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Area barista uses small coffee shop for larger purpose

The week Jeanne Kessler opened her own coffee shop, she found out she was pregnant.

The 27-year-old entrepreneur opened Perk Up Coffee Shop, 11370 Southern Highlands Parkway, in October, nine months ago. Her daughter, Johanna, is only a few weeks old. However, Kessler and Johanna can still be found in the shop serving up specialty lattes.

“You don’t really get maternity leave as a small-business owner,” she said.

Kessler, who refers to herself as the head dishwasher, said she works around 40 hours a week in the shop, not including the countless hours spent taking care of the business side of things.

Kessler has a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Food Science from Middle Tennessee State University and an Associate Degree in Baking and Pastry from The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Las Vegas.

But this is not Kessler’s first foray into the coffee world. She started working in a coffee shop at 16 and has continued to work on and off in the coffee world ever since. Previously, Kessler owned a Saxbys location on Maryland Parkway.

“Coffee is kind of a black hole,” she said, grinning. “Every time I’ve worked at a bad job, I always come back to coffee.”

As Southern Highlands residents, Kessler and her husband were disappointed that their only neighborhood option for coffee was Starbucks. After Saxbys closed its doors, Kessler went to work on Perk Up.

The shop has five employees – six if you count Johanna, who Kessler calls “the world’s smallest barista.”

All of Kessler’s employees from Saxbys made the move with her.

“Perk Up works here and only here,” she said. “It’s tailored to Southern Highlands’ tastes.”

Kessler said there always has been a real sense of community in the Southern Highlands neighborhood, and she tried to replicate that in her shop with a “homey environment.”

There are a few standard coffee shop tables with two chairs each and a larger conference table for groups, but most of the customers prefer sitting around the natural gas fire place in large, comfortable chairs, she said.

A few of the customers from the Saxbys location now make the commute to Perk Up. Kessler knows many of them by name.

“I drive 20 minutes to get my coffee here,” said Dan Villanueva, a professor of German at UNLV. “My wife and I like to sit and enjoy the coffee and maybe read the paper. It’s like a little community.”

The shop even features art from a single local or regional artist, which is rotated on a regular basis.

“It’s nice because everyone has different tastes,” Kessler said. “Also, I don’t have to look at the same thing every time I come to work.”

Despite the bar stools, comfortable furniture and the fact that customer input is considered when deciding what music to play in the shop, Kessler said it is the friendly service more than anything that provides that sense of community.

Kessler has a youthful look and said she is often mistaken for just another barista.

“Customers don’t always realize I’m the owner,” she said. “I like catching them off guard like that. They’re more open with their opinions whether it’s positive or negative.”

Perk Up’s motto is “Strengthening community through coffee,” out of which Kessler has made a mission.

In the first nine months of business, Perk Up has participated in community events such as Southern Highlands Community Association’s Movies Under the Stars delivering free coffee to neighborhood schools on National Teacher Day and donated its Memorial Day proceeds to the Air Force charity Operation Warmheart.

“You have to do what you can for the people who support you,” Kessler said. “People see that. We’ve really felt like part of the community.”

For more information, visit perkuplv.com.

Contact Southwest/Spring Valley View reporter Nolan Lister at nlister@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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