Is it ironic that someone with the last name Joe ends up launching a coffee business? Well, if you ask Mark Joe, he’d probably tell you it’s more of an omen. He left a successful career in the corporate world to follow his passion and launch Omen Coffee Co. Along with roasting its own beans, Omen offers people a place to meet and engage with others over a good cup of coffee.

Originally from upstate New York, Joe came to the St. Louis region around five years ago to work for 1st Phorm in Fenton. While he found success with the nutritional supplement company, he was left feeling unfulfilled. “I wasn’t happy anymore, and I wasn’t excited to go to work,” he notes. “I’d always imagined I would build my own coffee shop as a passion project but never considered it would be my main thing. Coffee was always at the back of my mind. When I resigned, I decided to go for it.”

Joe’s passion for coffee comes from an unexpected but deeply personal place. As a young man, he spent five years in prison. During that dark period, he found solace in being able to make and enjoy a morning cup of coffee. “Prison is a very noisy, crowded environment—you’re surrounded by people 24 hours a day,” he explains. “I started waking up at 4 a.m. just so I could sit in silence and drink a cup of black instant coffee. It wasn’t good coffee, but that morning ritual meant so much to me. It literally changed my whole life. Coffee for me represents mental clarity, peace of mind, self discovery and gratitude. There is a lot of that message behind Omen.”

Omen Coffee Co. began roasting last year. “We roast locally right here in St. Louis,” Joe says. “Other than my former career, I don’t have any ties to the city, but when I was starting Omen, I really wanted to make a commitment to launch it here because I’ve fallen in love with the area.” All of the company’s coffees are single origin, and small batches are roasted every week to ensure every bag or cup sold is fresh. “Everything we offer has been roasted less than seven days prior to purchase,” he notes. “Coffee is such a personal beverage when it comes to preferences, but we do our best to ensure we provide the highest quality product.”

Serving up quality cups of coffee was not Joe’s only goal. He also wanted to create a place where people could connect. His previous work focused on creating and engaging online communities, but it left him feeling disconnected in the real world. “We’ve become so overly dependent on connecting with people in digital spaces that we’re actually disconnected, and I think the pandemic only strengthened those anti-social tendencies,” he says. “I’m bothered when I go to the grocery store and see all of the self checkouts. I wanted to create a place where everyone is reminded of how powerful it is to have that energy transfer between human beings. At Omen, coffee is the vehicle for that experience.”

With that mission in mind, Joe opened a brick-and-mortar coffee shop in Midtown. After a three-week soft opening, Omen was ready for its official debut in March. “We pretty much depended on organic word of mouth to promote the opening, so we hoped to have around 100 people,” Joe notes. “Around 500 to 600 showed up. They were lined up around the corner from the moment we opened to when we closed. It was amazing to see that kind of support.”

What sets Omen apart from other coffee shops is the experience, according to Joe. “We don’t want people to just walk away with a product that passes the minimum standard of quality,” he says. “Yes, you’ll get a good cup of coffee, but our focus is on the customer. It’s all about the energy in the shop and the conversation you have at the register. My philosophy is that our real product is that experience.”

Currently, Omen Coffee Co. occupies the first floor of 2647 Washington Ave., but Joe owns the entire building. He has hopes to expand to the second floor and rooftop, offering a truly unique experience to guests. “We’ve got a great view of the Arch, Union Station and the new soccer stadium,” he says. “St. Louis doesn’t really have anything like this as far as coffee spaces are concerned. I’m looking forward to introducing all Omen has to offer. It will be really special for our city.”

Beyond future expansion, Mark’s greatest hope for Omen is that people are inspired by its story. “We often live in a state of fear of failure,” he notes. “I literally lost everything—my job, material possessions, friends, the respect of my family. It was hard, but it taught me that I don’t have to live with that fear of loss. I was able to walk away from what many would consider a dream job because it wasn’t lighting my fire. Part of our branding is to ‘heed the omens.’ For me, that means listen to your heart and do what inspires you. I’m not special. Anyone can follow their passion. You just need to heed the omens.”

Photo by Bill Barrett