This story originally appeared in the Feb. 10 edition of the weekly LINK Reader. To get these stories first, subscribe here.
“I always say that Dan makes my life magic.”
Alison Spears gripped her VillaMocha-labeled coffee cup – the coffee shop she and her husband Daniel Richardson own – as she recalled how the two met.
Flashback to 1999 when Richardson walked into Common Grounds Cafe in Covington, where Spears was working as a barista. She thought he was cute and both Spears and Richadrson ended up going to the same party later that night where they bonded over music, family and friends.
While connecting at the party, they realized that their older brothers had grown up going to Beechwood and playing football together.
“That’s kind of why we love coffee shops,” said Spears. “We met in a coffee shop but we also have this big group of friends and family and we’re still all so close. We have pretty much grown up together so I wanted to make a place where people could make friendships the way we did.”
The night after they met, Spears wanted to see the Blair Witch project and she really wanted to watch it with a certain someone.
“I called every Richardson in the phonebook,” said Spears. “After a few calls to not the right Richardsons, his Dad picked up the phone and I said ‘may I speak with Dan?’ and his Dad said, ‘Dan, there’s a girl!’ And he picked up the phone and said ‘Hello?’ and I said, ‘Is this my Dan?’ without telling him my name.”
It was her Dan.
As the months went by the two began to date. Richardson even made her something special.
“I made her a whole mixtape of things we liked to listen to in the car, you know like old school hip-hop from when we were in like sixth or seventh grade, just stuff we loved.”
After dating for some time, Richardson ended up going to school in New Orleans and they broke up for about a year. When he returned, they decided to take a vacation to New Orleans and that’s where “her” Dan popped the question.
“We were in the back room of the Funky Butt Jazz Bar,” said Spears, “drinking Funky Butt Juice when he asked me.”
It wasn’t until a year later when they realized how stressful planning a wedding can be, and decided they would elope and go back to New Orleans.
“My parents eloped,” said Spears, “Dan was like ‘Are you serious?’ but we did and we went down there to get married that next Saturday.”
Once down in New Orleans, they found a woman to officiate the wedding, bought a tux and a white dress off the rack.
Spears said, “This is wedding appropriate, right?”
“The lady that married us was psychic,” said Spears. “And then her friend was a photographer that did portraits but only black and white. We soon realized, however, that we didn’t even have wedding bands so we just walked down Bourbon Street and bought some. I still have mine,” Spears said as she pointed to her Bourbon Street band.
They married on what’s called the Moonwalk which leads down to these wooden steps that take you to the Mississippi River. In front of the moonwalk was Café Du Monde, an iconic cafe in the city.
“As we walked back up the stairs after getting married we saw this guy with a guitar,” Spears said. “And I was like ‘Hey, do you want to play for our wedding?’ And gave him 20 bucks. A Green Day song is now our unintentional wedding song.”
After the wedding, they went to dinner, and on the way out Spears said to herself, “Dan makes my life magic.”
The newlywed couple moved to the Pacific Northwest to Bellingham, Washington, where Spears worked as an art gallery coordinator, and they stayed there for about five years. It was at the gallery that they got their first experience launching a coffee shop.
“It was really a fun time,” Spears said. “We also added a little coffee shop to the gallery and through that we learned a lot about all the different types of coffee and what they mean.”
When they wanted to start a family, they decided it was time to move back to Kentucky. Spears said she really wanted her mom to be close by for help.
When their baby girl was born, they named her Nola to pay homage to their elopement in Nola.
After their move back to Kentucky, Richardson used his talents as a house music DJ to partner with local charities, like Welcome House, Toys for Tots, and other organizations. And that community spirit would be a cornerstone of the couple’s future business.
After Lola was born, Spears started to grow tired of her corporate job. Each day, she passed a hair salon in Villa Hills and dreamt of what could be.
“I would drive by this hair salon every single day and say, ‘If they ever go out of business I’m buying it, and I’ll call it VillaMocha,’” Spears recalled.
It was just a dream until one night, when Spears came home and her husband shared some exciting news.
“You know St. Amsterdam Hair Studio?” Richardson asked. “I talked to Paul who owns the building and I got you a meeting.”
It wasn’t long after that Spears’, brother who owns a small remodeling business, got to work on their new VillMocha building and Spears wrote up and sent in her letter of resignation.
Inside VillaMocha, bright colors welcome guests in, along with the rich smell of warming coffee. Next to the windows you can find many of Spear’s well loved plants, one given to her by the woman who works next door at the Marathon gas station. There’s also art from local artists and personal friends of theirs.
“Alison and Dan have truly created something beautiful here at VillaMocha,” said Hunter Harris, an employee at VillaMocha. “They push us all to be our best, they provide support, a shoulder to lean on, and will have our backs in our personal lives as well. The coffee shop is a safe place for all of us and all of our community.”
They also use their coffee shop to promote things like Pride month, Bengals games, holidays and other craft specialty drinks to support the local organizations they partner with.
“We just love coffee shops, we met in one, we also met groups of our friends in them,” said Spears. “To me, I just wanted to make a place where people could make friendships the way we did. We have so many amazing friends from that.”
Richardson and Spears first bonded over a simple cup of coffee, and now they strive to create bonds in their community through the same means.
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