When asked to describe Monks Coffee Shop in just three words, owner Allison Carroll sat across the table from me with a bewildered, joyful, endearing expression, trying hard to pinpoint the correct adjectives to encapsulate the beloved space.
“When I talk about Monks, it’s the community angle that I always love, but the word ‘community’ alone does not describe Monks,” Carroll said. “I’ve never actually been able to find the word to describe how we build and create community. I’ve never been able to find a single word good enough for that concept. I’m sure it exists.”
Throughout the interview, Carroll consistently returned to the concept of community, as community seems to be the very heart of the shop.
“I have been really blessed by the amazing people here,” Carroll said. “People who love Abilene, love Monks, love the community that we create.”
Monks Coffee Shop was founded in August of 2006 by Jerry Hendricks. The space on Cypress Street, that is presently known for being a snug, zany, coffee-filled hub with cozy couches and eclectic, tiger-print carpet, was once used for Hendricks’ self-run summer camp. Over time, Hendricks watched as people he knew stopped by to sit around the space and indulge in coffee and conversation. He eventually decided the spot would be ideal for a coffee shop. Nine years after Hendricks opened Monks’ doors, he sold the shop to Allison Carroll, who has owned the shop for three years.
“I have a really long history in coffee and have worked at other shops in Abilene,” Carroll said. “It was during that time that I fell in love with coffee and the community created around coffee.”
Carroll states that a huge aspect of what makes Monks unique is the way the customers and staff work together to embrace its natural quirkiness.
“Definitely there are things we want to improve and make a lot better, but I think we’ve gotten good at embracing those unique obstacles,” Carroll said. “People who have been with us for a while, our regular customers who have been coming for years, they know that those interesting quirks and troubles have become a part of the story of Monks.”
Carroll looked down at the ground and smiled nostalgically. “It’s things like, you know, stains on the carpet that someone could come in and say, ‘Oh, I remember when that happened.’ Those things tend to kind of work themselves into the story of people’s time at Monks. Our customers are the best, because they can see the progress and be proud of the progress but also still appreciate the weird quirkiness. They have the ability to find those things charming and endearing because they remind them of their time here.”
From the moment Monks opened its doors, the coffee shop has functioned as a hotspot for the developing of relationships and the birth of creativity and innovation. Carroll said the number of customers who have met their spouses at Monks cannot be counted on one hand. Monks has been a frequent location for first dates, reunions, introductions and brainstorming sessions. Carroll remembers when Pappy Slokum, a local brewery, was starting up, its founders would frequently come to Monks, grab coffee and bounce ideas for their now successful business off of one another.
“We want the whole spectrum,” Carroll said. “We want to be a place that fosters community and creativity. We want to be a place where people can be inspired and make connections. We want to be a place where people can meet new people for the first time, where they can reconnect with old friends, where they can create memories that they can come back to. We want to be the place for people who are new to Abilene and people who have been in Abilene their whole lives. That has been incredibly rewarding to see happen, to see this place that I love become a place that other people in Abilene love. I’m proud of the place that we’ve created, and I’m incredibly proud of my staff.”
Carroll couldn’t contain her smile as she talked about her employees, delving into the glory of the personal relationships that have been cultivated in the confines of the space.
“We have amazing people who come to work for us. My people. I feel like I can never brag on them enough,” Carroll said. “They come in, they love the space, they work hard to make it better and to create a great experience for our customers; they help each other out. They’re a great team. It sounds cliché, but we end up becoming a little family. They make being a business owner easy. Well, not easy. It’s never easy. But they make it a lot easier.”
She also commented on Monks’ customers. “I feel like we have the best customers in town,” Carroll said. “Like, period, full stop. We have the best customers. Having the best customers is something that is hard to articulate, but it’s something I find myself telling every new hire that we get. The people who come in here are just wonderful. They’re kind, they’re open, they’re loving.”
She proceeded to recount an anecdote about her very first day as the owner. After Hendricks turned ownership over to Carroll, he sent their finicky espresso machine to a repair shop in Austin, and Carroll relied on a backup. During her first shift as the new owner, a man approached Carroll and expressed his love of Monks, coffee and Abilene. He noticed the machine she was using and offered his personal espresso machine and phone number if she ever needed anything. Carroll said they are now good friends and business partners.
“I have stories like that throughout all of my time here,” Carroll said. “People who love us, love Monks and want to help out however they can. It’s hard to articulate, because it permeates the space in tiny ways and big ways. Everywhere we look, we can see the best people.”
As time progresses, Carroll said she hopes to see the coffee culture throughout Abilene grow more prominent. She expressed that she hopes the community will eventually be able to host more coffee-related events, like coffee cuppings, coffee seminar classes and even a second annual latte art throwdown, which is a competition that tests the artistic and creative skill sets of local baristas.
Carroll paused her train of thought and glanced wistfully around her shop, still trying, with evident passion, to find the three perfect descriptors for Monks.
“I feel like it’s not right to say something like ‘best in town,’” Carroll said. “The expression that keeps rolling around in my mind is community through coffee, but I don’t know. I’m thinking connective, but I feel like there’s a better word for all of it than that. Maybe friendly, quirky, cozy. But that’s just not enough. It’s not just friendly. It’s genuine, it’s warm, it’s fun. It’s not something words can capture. but it’s definitely quirky; that one stays on the table.”
- Most popular drinks: Tuxedo mocha and Chai
- Most unique drink: Honey lavender latte
- Fun fact: During pumpkin spice season, Monks makes their own pumpkin sauce from scratch using real pumpkin