Java.
They both point out that their current employees are amazing and made their vision for both Java and Wild Love Bakehouse possible through their hard work and dedication to the business and the community. They will probably hire another ten to twelve employees and have already started that search.
Meg and Shaun really value the coffee shop and good food as places where people come together, friendships are formed and people engage each other. And they love what they do. Shaun said, “I get to work with my best friend everyday.” Congratulate them when you see them, “like” Wild Love Bakehouse on Facebook, follow their posts and visit them when they open.