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The story behind Moonbow Tipple Coffee & Sweets

By Sky Marietta

Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: Geoff and Sky Marietta are opening Moonbow Tipple & Sweets in the Buttermore Building in downtown Harlan. Sky has written about their journey creating Appalachian magic in this historic building. This is the last of a three part series. This story is insight into how the Mariettas got an entire coffe shop’s worth of equipment.

We have told you a lot about the Buttermore Building in Harlan, from how Geoff first envisioned it as a coffee shop in 2016, to becoming owners in 2017, to spending a tough 2018 getting it renovated. We left the story off in the spring of 2019, with a beautiful but empty building. We still wanted that coffee shop, but we knew we would have to wait and apply for financing. The startup costs of a coffee shop were not in the picture. And then we suddenly found ourselves with all the equipment we needed.

This story really starts at Pine Mountain Settlement School, when a high school student from Middlesboro named Cole was attending a leadership program for promising youth in Eastern Kentucky in 2016. Geoff was the Executive Director of Pine Mountain at the time, and so he spoke to the students about how they could play a role in transforming their home region. Flash forward to April of 2019 when Geoff was part of a special forum at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on rural education. Cole, it turns out, had applied to Harvard, was accepted, and was then a sophomore. He saw posters for the event, which said Geoff Marietta from Pine Mountain Settlement School would be on the panel. He reached out to Geoff, and we all shared breakfast with him at IHOP in Harvard Square, excited to connect with an East Kentuckian in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This past summer, Cole interned for Geoff.

This is how Cole was introduced to the plan for a coffee shop in Harlan. So when the equipment for a coffee shop in Middlesboro came for sale, Cole heard about it and told Geoff.

The long story behind the sale of the coffee shop cut short, a very successful gym in Middlesboro was looking to expand their space and ended up buying a former coffee shop. The new owner’s main concern was clearing out all of the pieces as quickly as possible to get his gym ready, and he did not want to spend the time to sell each piece on its own. Geoff had made an offer on the espresso machine – one of the more expensive pieces of equipment – but the owner counter-offered. He would sell Geoff EVERYTHING for $4,000. The only catch was that Geoff had to come and pick it up and take it all.

And so Geoff went off to Middlesboro with a U-Haul and came away with not only an espresso machine, but also an espresso grinder, two ovens, a commercial fridge, a chest freezer, café tables and chairs, and many other pieces of equipment. In fact, it was nearly all the equipment needed to finally start that coffee shop.

What a journey it has been. From buying the building for the price of $1 in 2017, to eking out the renovations in 2018, to finding an entire coffee shop’s worth of equipment in 2019, a project that seemed impossible is nearing completion. There have been so many moments that the obstacles seemed insurmountable, then God made a way. A building we couldn’t afford. A letter that was answered a year later. Renovations that began far before we were ready. A day when we were financially broken, then given a solution the very same day. And then, the equipment we needed landed right in our lap. We like to joke that we had no choice but to make the coffee shop happen – it was not our plan, we were just following orders!

And that brings us to where we are today.

It is very exciting to have already hired 3 local baristas, and our first training is scheduled for Friday. We have met with the health department, and a sign was hung outside of our building. Now we are waiting on the final repair and installation of our espresso machine and we can be open. This long-awaited dream is now close at hand, and now we just pray that it can succeed and serve the people of Harlan for many years. And we are just grateful to be part of something far, far bigger than what we could ever accomplish on our own.