Johan Jo has seen how the Opelika-Auburn area has grown since his arrival in 2006. When looking for the best spot to open a coffee business, he thought, “Why not in the middle?”
Ristretto Lounge is Jo’s gift to the community. Being of Korean descent, as the owner, he also wanted to create a hub for other community members with similar backgrounds at the spot on Corporate Park Drive just behind Tiger Town.
“I was raised by my parents with that Korean background, but also raised with American culture,” he said. “I guess you could say that I have the opportunity and the honor to kind of be part of that bridge between the two communities to join them into one.”
One of Jo’s goals is opening the lounge is to help customers see and appreciate the artistry that goes into making coffee, having developed his own appreciation through an aunt’s work as a barista instructor in Korea. He explained that barista instructors take their students through the basics of the coffee industry, from learning about various drinks to which milks work best for certain drinks.
“I feel like a lot of people hear so many things about coffee, but they don’t know the knowledge of it,” he said. “They just drink it because it’s something that energizes them, but not being able to take time to enjoy the actual fruit of what the coffee has to offer.”
The lounge uses a traditional Italian menu featuring variations of espresso, American brews and other commonly loved options. Answering customers’ questions and taking the time to explain what he’s doing, Jo said, is one of the things he loves the most.
Ristretto Lounge features a large ground floor with plenty of tables and sitting room, a separate conference room, as well as natural light coming in through large windows that wrap around the building. Outside the lounge there is a covered patio with walking path and garden, a project completed with his father.
Additional seating and work spaces are available upstairs, and Jo hopes to host workshops on art, coffee and possibly yoga beginning next year.