Occupation: Coffee roaster
Family: Married to Sue Clark and they have two daughters. Lindsey Sharpe is doctor of physical therapy in Chattanooga. She and her husband Stephen Sharpe have two 19-month-old twin daughters, Molly and McKenzie. Jamie Clark lives in Cincinnati and is a graphic designer and organic farmer.
John Clark knows the value of a pound of coffee. He’s been to Guatemala and seen how hard farmers work to harvest a crop.
“With how hard they work, and the amount of effort goes into harvesting a pound of coffee, it’s amazing we can afford to buy it at any price,” he said.
Clark owns Vienna Coffee Company and while name of the company comes from a café he and his brother bought in Miami years ago, the coffee company has become a fixture in the Blount County area.
Clark never aimed to become a coffee connoisseur. It was his stay in California that brought him to his current occupation. “I started roasting coffee as a hobby because I didn’t like the coffee I got in East Tennessee after being spoiled in California,” he says. “I turned my hobby into a business.”
Clark graduated Maryville High School in 1971, earned a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Tennessee and then worked in the chemical industry in West Virginia. He came back to Tennessee and worked in Knoxville at a Dow Chemical subsidiary. He met Sue in 1979.
“She was a clerk, 18-years-old and a real cutie,” John Clark says. “I worked for her boss, and her boss stood me up on a tennis game. I ran into Sue at a Walgreens and asked her to play. We started hanging out. Then we married in January of 1980.”
They moved to California in 1982 and returned to Maryville in the mid-to-late 1990s when his children were 16 and 13.
Clark says his whole career prior to coffee was on the environmental clean-up side of the chemical industry. “In 2002 the company I was working for at the time was bought out by a competitor, and they told me my job was in Philadelphia. I said, ‘I think I’ll stay here and roast coffee.’”
Clark started out in his garage. He bought a roaster on eBay in 2000. “In fact my first batch in Feb. 17, 2001, was my first commercial batch - Brazil Cerrado.”
In 2002 Clark left his day job and moved the business into the back of Blount Discount Book where Big Daddy’s Grill is now on U.S. 411 South. He moved into his current building just off Harper Avenue in 2005.
Here is John Clark:
Who are you most like, your mother or your father and why?
“Mother, I think. She was a gentle soul and very hard working. She also hated to talk on the phone. Sue, my wife, thinks I’ve got a lot of Daddy in me, too. Daddy could talk for hours to anyone, anytime and did.”
What is your favorite quote from television or a movie?
‘“I’m a Lumberjack, and I’m OK. I sleep all night, and I work all day,’ Monty Python.”
What are you guilty of?
“Being a gourmand. I love good food and drink too much. I really need to know when to push back from the table a lot sooner.”
What is your favorite material possession?
“My wedding ring.”
What are you reading currently?
‘“Gaia’s Garden; A Guide To Home Scale Permaculture.’”
What was your most embarrassing moment?
“In a high school hallway, I was asking a cutie for a date with all her girlfriends standing around. I was shot down in flames, and they all giggled, big time. I still haven’t recovered.”
What are the top three things on your bucket list?
“1) Build a Green Home (breaking ground June 28th); 2) Take a mountain West tour to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Jackson Hole; and 3) Steer Vienna Coffee Company to become a regionally important coffee company. I do not aspire to drink Kopi Luwak coffee.”
What is one word others often use to describe you and why?
“Absent minded. I get pretty pre-occupied sometimes and forget to follow through on things. I really have got to write things down in my planner if I’m to get them done. If you don’t see me write it down, don’t count on me.”
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
“Hair might be nice, or rather hair in the normal place.”
What is your passion?
“That’s easy - great coffee.”
With whom, living or dead, would you most like to have a long lunch?
“Jimmy Carter. He’s been to the pinnacle of power and didn’t lose his soul to politics. In fact, he may have had more influence after being president than he did in office. I have a great deal of respect for his gentleness and ongoing sense of responsibility.”
If a movie were made about your life, who would play you and why?
“Tom Hanks. If he can pull off Forrest Gump, he could probably capture my goofy side, too.”
If you could go back in time for a week, what time period or year would you visit?
“The late 1890s or early 1900s, I’d like to see Maryville then and meet my Grandfather on the street. He was a big man, with a big laugh. We called him ‘Ha Ha.’”
What is the best present you ever received in a box?
“January 12, 2005: Sue gave me a stainless steel tamper with a rosewood handle. I use it every day for tamping espresso coffee when pulling a shot of espresso. It’s engraved ‘Happy 25th Anniversary.’ To me, it’s a symbol that she supports this crazy project called Vienna Coffee Company.”
What is the best advice your mother ever gave you?
“Remember who you are.”
Other than your parents, who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?
“Clearly my wife, Sue. She calms my fears. She challenges my assumptions. She dusts off my britches when I get knocked down. She reminds me to take out the garbage when I get the big-head, and sometimes, she even gets my jokes.”
Do you Myspace, Facebook or Twitter?
“Facebook only. I can’t imagine getting wrapped up in all three. What a time sink.”
What’s the worst job you have ever had?
“Working in Dad’s photography lab in our basement during summers in high school. While my buddies were at Green Meadow working on their tan, I was in the basement working on my ‘pale.’”
What is your theme song that best describes you?
“Van Morrison’s, ‘Moondance.’ I’m a lover, not a fighter.”
What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon and why?
‘“Mighty Mouse. I was little, real little. I loved his ‘Here I come to save the day.’”
What irritates you?
“Folks who don’t consider the consequences of their actions on others and the environment.”