by Sophie McNeil Wolf

When Kevin Smith’s friend John Kelley called him about a job at coffee enclave Sneaky Beans in late August 2011, the Rankin County native had many questions.

“He said, ‘It’s Sneaky Beans.’ I said, “What’s that?” He said that it was a coffee shop and that was cool with me. I asked where it was and he told me ‘Fondren.’ I had to ask, ‘Where is that at?’ I had no clue.”

Admittedly, he wasn’t familiar with coffee much past the canned variety his parents bought from the grocery store.  “I didn’t know a thing about coffee. Nothing,” he said, with a smile. “I drank coffee when I was seven, but I didn’t know about the whole process of it. I never would have thought I would be here, like I have. This was supposed to be an in-between job. Here I am (five years later).”

A graduate of Northwest Rankin High School, Smith had worked for a few years at Buffalo Peak Outfitters in Highland Village. His only “taste” of Jackson that resonated with him, Smith said. Crossing the interstate into Fondren was a different story.

“I got down here (to Fondren) and my initial thought was, ‘This is crazy. Is this a real place? It was a fantasy in a sense. Coming from the suburbs and stepping into this urban place, I saw that there were actually really cool people that live in this state. I had always wanted to get out of Mississippi. I thought there was nothing here for me. Coming to Fondren turned my world upside down.”

What Smith, now Sneaky Bean’s manager, found were connections at the epicenter of culture in the historic business district. “I met all of these people, started having these connections and I saw that circle of family explode. There are trying days and weeks… but here I have the stability of friends, and now, basically family that I can turn to. That’s where my positivity grows. I feed off of that.”

In his almost five years since arriving to Sneaky Beans, Smith has seen a shift in attitude, not only with young professionals flocking to the area, but even those closest to him. “People told me growing up not to go to Jackson, that it wasn’t safe. Now, I’m at the point that they are coming here asking, ‘Why can’t we come down here all the time?’ My dad even got an office in Fondren Corner for six months just so he could hang out around here and work. It’s a shifting of culture.”

While weekdays are busy, working Saturdays are even busier. A local secret for a few years, Jacksonians have caught on to owner Byron Knight’s perfected biscuit recipe and cheese grits that can’t be beat. Saturdays are when the Sneaky Beans community truly shines.

“Saturday you come in and get the place ready, but you know it’s about to be on. I think we all have our own set ways of getting our minds prepared for that,” he saids. A newbie to Sneaky Beans breakfast? Smith advises: “It’s part of the experience to order and hang out. Don’t expect that this is a fast food place. Yes, there will be people in every room and you may strike up a conversation with people you don’t know. It could lead to something awesome.”

That transformation with each new customer that walks through the doors of Sneaky Beans is exciting for Smith. After a few visits, they may have a nickname or get a wave from a familiar face. “It’s a conversion,” Smith says. “It’s taking people from their world and putting them in our world for that one day. It’s cool.”

Looking at his role as manager of Sneaky Beans, his motto is simple. “I want people to enjoy coffee. Hang out. Be happy,” he says with a smile. “I don’t picture myself doing anything else.”

Go-to coffee drink
Double shot of espresso or a macchiato. “Small but powerful. It reminds me of my routine when I spent some time in Paris.”

Favorite brewing technique
V60. “It is basically a smaller version of a Chemex, but is a cup-mounted pour over.”

Craziest drink ever made
Large soy cappuccino, extra dry. “Making soy milk froth to extra dry is nearly impossible. It would take forever.”