Carrie Rengers

'Immediate sadness' at Mead's Corner closing spurs its replacement

Former Mead's Corner barista Rebecca McNelly and her business partner, Edward Fox, are opening Kookaburra Coffee after Mead's Corner closes in late July.
Former Mead's Corner barista Rebecca McNelly and her business partner, Edward Fox, are opening Kookaburra Coffee after Mead's Corner closes in late July. The Wichita Eagle

Like so many other fans of Mead's Corner, Rebecca McNelly "immediately felt this sadness" in May when Have You Heard? reported the decade-old downtown coffee ministry will close due to a steep rent increase.

McNelly — one of the original Mead's baristas who now owns a couple of coffee companies — says she also "knew straight away" what she needed to do as about 30 people texted and sent her the story.

"It was literally calling my name."

So after Mead's Corner closes in late July, McNelly and her business partner, Edward Fox, will open their first permanent Kookaburra Coffee shop at 430 E. Douglas, which is the northwest corner of Douglas and Emporia.

"That building and the mission that Mead's Corner stood for will always have a special place in my heart," McNelly says.

Her father died in 2008, and few months later, she went to work for Mead's Corner.

"First Church and the Mead's Corner staff became kind of like a second family and really shaped me into a person as a young individual," McNelly says. "The people that really know me well know what an impact Mead's was for me."

She says so many others feel the same way for a variety of reasons.

"Mead's has been such a cornerstone to the community downtown," McNelly says. "We are really excited about keeping up the tradition of making it a place for people to gather from all walks of life."

McNelly and Fox opened a mobile Kookaburra Coffee truck in September and named it for a bird in Fox's native Australia.

The two also own Heartland Tech, a company they started in 2014 to sell and service coffee equipment.

McNelly has been wanting a coffee shop, as she told Have You Heard? in April, and considered a number of places in a number of states where Heartland does business and she has family.

She says she and Fox decided on Wichita because they want to invest here "for the future of a really cool city."

"I have some very special roots here," McNelly says.

Just as Mead's has made financial and other contributions to Wichita organizations through the years, McNelly says, "We hope to give back to the community in some of the same ways."

She says they want to add to the vibrant, walkable environment around the coffee shop with inviting seating and some shaded areas.

They also plan live music for the back stage in the building, "which has gone mostly underutilized for a long time now," McNelly says.

She says they'll also continue the Mead's tradition of coffee and gelato but will create a new food menu.

The building also is going to get a complete overhaul.

"It is definitely not going to look the same," McNelly says. "It's truly going to look like Kookaburra in there."

Mead's opened as a classic coffee shop that McNelly describes as a bit dark and moody.

"We want to change that to something very bright and sunny," she says. "We're going to focus on natural light and really brightening the space."

Most importantly, McNelly says, she and Fox want to offer high-end coffee in an atmosphere where people can feel accepted and not judged. She says she's noticed a disconnect between places that cater to coffee connoisseurs but also serve average coffee drinkers, who might be uncomfortable.

"I think a lot of third-wave coffee shops can come off as kind of snobbish."

What makes McNelly uncomfortable, she says, is when new businesses start and ask the public for money. She says she and Fox won't have anything like a Kickstarter campaign, but she says she would like to ask people to support their mobile coffee truck in the months leading up to the new Kookaburra Coffee opening.

"Everything we make is going to go directly to renovations for the building," McNelly says.

"This particular project is a passion project for me," she says. "We really are counting on the community support to bring it to life."

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com.
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