Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer|
Vicki Blagburn owns The Java House in Hartselle.
Her cup overflows
A back injury brings about a relationship with God and success in coffeeshop business
By Danielle Komis
Vicki Blagburn whips up chocolate cakes, scones, broccoli salad and Turtle Mochas every day at The Java House, the coffee shop, catering and gift basket business she owns in Hartselle. She happily greets regular customers with a smile, and makes small talk with them as they wait in line for their favorite coffee drink or treat.
The happy scene is a stark contrast from Blagburn’s life a few years ago, when an injury confined her to bed for nine months.
At that time, she was a dental assistant and wasn’t sure what cappuccino was, and was often teased about her lack of knowledge in the kitchen — she once made spaghetti for her brother using tomato paste instead of tomato sauce.
But Blagburn took a leap of faith after that difficult time and found a new life for herself as well as an inner peace.
Before Blagburn entered the coffee and catering business, she worked as a dental assistant. As far as faith went, she attended church but didn’t have a close, relationship with
The Java House.
That changed with a misstep at her home in Hartselle in July 2003. As she descended the stairs on her back deck, she tripped over her dog and fell on her back.
She couldn’t move, not even to try to relieve the excruciating pain pulsing through her body. Her left leg was temporarily paralyzed — the result of her injured spine.
Blagburn spent about four days in the hospital. A few months later, she underwent a 10-hour spinal fusion surgery.
Doctors told her she was disabled and that she would probably not be able to return to her job as a dental assistant. She was fitted for a back brace.
During her nine-month bed rest, she had little more for entertainment than her Bible and praise and worship audiotapes friends brought her.
She left her home only to go grocery shopping or to rehabilitation. During this lonely, painful time she began to draw more on her faith, and found strength in the Scripture. In fact, she says she fell in love with Jesus.
“I was hungry,” she said. “(A relationship with Jesus) is like a love story that doesn’t end.”
When she kept asking God why life had become so difficult, Proverbs 3:5-6 spoke to her and lifted her spirits. It reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
She began to view life in a more positive way, and acknowledged all that God had created and gave thanks for it — even for the pain she felt in her legs because it meant that at least she wasn’t permanently paralyzed.
After months of bed rest, Blagburn was ready to try to get a new job. She had heard about an opening at Java Jaay coffee shop on Sixth Avenue Southeast in Decatur and decided to try for it, even though the extent of her knowledge of coffee included Folgers and Maxwell House, she said.
Tyler Webb, left, and Cathy Webb, both of Hartselle, are part of the four-person staff at The Java House in Hartselle.
“I thought, ‘God, if you think I can make a living pouring coffee, I will go’,” she remembered.
Despite her restrictions (she could only work a few hours on her feet at a time before she had to rest), she was hired and started training to become a manager at a new Java Jaay location opening in Bud’s Convenience Store in Priceville.
After managing the Priceville Java Jaay, Blagburn eventually bought the store. Life still wasn’t rosy — she and her husband were in the middle of a divorce and her father had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer — but she found happiness in talking to the people who passed through the store.
Her faith came up often when customers noticed her Bible on the counter. If anyone asked, she happily shared with them about how the Lord had helped guide her to a more peaceful place, despite her rocky path. Sometimes she would pray with them.
In 2005, Blagburn opened a new Java Jaay in Hartselle on U.S. 31, which recently moved to the Village West center on Nanceford Road and reopened as The Java House. Because she started to offer more food and gift baskets in addition to coffee, it no longer fit with the Java Jaay franchise, she said.
She sold the Java Jaay location in Priceville less than a year ago to concentrate on the Hartselle store.
Today, The Java House boasts a booming gift basket business, along with its catering, specialty coffee and treats.
“People keep asking me, ‘How do you know how to do this?’ ” she said.
She barely knew how to balance a checkbook when she went into business, nor how to cook. In fact, the first recipes she debuted at her store were the few she always made for family reunions, like her spicy chicken stew and her broccoli salad.
But her faith gave her the strength to try something completely new, and her life is better because of it.
“I know I’m exactly where I need to be at this point in my life,” she said.
Today, Christian music can often be heard throughout The Java House, and a prayer request book sits on the counter for anyone to write in. It is filled with scrawled pleas for help for figuring out one’s direction for in life, with a job interview, or for an ailing family member.
Blagburn often prays early in the morning for those in the prayer book and for those things that “get heavy on her heart.” It’s the least she can do, she says.
“Our cup does overflow,” Blagburn said. “I can’t help but want to give it away. I think that’s why people come here. I’m still not sold on that it’s my cooking.”
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