Zack Follett played football with passion and intensity all the way to the pros. But, he says, God had other plans for his life.
Today, he owns the Kuppa Joy Coffee House in Old Town Clovis, where the vibe is urban friendly and the java is treated with respect. Above all, Follett wants his coffee house on Clovis Avenue to offer an authentic glimpse of Christian community.
“I love this 100 times more than I thought I would,” Follett said of his business, which he opened in December 2012. “We’re having an impact in our community, and I’m seeing the impact in my own life. I’m growing to be the man God wants me to be.”
More on his story in a moment. But suffice it to say, it’s more than interesting how a swaggery football player who didn’t care for coffee and wasn’t interested in God ended up owning a coffee house where a wood and leather chair mounted on a wall represents the throne of Christ.
Now about Follett’s respect for coffee. He explains it this way: Kuppa Joy adds hints of flavoring to many of its coffee drinks but doesn’t — as he said — “drown out the flavor.”
So the Kuppa Joy drink — a customer favorite — has two shots of espresso and a dollop of dark chocolate added to crème brulee-infused milk. The result is a satisfying but not too sweet brew.
The Almond Joy — another favorite coffee drink — works on the same principle but with coconut-infused milk. The Kuppa Joy and Almond Joy are priced at $4.60 for 12 ounces and $5.50 for 16 ounces.
The shop also has traditional lattes that range from $3 to $4.50.
Recently, Follett introduced pour-over coffees to his menu — a move that underscores his belief that independent shops survive by not competing with Starbucks. Instead, they must offer customers what the big dog of the coffee world does not.
Pour-over refers to how the coffees are brewed. A barista uses a swan-neck kettle to pour a thin stream of water over ground coffee for several minutes rather than flooding the filter. The process allows distinctive coffee flavors to emerge, Follett said.
“Coffee is a fruit, and there are different fruit notes to enjoy if it’s grown, harvested and roasted properly, and then it’s up to us to brew it correctly,” Follett said.
Kuppa Joy offers pour-over coffees from different coffee-growing regions of the world — and the prices range from $3.25 to $3.75.
Follett doesn’t currently roast his beans. “It’s something we’re working toward, but it’s a whole other beast,” he said.
On a recent Monday morning, Patrick Enrico of Fresno was among the many customers in the coffee house. He’s been coming since Kuppa Joy opened.
“The coffee doesn’t taste bitter or burnt, and it has flavor and is smooth,” Enrico said.
Follett’s journey from football to Kuppa Joy began at Cedarwood Elementary School in Clovis Unified. A Cedarwood football helmet — along with the helmets of four other schools — sits on a shelf at Kuppa Joy as a visual reminder of Follett’s athletic career.
They are from Clark Intermediate, Clovis High, the University of California, Berkeley and the Detroit Lions. At Clovis High, his skill and intensity at linebacker led to the term “Zack Attack.” His play at Cal was summarized by “The Pain Train.”
As Follett excelled, attention followed, and his ego grew along with his muscles. “If it didn’t involve football, I didn’t care,” he said.
In college, however, Follett started to consider that a football player’s body eventually betrays him. Knowing football leads down “a hopeless road,” Follett said, he began asking God questions. Perhaps the most basic was: “Are you real?”
One night before his senior season, a cousin told him things about God and Jesus that he had heard before. Call it a divine appointment, if you will, but at that moment, Follett was ready to believe and accept.
At 20, he became a Christian. At 21, the Lions drafted him to play in the National Football League. At 22, his father died. At 23, he was told he could no longer play football after suffering a serious neck injury in October 2010 against the New York Giants.
Follett’s Christian faith sustained him as he grieved his losses, and several years after leaving football, he felt led by God’s spirit to open Kuppa Joy.
“I felt my mission was to go home, open the coffee house, connect to the community and that would be my platform to express my passion for Jesus,” Follett said.
Coffee draws people together and builds a community. The goal of Kuppa Joy’s customer service is to infuse that community with peace and love.
“We don’t want to throw Jesus in your face,” Follett said. Instead, it can mean offering a listening ear and open spirit to someone in need of coffee and something more.
Said Follett: “Our customers are our friends, and they know Kuppa Joy is of the Lord.”
Kuppa Joy is at 518 E. Clovis Ave. Hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday. The coffee house is closed on Sunday. The telephone number is (559) 298-7234, and the website is kuppajoy.com. A second Kuppa Joy opened in February at 1900 Echo Ave., across from Fresno High School.