A good book and a good cup of coffee or tea is a natural pairing, and Kay Austen Johnson is such a fan of this combination that she decided to craft an entire concept around it.
Austen & Company, a new Merion Village business located at 1530 S. High St., is owned by Austen and her family. It combines the best parts of a coffee and tea shop with the best parts of a family-owned bookstore, selling over 1,000 titles hand-curated by its owners.
“Well, a long time ago somebody asked me if I could do whatever I wanted—money not being an issue—what would you do? I said I’d run a bookstore selling tea in Maine overlooking the water,” said Austen Johnson. “We’re not in Maine and I don’t see any water, but I love this place all the same. We decided to go for it.
The 2,500-square-foot storefront, which formally opened on Nov. 9, provides a unique service and an inviting atmosphere, and stands as a full-fledged family operation.
“It’s a family endeavor, the store was my idea, but I have my son in law [Leighton Zimmey] with experience in business,” said Austen Johnson. “My daughter [Alicia Austen Zimmey] and son [AJ Willey] are also involved, we’re all kind of in it together.”
Austen & Company offers all of the standard cafe fare—teas alongside espresso-based drinks—and they don’t skimp on quality either. Their teas are sourced from Churchill’s Fine Teas in Cincinnati, with their coffee coming from local purveyor Roaming Goat Coffee, located in the Short North. Additionally, the spot offers a range of fresh baked goods from The Pastry Factory in Columbus.
“Our sources were important to me,” Austen Johnson said. “Churchill blends their own teas and has great relationships with their farmers. My son-in-law was sampling coffee for us, and when he first tried Roaming Goat, he knew it was the one.”
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And after you grab a drink, browsing the stacks at Austen & Company is a must. According to Austen Johnson, their collection of books for sale features a unique method of organization, one she invented herself.
“All fiction is labeled as Storytelling, and then there’s a category called Inspiration that’s made up of things that inspire me, it has art, fashion, cooking, and more. And then there’s an Other People section with biographies and books about celebrities,” she said.
The best part: all of these titles are hand-selected by Austen Johnson and family, so nothing that doesn’t meet their seal of approval makes it onto the shelves.
There’s even more in store for the charming new business as well. Austen & Company plans to acquire their liquor license in the coming weeks, meaning they’ll begin offering beer and cocktails (many of which will incorporate their in-house teas). Austen & Company plans to host art shows and other events in the space in the future when it is safe to do so.
And while Austen Johnson recognized the hazards of opening a small business in the midst of a pandemic, it appears that southside denizens have already voiced their approval for Austen & Company.
“I know the neighborhood is really excited we’re here, and we are too,” she said.