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Zooks Coffee Bar focuses on community

Zooks Coffee Bar tried something new last week — breakfast sandwiches. New menu options are not surprising for one of Tea’s newest businesses.

Owner Linda Kokenge said flexibility has been key over the past two months that the Coffee Bar has been open.

“It’s been good,” she said, “We’ve adjusted so many things, the process on how we do things and adjusting hours.”

Finding out what works has been part of the fun for the former marketing professional. Kokenge said, “Our menu has evolved in the way that we’ve added more drink options and new recipes.”

She is also looking forward to adding a gluten free bagel option for breakfast, breakfast pizzas and caramel rolls to the menu too. All that, in addition to menu updates a little further out, that include light lunch options like soups and sandwiches.

The breakfast and lunch offerings will be in addition to what is already on the menu at Zooks, which includes some community favorites like Sassy Cakes by Ashly. And of course, the food items are not to take away from Zook’s full line of traditional coffees, espressos and blended coffees and smoothies. Right now, Kokenge is running a competition for Tea Area High School students to come up with a new recipe for the BUZZED drinks. The BUZZED drinks are a blended drink that includes a plant-based energy shot. Kokenge said a lot of people like the caffeine but not the coffee. Customers can customize their recipes however they like. That flexibility and community input is a big part of business for Kokenge.

One way that Kokenge has decided to give back to the community is through a promotion “Coffee with a Cause.” She and fellow Tea coffee shop Central Dakota Perk have teamed up for two days each month to collect 50 cents from each drink sold at their locations to donate to a community organization or event. For November the benefactor was the Tea Veterans Memorial Fund over Nov. 10 and 11.

“When I started Zooks,” Kokenge said, “I wanted a place for the community to come hang out. Coffee shops have always been a zen place for me, and I wanted to create that here.”

The aesthetic is just that — comfortable and community-minded. A local Tea artist, Arianna Enriquez painted the mural, photos of the community adorn the wall, and Kokenge reaches out to customers all the time for input.

“We revamped our hot chocolate right away,” Kokenge explained after a few customers commented.

She and her staff created new recipes, taste tested, and came up with something better.

“Our hot chocolate is amazing,” she said with a smile.

It’s also important to her to involve her staff and get their input. Currently she employs nine staff members, but she added she is always accepting applications, noting that Sundays are the hardest day to staff.

Along with the welcoming atmosphere inside Zooks Coffee Bar, the businesses also has a drive through option and offers a mobile app.

“The mobile app is the perfect way to skip the line,” Kokenge said. “You can pay, schedule a pick-up time and you get a notification when it’s ready.”

Kokenge has lived in Tea for 27 years, and her vision for her business always circles back to the community.

“After the pandemic and everything, anything we can do to give back is important,” she said. “Just like the mural says, ‘be the change’ it just takes one person to start that… being positive and radiate love.”

Kokenge hopes that the community will reciprocate.

Zooks Coffee Bar is located at 815 Gateway Lane in Tea. Current hours are 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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