Header Image - Jonathan Pascual

Faithful brew

Note: This story originally was published in the winter 2017-18 issue of Berry magazine.

The path to success is different for everyone, but few can claim as many twists and turns as Jonathan Pascual (04C). His desire to follow God’s call has led him from the Amazon jungle to one of the trendiest coffee shops in Atlanta. Who knows what might come next?  

Pascual didn’t grow up dreaming of starting his own coffee shop. In fact, he didn’t even drink what might be considered the lifeblood of many a college student until he took a job at Starbucks after completing two years of postgraduate missionary work in the jungles of South America. 

Fast-forward a decade, and Pascual’s Taproom Coffee and Beer is the toast of Atlanta, offering a unique mix of specialty coffee and craft beer – spiked with a double-shot of community – that has drawn rave reviews from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Magazine and Creative Loafing. 

Relaxing at a corner table sipping his signature “Beerspresso” – a flash-brewed, nitro-iced coffee with malt and hops served in a beer glass – Pascual reflected on his journey from young college graduate intent on carrying out the “Great Commission” of Jesus to husband, father and owner of a thriving business just a few miles from where he grew up. 

“God builds all of our stories in amazing ways,” he marveled. “We don’t see it all throughout, but we can look back and see how He put it all together. That’s how it was for me. All these elements are now a part of my story, Taproom’s story, my wife’s story and my kids’ stories.” 

On mission

Pascual’s story began in the shadow of downtown Atlanta. Growing up in the urban enclave of Clarkston, the son of Filipino immigrants was salutatorian of his high school class and a Berry Presidential Scholar. Credits earned while still in high school allowed him to enter Berry as a sophomore, providing the scheduling flexibility he needed to immerse himself in his growing faith. He had grown up around religion, but it was only when he picked up the Bible and really dug into it that his faith became personal. 

“As I started studying and looking, I saw God’s heart for the world,” he explained. “It’s for all peoples, tongues, tribes and nations. So it made sense, if He commands us to go, then I would go. There was no other option.” 

Taking advantage of every break in his college schedule, Pascual dove headlong into the mission field. He completed short-term assignments of one to six weeks in the Dominican Republic, Philippines, Honduras, South Africa, Mexico and England, in addition to a six-month stint teaching English in Thailand that consumed the first half of his senior year. 

It was in Thailand that he met Sarah, a missionary from Colorado who eventually became his wife. They corresponded as friends for years, often from different continents, before he finally worked up the courage to profess his love. She initially said no to a relationship – “shot me down,” he recalled – before warming to the idea. Sensing an opening, Pascual flew with a ring in his pocket to see her in North Africa and proposed on their first date. They married in 2008. 

Walking the path

Jonathan Pascual with FamilyIt was during that same period in Pascual’s life that another thought, which eventually developed into Taproom, stirred. Musing about the future with a fellow missionary after returning from a “crazy, formative” two-year stint in the Amazon, Pascual half-jokingly landed on the idea of starting a coffee shop because “that’s what everybody says they’re going to do.” 

That conversation set in motion a series of seemingly random chance encounters and unexpected opportunities that, looking back, weren’t random at all. At every step along the way, the Berry psychology major gained increasing levels of knowledge and experience as he worked his way into management and business-plan development for a series of coffee shops – not all of which took off – in Rome and Atlanta. Those experiences gave him the confidence to say, “Hey, I can do this,” as he considered the possibility of opening his own shop. 

“I was able to make mistakes on someone else’s dime, which is great experience and a great opportunity to do it where I wasn’t losing my shirt,” he related. “I definitely used that and built on it and said, ‘All right, when the right opportunity comes up maybe we’ll do this on our own.” 

That “right opportunity” presented itself in Atlanta’s historic Kirkwood community, where Pascual and his wife were involved with an emerging church as they took a break from the mission field to begin raising a family. Trying to start a business with four children at home under the age of 5 proved challenging – “Taproom was like the fifth baby,” he joked – but the opportunity to tap into the energy of a revitalized neighborhood seemed too good to pass up. True to their character, they prayed for guidance and then jumped in with both feet. 

Noting similarities in the clienteles for both specialty coffee and craft beer, Pascual developed a business plan that combined the two products. That unique combination helped spur interest in a crowdfunding campaign launched to help defray startup costs, resulting in $21,000 in contributions, 140 percent of the couple’s original goal. The money was a relative drop in the bucket compared to the amount needed to get the business off the ground, but the publicity was priceless. 

“It ended up being amazing for marketing and for getting the word out that we were going to open,” he said. “What it really showed was the neighborhood was excited to have us and that Atlanta as a whole was excited for this concept to come about.” 

Still on call

Three and a half years after launch, it’s safe to say Atlanta is still excited about Taproom. The unassuming shop in a storefront on Hosea L. Williams Drive has established a firm niche in a crowded marketplace. It has built a loyal clientele among local residents who see it as a community-oriented gathering spot while also drawing tourists and visitors from elsewhere in the city thanks to consistent “best of” mentions in the local media. 

Though the unique business concept continues to garner attention, Pascual said Taproom is, in reality, a coffee shop. 

“From open to close, people treat it like a coffee shop,” he said. “It’s not at any time of the day going to feel like a bar.” 

Taproom’s success has allowed Pascual to invest less time in the business and more into his family and service as a church elder. Each afternoon, he heads home early to spend time with the couple’s adopted Ugandan twins, Faith and Favor, daughter Aurora and son Ransom. It’s a far cry from the early days when he was working 60 to 100 hours per week. 

Even as the business gains momentum, Pascual imagines a future in which he returns to the mission field with Sarah, once again living abroad as they did early in their marriage. Both have resumed short-term mission work in recent years, and something more substantial could be on the horizon. 

“Our endgame wasn’t a successful coffee shop,” he explained. “It was maybe having one that’s successful enough to fund other things in life. Being a part of God’s heart for the nations is always something that’s been a priority for us, and we are completely open to once again dropping everything here and living long-term in another country.”

Stay tuned.