It’s hard to think of an institution more convenient than America’s ubiquitous gas stations. You pull in, grab gas, a snack, maybe a six-pack or a cup of coffee, then you are back on the road.
Quick is great, but you never walk away thinking, “My, those were some high-quality goods!” Nor do you think, “Gee whiz, that cashier must love her job.”
Insider visited the high-concept convenience store/third wave coffee shop/farm-to-fork eatery/democratic co-operative experiment a few days before its planned soft opening.
The small store, a former auto shop, was abuzz with activity. The workforce was all there, stocking shelves, unboxing the espresso machine and taking care of other last-minute tasks.
Kelley worked alongside them.
He stopped for a quick interview, as did Sarah Hewett-Ball, who will be handling everyday operations in the shop.
‘There’s a better way to connect’
Full Stop’s story starts with dirty cooking oil.
The byproduct of just about every commercial kitchen out there, it is the main ingredient of biodiesel, an alternative energy form that has been slowly gaining in popularity in America.
Born in Carlisle County, Ky., Kelley attended Washington University in St. Louis where he received his degree with a double major in entrepreneurship and aesthetics and society.
He stayed in that other fleur-de-lis-loving town after college, and in 2008, he started Kelley Green Biofuel. The company may have been born in St. Louis, but Kelley’s first refinery was built on Woodlawn Farm, the historic farm in Goshen, Ky., owned by Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown.
Kelley eventually took over running and managing the farm while working to get the word out about the importance of environmentally-conscious forms of fuel like biodiesel.
It wasn’t an easy task. Finally, Kelley had an idea — don’t tell people about biodiesel, show them.
“I thought, there’s a better way to connect than what I was doing,” he says. “So I thought, a renewable fuel filling station.”
‘A better everything else’
Kelley knew his business had to be special to get people’s attention focused on fuel.
“A renewable fuel filling station could have better fuel, and then also be a better everything else that a filling station has, you know? You have coffee at a fuel station, but here it’s way better. The food is way better,” he explains.
Locavores are obsessed with ethically sourced ingredients, and Kelley already has a straight connection to Woodlawn Farms. In fact, at this point, he’s in charge of running the place, in addition to his work in biodiesel.
The menu at Full Stop will grow over time, and it has a full commercial kitchen, but at first it’s just going to feature food made predominantly from the pork and chicken products Woodlawn Farm produces.
“The food we raise on the farm — eggs, pork and bison — they lend themselves to a delicious breakfast,” says Kelley.
Herbivores shouldn’t worry. The commercial kitchen also will start out with vegan baked goods, but we’ll get to that later.
With a firm business plan in mind, Kelley bought the building at the corner of Winter Avenue and East St. Catherine Street, but just as he was ready to begin work on Full Stop, he suddenly had his hands full. That’s when he took over running the farm.
The building sat there, waiting for Kelley to get some free time. But his friends had heard all his plans and were impatient. One friend in particular was pushing Kelley to get the project moving.
“He was like, ‘When are you going to do it? I’m ready for this place,’” Kelley recalls. “And I was like, ‘Well, do you know a project manager?’”
Turns out Kelley’s friend knew exactly the right person to get Full Stop fully started.
‘I’ve been in a band for 12 years now’
Enter Sarah Hewett-Ball. She’s the experimental violinist and pianist for Louisville-based band Cabin, who’ve toured Europe and been praised by the likes of WFPK, Spin Magazine and Sufjan Stevens.
“I’ve been in a band for 12 years now,” says Hewett-Ball. “You feel like you’re managing stuff. It’s a lot of booking tours, buying merch, designing things online. But at the same time, it’s the most fun thing you’ll ever do.”
Hewett-Ball isn’t just a rockstar, though. She also has a side gig flipping houses and has worked extensively in Louisville’s third-wave coffee scene, including helping open several shops.
Having worked in coffee for so long, Hewett-Ball has some strong opinions about the equitable and ethical way to run a coffee shop, and it’s not the way most shops are run, though she shies away from criticizing any specific companies. She’d rather focus on Full Stop’s business practices, which are designed to treat its employees as partners in the business.
“We’re forming a democratic co-operative,” she explains. “Everybody is equal, has the exact equal say, we all make the same amount of money, we split tips evenly based on hours. And eventually, Kristopher wants to work toward a profit-sharing model.”
As if by magic, right after Hewett-Ball said this, a couple of employees who had been unpacking boxes and stocking shelves approached us with an issue regarding Gummi Bears. There were only five in each mini-package, and they didn’t have barcodes.
Hewett-Ball and her two comrades discussed a couple of options before deciding they would keep the small bear allotment packages and give them out to kids, while discontinuing any further shipments of the barely filled little packages.
The co-operative decision-making process isn’t just about Gummi Bears and snacks.
“We have a computer we share, and everything is in Drive, so you can access it from anywhere,” she says. “(We all) have access to every single account. Everyone can see the QuickBooks, everything we’re spending. You can research new ingredients, compare costs side by side.”
In addition to a Cloud-based collection of data, the Full Stop co-operative keeps offline backups in the onsite computer — which anyone can access — and a physical record in the form of a large binder.
“We have this giant Leslie Knope ‘Book of Things,’” says Hewett-Ball, referencing Amy Poehler’s character in “Parks and Recreation.”
This unconventional approach to payment and decision-making has lured a team of top-notch workers. You look one way, and there’s an award-winning barista stocking macadamia milk.
You look the other way, and you see the former head pastry chef of a well-known bakery. You look somewhere else, and there’s an experimental violinist stocking PBRs and Snickers.
‘I’m counting on it’
In the rough and tumble world of business and food service, half of all new endeavors fail in the first five years. So every business is looking for a “better way.”
The question is what “better” means to all the people involved.
Kelley, Hewett-Ball and the Full Stop co-operative think “better” is a long list of ethical practices and products, and they hope Louisville will agree.
“That’s how people will feel,” says Kelley. “I’m counting on it.”
Full Stop’s soft opening will be later this week, likely Thursday or Friday. In addition to food, coffee and a few grocery items, the shop will have a limited to-go beer section and some beers on tap.