As an educator, Kelli Huslig learned the importance of developing relationships. The concept became her mission when she opened Uplift Coffee Shop. Her goal is to turn customers into friends who leave the place in better spirits than when they came in.
“There’s something about coffee that allows relationships to bloom,” says Huslig. “You
can just sit down and connect with people when you have a warm cup of coffee in front of
The first Uplift location at 624 N. Second Street opened on January 28th , 2020. About two months later, everything locked down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While many restaurants go out of business within three years of opening, Huslig faced that possibility after less than three months.
She remembers, “I got to see the pandemic through different eyes because I really didn’t have a choice. If I had shut my doors, I wouldn’t have been able to open back up.”
Huslig, her son, Trey, who works with her, and her sister, Krys, the marketing manager at the time, brainstormed ways to stay open. Since customers come first but couldn’t come to them, they decided to go to their customers.
That’s when they created the Corona Wave. The trio loaded up the shop’s Jeep with pastries and drip coffee. A customer would book the Jeep, and when it arrived, they would get their coffee and treats first. Then, they would wave at their neighbor to signal it was their turn to get coffee. Eventually, the shop purchased the Uplift Coffee Truck they still use today.
“Neighborhoods booked us, hospitals, even places in Kansas City,” Huslig says. “That Jeep went everywhere. We got to see people meet their neighbors for the first time ever. It got to where people would put their chairs out on their driveways and wait for us to drive up.”
Before the pandemic, Huslig had contracted Brad Cheney of Nature’s Image in Topeka to create a wooded patio area behind the shop, complete with a waterfall feature. Despite the shutdown, she decided to go ahead with the work. He completed the patio about the same time outdoor gatherings were allowed before restaurants could open indoor spaces. A rear window was used for walk-up orders. Occasionally musicians would perform in the relaxing area.
“All of that came out of the pandemic,” Huslig says. “If we didn’t have the pandemic, our business would probably look completely different. In many ways, it forced us to grow. And as a community as a whole, it’s forcing us to grow, which is good, too.”
Uplift has grown to include a second location at 4000 W. Sixth Street. This new space
has a drive-thru window, which offers the challenge of building relationships with customers in
a car line. It also has a full kitchen. Huslig hired a baker, and now all the food for both locations
is made in-house, some from Huslig’s family recipes.
Caffiend in Topeka supplies the coffee. All the flavored syrups are made in-house except for the sugar-free ones. Coffees made with honey-lavender syrup are a big hit. So is the vanilla bean syrup, made with real vanilla beans.
The Rock Chalk Cold Brew is also popular. It combines Hildebrand Dairy’s chocolate milk and cold brew coffee. And a seasonal drink from the summer, Kicking Kansas, is going on the permanent menu. Fantastic served both hot or cold, the drink contains a honey-cinnamon syrup steeped with red pepper flakes for a tingly heat in the back of your throat.
It isn’t unusual for Huslig to grab a coffee and sit with a customer for a conversation, especially if it seems someone is going through a difficult time. It may be a homesick college student. Other times it’s a person dealing with grief or loss.
She explains, “My whole mission is that by the time somebody leaves our place, they are no longer a stranger, and we’ve made their day a little bit better, whether with a cup of coffee, food, or listening. You never know what somebody’s dealing with that day. We’re in the people business. We just happen to have fantastic coffee and food.”