DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
LLANO — When Fuel Coffee House board member Mark Martin was asked how to describe the eclectic Llano coffee shop, he responded by simply saying, “A community, the coffee is incidental.”
While Fuel Coffee House, 106 E. Main St., offers the typical coffee shop fare, the sign outside describes it as “coffee • music • community,” with each playing a vital role in the nonprofit’s mission.
That’s right, it’s a nonprofit coffee shop.
“Everything that happens here is really about serving a much wider mission than coffee,” said board member and local musician Keenan Fletcher. “The coffee really just gets people through the door.”
When Fletcher settled in Llano several years ago, she found herself as the proverbial fish out of water. A classically trained violinist with experience in orchestra, Fletcher didn’t exactly fit the persona one might identify with a small Hill Country town. And she realized that. But one day, she walked through the doors of Fuel Coffee House and found a place where she felt she belonged.
“I think that’s what makes Fuel so important, so special, it’s a place where anybody can come and feel welcomed,” she said.
Now, she’s a regular at the shop, where she and her band, the Lake Bottom Jazz Combo, rehearse and regularly perform. In fact, the coffee house is one of Llano’s regular music venues, drawing in performers of all ranges and styles but all exceptional.
“We’ve had Grammy winners, we’ve had Emmy winners here and we have a chance to get an Oscar winner here,” said local musician and writer W.C. Jameson.
Jameson is quite a regular at the shop. He does a lot of editing sitting at a table near the large front window. He and his wife, Laurie Wagner Buyer Jameson, “discovered” Fuel about seven or eight years ago and also have found it a place to enjoy and experience as part of the community.
In fact, W.C. Jameson hosted a mayoral candidate forum at the coffee shop. But that’s part of the beauty of the establishment. Fletcher said it serves as a community meeting place for larger discussions.
The coffee house also serves as a place people can experience God’s grace and love. One of the things Fletcher truly enjoys about Fuel is the welcoming nature, especially for youth who might not feel as accepted in other places.
“On New Year’s Eve, we hosted a party for kids who didn’t have any other place to go,” Fletcher said. “They came here, listened to music, played games and had a great time. It was wonderful.”
And each Sunday, a cadre of volunteers arrive about 3 p.m. and begin preparing for the weekly hamburger giveaway from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. At no charge and with no questions asked, community residents can get free hamburgers at Fuel. It’s not uncommon for upwards of 250 people to show up.
“You’ll have a family come in and ask for 25 hamburgers,” Fletcher said. “You know they are going to have those hamburgers Sunday night, Monday night, Tuesday night and on. It may be one of the few meals some kids get.”
It’s all free and supported by donations and Fuel.
“You know people have been introduced to God’s grace through the hamburgers,” Fletcher said. “I think the best way to describe Fuel is it’s ‘faith in action.'”
As a nonprofit, Fuel does struggle. Fletcher pointed out the coffee sales don’t always make ends meet. But through the grace of God, donations and local supporters, the doors stay open. People can even become monthly supporters, allowing them to create a sign for the coffee shop walls.
Sometimes, it’s just somebody stepping up and making a significant donation.
“We’re not always sure how the doors stay open, but they do,” Fletcher said. “I really believe it goes back to its mission of being there for the kids, the teens and adults who feel they don’t have a place to belong anywhere, because they do — here. It’s all an extension of faith in action, Fuel just is the meeting place.”
Plus, the coffee’s pretty darn good.
Fuel is open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday (though later on some days for special events and music). Though it’s technically closed on Sunday, Martin often opens the doors in the morning and serves as a host to anyone who stops by. And there are the hamburger Sundays.
Go to www.fuelcoffeehouse.org or call (325) 247-5272 for more information.