We see them every day. We feel like we know them. We see familiar faces everywhere on campus.
It’s well known that one of the central hubs on campus — a place where students are coming and going almost 100% of the time— is the MLC Jittery Joe’s. If you’re a frequent visitor, Caleb Nipper might know your order by heart. But there’s more to that face behind the espresso machine. Ampersand sits down with Nipper, who is the Jittery Joe's store manager at both the MLC and Barnett Shoals locations, to acquaint our readers with the guy who caffeinates them day after day.
How did you get to working at Jittery Joes?
So right after I graduated college, in May of ’06, I ran into my boss from my old job, and he became manager of this store. I had just graduated so I needed a job, until I found a ‘real job’.
Where are you from, originally?
I’m from Murfeesboro Tennessee, right out of Nashville.
What did you study when you were here?
I majored in Sociology and History.
What’s your favorite and least favorite part about your job?
I’d say my favorite part is that I get to run my two stores. I do have a boss, and there are certain rules I have to attend to, but I get to make my own staff, make my own schedule — just kind of the independence and freedom of working for a small business. Since I’ve been here so long they kind of let me do my own thing.
Least favorite? Yeah, it gets stressful sometimes. You know, this store [the MLC location] is extremely busy, so it’s just about finding the right staff that can handle how busy we get. And the other store I manage, on Barnett Shoals — we never close. Here, we have vacations, we have spring break. There, we’re open 365 days a year.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
I’ve been here for 9 ½ years, managing for 8 ½. I don’t know, honestly. You know I wouldn’t mind doing more, or having my own store one day. But I’m not certain. I’m comfortable right now.
What is the most commonly ordered drink?
Even though it feels like it’s not, it’s still probably regular coffee. As far as specialty drinks, or ones using the espresso machine, probably the White Mocha or Vanilla Latte. My business is very weather sensitive. For example, cold Vanilla Lattes are very popular, but hot ones really aren’t. When it’s really cold out, people get white mochas instead. I don’t really know why. I guess it’s just a thing. And then like, once it gets hot out, the Frosty Joes will probably overtake regular coffee.
What’s your favorite drink?
I typically just drink our dark roast, and depending on the morning, a shot in the dark, which is espresso in the dark roast. Once Thursday and Friday roll around, it’s hard to get up, so it turns into a shot in the dark [laughs].
Chai Latte: Yay or nay?
That’s another thing – you start to think every drink is a chai latte. It’s very popular here. I like it, it’s not something I’d drink every day, but it is tasty.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Athens?
Um… I don’t really know [laughs]. I had a baby a year ago, so my wife and I are always at home, and the 9 months prior to that we pretty much stayed home too. We haven’t really been out in a while [laughs again]. We used to go downtown, go to sporting events and whatnot, but now it’s like, we occasionally go out to eat or something like that.
Boy or girl?
It’s a girl — Fiona.
What’s your favorite TV show?
Um, favorite show that’s on right now is probably "Mr. Robot." Of all time would go to "The Wire" or "The Simpsons."
I’ve always said Kate Upton. She’s not that big of a celebrity, but I still vote Kate Upton. And my wife knows that.
Coolest place you’ve ever been?
Wyoming — like Yellowstone. What a weird place in terms of geography. I’ve lived in the South most of my life. I lived in the Northeast. It's pretty similar, forests and whatnot. But you go out there, it’s totally different.
How did you meet your wife?
In class. It’s kind of a cool story. So we were in a history class together, I was a third year, she was a fourth year. Our professor walks in late one day, and he when he walked in no one was talking. Everyone was just kind of sitting there. He was like “You guys are weird, I guarantee you tonight you’ll all go out downtown and try to meet with each other, but in class you’re not talking to each other.” So I was like, "he has a good point." Monday, I had the courage to talk to her. We’ve been together for eleven years, or something like that? Yea, we credit him with our marriage [laughs]. You know, I was pretty shy in college, but then, I mean, two weeks working here and you get over that.
What is your favorite restaurant in Athens?
Although it’s become a chain, I’m a big proponent of Barberitos. I look at them as "our" taco and burrito place, like Jittery Joe's is our coffee place. I appreciate a good, quality meal for under ten dollars. I’ve spoken to the owner a couple of times and he seems like a pretty good guy. Take Starbucks or Taco Bell — you’re never going to know the CEO or whatever — so it’s cool that you get that community aspect.
Where was your favorite place you lived?
I mean, still probably my hometown, Murfeesboro. I came here for college, just to kind of get away and do something different. I’ve been here ever since. When you meet your spouse here, once we were married, we were like, “Well, now what do we do?” We both had jobs, and I didn’t want to move to where she was from, she didn’t want to move to where I was from. Next thing you know, we’ve been here for ten years.
Where do you live in Athens?
We live over on the East Side, past the Wal-Mart. It’s kind of away, and I like that. I have a lot of students that don’t even know that area of town exists, and I kind of like it that way. When you go out to that side of town, it kind of feels like Normaltown. Whereas if you go anywhere near downtown it’s like yeah, you’re definitely in a college town. We laugh about this, like we’re the only 31-year-olds in the city. Everyone’s either a student or just graduated, up until about 25, or they’re old. Like really old. No one’s in my age bracket in this city. But yeah we’re happy where we are. I like this job. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been here so long.
Any crazy stories from working at Jittery Joe’s?
I mean there’s a lot, probably some I shouldn't say [laughs]. I had one funny one; it was a long time ago. It was during the summer, when we had a lot of orientations coming in. There was this old man sitting there, probably someone’s grandfather or something like that, and he had, like, a cane. I open the gate and was like, “Okay, we’re open” and he gets up to start walking toward the register, and this guy literally comes out of nowhere with, like, a business suit, Bluetooth, greased back hair — that typical guy you see, and you’re just like “Ugh” — and literally pushes this man out of the way, and is like “Give me some coffee.” That’s probably one of my favorite stories of just like, "I can’t believe how some people act."
Though his background extends all over the Southeast, it’s pretty clear that Nipper’s heart is deeply rooted in Athens. We may only ever see his face behind espresso machine, but there is no doubt that there’s more than just java that goes into that cup you grab as you run late to class on a Monday morning. It’s nice to know that the hands behind Athens’ signature coffee spot are those of a neighborhood friend, a family man who, at the end of the day, is someone who has something each of us can relate to.