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First Street Coffee has new owners

From the Gilroy Dispatch
Friday, March 31, 2017

After 11 years of lattes and au laits, mochas and macchiatos, Konni Thomas is giving up the grind at her First Street Coffee House clutch and selling the popular java joint.

Former First Street Coffee owner Konni Thomas, left, with new owner Jackie Gartman and Gartman’s son and daughter-in-law, Justin and Samantha Viduya and their son, Ellis.

The owner of the 2015 Gilroy Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year said she’ll leave with mixed feelings, having come to love her loyal clientele and doing what she does.

“It’s a good feeling and it’s a really sad feeling, I’ll be saying goodbye to a lot of good friends,” the typically effervescent Thomas said Monday as she tried to stem the tears. “There are just so many people who come in here every day and make my life happy. I have loved every minute of it.”

But the work load started to become difficult when her daughter, Kassi Swalboski, opted out of their partnership three years ago to become the owner of Crossfit Gilroy. Thomas, 53, also wanted to spend more time with her mother, who’s 80.

And the day to day had become a bit too routine, she said, adding she came to believe the business would be served well by “a new set of eyes and fresh ideas.”

That all got Thomas thinking, and praying, “About what it is I really want to do,” she said.

The answer, at least for the immediate future, turned out to have nothing to do with coffee beans, pastries and sandwich making. It’s more like the ghost of Jack Kerouac visited Thomas.

But then at around the same time Thomas decided to give up the coffee habit, Jackie Gartman was fresh from her newest of many out-of-state stints in high tech.

Driving by on First Street, found herself musing about wouldn’t it be nice to jettison the corporate rat race and run a nice little coffee shop?

A veteran of a nearly three-decade long trek through the sometimes stultifying world of corporate global high finance and wafer fab operations from coast to coast and in between, Gartman, like Thomas, yearned for something more meaningful in life, something “that fulfils you,” she said, seated beside Thomas in the shop she will take over on April 1.

“My commute will go from 80 miles a day to 4,” said a beaming Gartman, 50, who’s married to former Gilroy City Councilman Craig Gartman.

“It was like serendipity: I was looking and this just popped up,” she said.

“Actually, Craig called the broker and sparked the whole thing, I never looked at anything else,” she said, adding it probably never would have happened without her husband’s initiative.

She also allowed that the way it all unfolded makes her believe there was “some greater power” involved. The deal was sealed in December and escrow closes on April 1.

And so Gilroy will witness the peaceful transfer of coffee power.

And Thomas will, quite literally, ride off into the sunrise with her mom in a well-stocked RV to tour the country, with the first destination back home in Minnesota.

And from there to Niagara Falls and Florida and on and on around the country for at least a month, perhaps a bit like Jack Kerouac on caffeine.

Meanwhile, back at the coffee grinder, Gartman will bring a dollop of experience to her new incarnation as a barista, having been an early convert to homemade espresso coffee.

But that’s about it in terms of know-how, and so the immediate future looks a little “scary” she said, laughing, during a break from being shown the ropes by Thomas.

She will have help, however.

In addition to a commitment from her husband to do all the “heavy lifting and repairs,” there’s the upbeat, knowledgeable and “highly valued” crew inherited from Thomas, said Gartman.

And then there’s the military twist in the story—Gartman’s son, Justin Viduya, 30, and his wife, Samantha, who’s expecting the couple’s second child.

They are on board and appear well prepared to handle anything a coffee house might toss their way; both are six-year, U.S. Navy veterans of Middle East deployments and experts in airframe mechanics.

As it happens, Justin also has some experience working at a Starbucks.

I am really excited for her,” he said of his mom’s new adventure.

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