Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters
Creating the drink of patriots
By Cathy Welch
Born in a small fishing village in Wisconsin, Celeste Gucanac became a professional ballerina with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. She and husband, Jo, were professionals living in Richmond when his employer decided he should travel full time, so he left his job and they moved to a 1856 farmhouse on Mobjack Bay at the mouth of the York River.
There was only one problem — there was no good coffee nearby.
“We need to do something about that,” Jo said.
More than 14 years ago, Jo traveled the country training to roast coffee. They opened Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters, a wholesale roaster in a Hayes warehouse.
The Gucanacs moved to Cleveland in 2016 to be near Jo’s new staffing firm, but they continued to operate Mobjack. As Jo is first-generation Croatian, Cleveland’s large Croatian community has been great for their children: Gabriel, 13, Julian, 10, and Sophia, 8. When all three children were in school every day, Celeste needed challenge.
“I had a vision and decided to take over our coffee business,” she says.
One day, while walking on Yorktown’s Main Street, Celeste read the National Park Service sign in front of the Cole Digges House.
“In the 1880s, it was Elizabeth Cooper’s Coffee and Teahouse,” she says. “I’m a woman who owns a coffee and tea company.”
After several years of persistent work, in July 2018 Mobjack Coffee became the first business to lease a historic Yorktown building: Cole Digges House.
“The Gucanac family has embraced the Park Service, its mission, values and goals for revitalizing the historic district,” Superintendent Kym Hall of Colonial National Historical Park said. “They offer visitors a chance to see this wonderful historic building while enjoying high quality food and beverages.”
“Everything we do has to go through the historic board for NPS,” Celeste said.
Mobjack buys high-end, unique plantation coffee and creates their own roast profiles.
“Our Colombian coffee won’t be the same Colombian bean from the same plantation from another roaster,” Celeste says. “We create what to present in that bean by our unique roasting method.”
During Revolutionary times, patriots drank coffee because they didn’t want to pay tax on tea.
“We’ve taken this high-end product and created the drink of patriots in one of Yorktown’s seven original buildings.”
Every Mobjack coffee blend is proprietary. They offer their own unique blends for company accounts all over, including Whole Foods. Mobjack creates a unique blend the companies own with their own name on their product.
Celeste’s dad, Charles Birr, is a master sommelier who was one of six people in the United States qualified to certify wine experts. He helps customers select wines and created an exceptional and affordable wine list for Mobjack offered by the bottle or the glass. Birr runs wine classes and tastings at Mobjack.
“He makes the experience fun and approachable,” she said.
Mobjack’s goal is to offer something truly delicious and affordable. Their Petite Cafe has a limited but exceptional menu.
“We offer award-winning cheeses from Carr Valley in Wisconsin after talking to the cheesemonger ourselves,” she said. “When you get your cheese platter here, you won’t get anything like it anywhere else.”
Their sandwiches are crafted onsite. Assistant Manager Justin Smith came to them from an allergy-free bakery. Whatever is offered on Mobjack’s menu, he can make the gluten-free version. Mobjack offers a large selection of Harney & Sons Fine Tea.
Celeste earned her Bachelor of Arts in English and a master’s degree in teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University.
“It’s motivating to see our team catch the vision and believe in it,” Celeste said of her 12 employees. “Our team is exceptional and inspires me daily.”
Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters won York County Small Business of the Year in 2019.
During 2019’s government shutdown, they sponsored a volunteer group who cleaned up six truckloads of trash on the parkway between Yorktown and Jamestown.
Mobjack hires historian, Jay Michael Moore, to speak at their family dinners and historic lectures.
“We’re doing something exquisite here: producing a product that’s putting Yorktown on the map for coffee,” Celeste said.
“We couldn’t be happier about their contributions to the visitor experience and support to the community and our preservation efforts,” Hall said. “Doing business with Mobjack has been a win-win.”
Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters
Historic Cole Digges House
411 Main St., Yorktown