Hava Java is celebrating 30 years in the Valley – second only to Macy’s of Flagstaff as the oldest coffee shop in Arizona.
“When I started out, I was the only person in the whole Valley,” said Justin Shafer, founding owner of Hava Java Coffee Shop. “I sold my first latte’ Jan. 27, 1992.”
That was eight years before Starbucks arrived in Phoenix.
Living in Seattle in the late ‘80s, Shafer envisioned owning his own coffee house.
“There was a coffee shop on every corner,” he recalled. “I was in my 20s. Back then, I just wanted to make some money. I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life. I always thought that food would be a good thing to go into because people always have to eat. When it came to coffee, it’s something people had to have every day. It just made sense.”
His goal was to open a coffee shop in Arizona, a place he once called home.
In 1991, he moved back to Phoenix. Over a year later, Shafer started the first and only gourmet coffee cart in Arizona in a high-rise office building at the old Phoenix Plaza at Central and Thomas. Then he opened St. Joseph’s Hospital’s first coffee shop in 1993.
He ran his coffee cart operations for two and a half years .including one at a Phoenix bookstore at 32nd St. and Camelback. “It was just me for 17 hours a day, 7 days a week for 2 1/2 years,” said Shafer.
After the bookstore closed in 1995, Shafer took a portion of their old space to build an indoor coffee house, where Hava Java remains today.
Since then, he hired staff to assist him.
“We have always been fortunate to have very little employee turnover and that really helps,” he said.
His Las Sendas Mesa location near Power and McDowell roads opened two years ago.
“We’ve been serving a lot of the same customers for 30 years,” Shafer said. “We know their families, husbands, wives and their kids. We know where they go to school, where they go to work, where they vacation.”
Despite more competition these days, Shafer said his motto and the secret to his success is serving quality products in a clean, upbeat environment with great customer service.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for poor customer service,” he said. “We treat our customers the way we want to be treated and I treat my staff with dignity and the way they should be treated. I’ve never been the type to push people around. We have the most awesome customers at our locations.”
He feels, “Anybody can make coffee at home. They don’t go out for a cup of coffee. They go out for the overall experience. If you can’t provide something fabulous, why leave the house?”
He said many people have gotten married after meeting their spouse at his coffee house. “In fact, I met my own wife,” said Shafer. “She was one of my customers.”
As for his menu, he boasts, “Anything you can get at other coffee shops you can get at our place. We have a custom roasted blend of beans we feel are superior to what everybody else has out there.”
Breakfast and lunch sandwiches, a few made-to-order lunch items, fresh bakery items and 25 different loose-leaf teas are offered as well – along with 14 beers on tap and wine.
“In the early days of the coffee business, nobody sold alcohol,” said Shafer. “I figured why not have something for people in the evening. We provide a really nice place for people to be – somewhere besides the home and office. They can come work and study in our coffee house. A lot of people are there from coffee to beer all day long.”
Though he opened the Mesa location one week before the pandemic hit, Shafer has survived despite a 90 percent nosedive in sales.
“That first year was a little on the rough side, to say the least, but we never closed,” he said. “We survived that. We’ve survived so many things in 30 years.”
He encourages everyone to seek out independent businesses. “Give them a try. … the little guys can be much better than the big corporate boxes.
“We have to please. We have to do an extra super job. That’s all we have. The big corporates have deep pockets and they’re indestructible.”
Besides, he said, shops like his have “a good vibe.”
“Our community is our family and they feel the same way about us.”
Hava Java Coffee
2849 N. Power Road, Mesa;
Mesa, Las Sendas area