Bethany Clough

Eating Out: Kuppa Joy opens in Fresno, plus Casa de Tamales downtown

Former Detroit Lions linebacker Zack Follett was reading the Bible in a coffee shop in England when he got the inspiration to open his own coffee shop.

“I’m drinking this cappuccino I’m like, ‘Man, this is the best cappuccino I ever had,’ ” he says. “This is a cup of joy.”

That moment led him to open Kuppa Joy in Clovis in December 2012. Now the second Kuppa Joy is open at 1900 N. Echo Ave. in Fresno, across the street from Fresno High School and a few doors down from Ampersand Ice Cream.

It took a little longer than expected to open – due to some construction delays and Follett getting married in October – but the 100-year-old building has been transformed into a bright, modern coffee shop. The gold-winged words “Kuppa Joy” hang on the wall. The walls are now white, though Follett and a buddy grappled with the previous walls to expose the original brick throughout the building. (“That was messy,” he says.)

The focus here is on the coffee, which is why it has a more limited menu than the Clovis location.

You’ll find the traditional grab-and-go coffee. But also pour-over coffee, where hot water is slowly poured by hand over freshly ground coffee into your cup. The whole process takes about four minutes and is known for bringing out more flavors in the coffee.

The top seller is still the Kuppa Joy itself – a latte with two shots of espresso, half a pump of dark chocolate syrup and crème brûlée-infused milk and a heart-shaped design poured into the top.

A couple of paninis are on the menu, along with baked goods from locally owned FireHouse Cookies and Pastries. That partnership also brings a regular source of the beloved cronuts – part croissant, part doughnut – to this side of town. The cronuts will be available only on Fridays and Saturdays, Follett notes.

Kuppa Joy is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed on Sundays for now.

Writing about Kuppa Joy wouldn’t be complete without explaining the large white throne in the middle of the coffee shop or Follett’s motivation to open the business.

Remember Follett declaring the awesomeness of that cappuccino in the coffee shop in England?

Right after, he says, the Holy Spirit spoke to him and pointed out that people were connecting over coffee.

It said to him: “I want you to go home, open up a coffee shop, connect to your community and share the love that I have for them that’s in my son Jesus.”

So he did.

He had just retired from football after a neck injury and the coffee shop became his new path in life. Now 28 and wearing his long hair hair in a man bun, Follett speaks freely about the religious aspects of his second coffee shop.

The throne is the throne of judgment.

A plaque references Revelation 20:11, 12 and 15, which is about judgment of the dead and says that “anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

It goes on to talk about the gift of the savior and that knowing Jesus is the only way to get one’s name written in the book of life – and hence, get into heaven.

That’s some pretty heavy stuff and, as nonbeliever for 20 years, Follett seems to know that. He acknowledges that some people will quickly put up a wall if he starts talking about religion, and that some have been scarred by religion.

So, he says, that’s why the coffee shop focuses on what he calls the fruits of the Spirit: love, peace and joy.

In a practical sense, that means employees befriend regulars, so that when something bad does happen, Kuppa Joy is a place of comfort.

Follett says he’s had customers come in upset over a daughter’s miscarriage, or a son who was shot.

“We’re now friends. ... We step out from behind the bar, we’ll give them a hug. We’ll pray for them right there. We’ll keep them in our prayers.”

And for nonbelievers?

“For those people, we’re going to love them even more.”

Fulton Mall tamales

Another lunch and dinner spot has opened on the Fulton Mall.

Casa de Tamales opened its second location last week, this one at 938 Fulton Mall.

The restaurants serves tamales, tacos and tortas – all gluten-free – along with beer and some gussied-up sangrias.

These are the same people who have a restaurant at 609 E. Olive Ave. in the Tower District (that one will remain open). The new restaurant is in the former Bakery Express building just south of Tulare Avenue.

In case you’re not familiar with Casa de Tamales, it makes both traditional tamales – pork and shredded beef and – some nontraditional ones. Those include vegetarian and vegan tamales like the spinach and artichoke, and dessert tamales like blueberry and cream cheese.

It also serves tortas (sandwiches) and tacos come with citrus-marinated chicken or carnitas.

The drinks are a highlight of the menu here.

“We call them sangrias because that’s the category they fall under, but they’re very different than your typical sangria,” says owner Liz Sanchez. “I took more of a cocktail type of approach.”

So, you’ll find the “Tower Tango,” with a mango purée, tropical juices and wine from Engelmann Cellars. And The Fulton – a cross between sangria and a margarita – with fresh mint, lemon and lime juice with white wine served in a glass with a salted rim.

Beer is also available.

So are nonalcoholic drinks like minty lemonade, a pineapple chipotle lemonade and the house special the “Sweetie” – half minty lemonade and half berry hibiscus tea.

The restaurant looks nothing like its predecessor, the little Bakery Express. The owners knocked out a wall and did a major remodel to create a bar and a much bigger space.

It’s not totally finished yet. The Bakery Express sign is still up (look for Casa de Tamales on the door) and there’s more decorating the owners want to do, but after 21 months of work they decided to throw open the doors and get going.

It’s open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday – making it one of the few places that stays open for dinner on the mall. The restaurant is also available to rent out for meetings or special occasions.

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough

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