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Friday, October 22, 2021

The proof is in the cup

GoodBean Coffee

The proof is in the cup

Story by Lynn Leissler

Photography by David Gibb


Behind every cup of coffee are good beans and first-rate processing. GoodBean Coffee in Jacksonville and Medford (winner of Southern Oregon Magazine Readers Choice 2021 award, “best place for a cup of coffee”) has achieved the perfect combination of both.

Behind every business is a story. Thirty-plus years ago, Michael Kell had it all—single, successful in business, and living the good life in Southern California. But he was miserable. He wanted something more, though unsure what that something might be. He kept daydreaming, What would it be like if… He had no answers until he completed the sentence. …if I broke orbit. And so he did. He sold his insurance business, considered a move to rural America, and planned to enter the Peace Corps. By then he was with Mary, now his wife, and he persuaded her to “run away with me.” They headed to a mountain in Colorado, and for six months they skied and enjoyed the region’s beauty. But that was still not “it.”

Mary agreed to join him on an odyssey fueled by wanderlust. As they searched for their future, they determined to stay with their known western culture and out of California. That left the Pacific Northwest, where they traveled for over two months. Michael kept thinking about coffee, which was odd, because he didn’t drink it. He wanted to work with his hands, and contemplated what it was that gave him pleasure.

In Yahacts, he discovered the connection. At UCLA he had spent many hours in a campus coffee shop drinking hot chocolate, and he wanted to recreate what he’d liked so much—the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the people watching. An innkeeper in that central coastal town discerned his struggles and recommended they go to Ashland, which they did. Mary worked at her trade as an esthetician, and Michael self-apprenticed at a nearby coffee shop, complete with graphs and flow charts he created.

Through amazing and providential circumstances, a friend set him up in the building that still houses GoodBean Coffee today, which along with the Oddfellows Hall, is one of the original buildings from 1852. At first, it was just Michael and Mary. He started his day in the shop at 5:30 a.m., opening at 6:00. After Mary got the kids off to school, she relieved him on the counter so he could concentrate on the business end of things. When Mary left in early afternoon, he resumed the counter. After closing, Michael roasted beans, sometimes until almost midnight. Early on, the tourist trolley driver would point out GoodBean, and Mary walked outside to wave. People came in.

“The original, local coffeehouse was built on the back of Mary's personality. We were newcomers in a small town, but not for long with Mary Susan behind the register,” says Michael. 

Fast forward, and the two locations see hundreds of people daily. They now distribute to grocery stores regionally and up the state, and have been the exclusive pour at Oregon Shakespeare Festival for 25 years. In Jacksonville, where I met with Michael, baristas greet customers by name, friends meet up, tourists stop by, families gather—all wanting a drink (there’s more than coffee), a bagel or baked good, breakfast, brunch, or lunch. People visit, catch up, work on their phones or laptops. The room is full of happy chatter.   

Michael likes to say their goal is consistent consistency (it’s a thing, he reassures) in the quality of their coffee, in their business practices, in their hires. He’s pleased when people stop him to say regarding the coffee, “You are the best.” GoodBean processes its coffee with a fluidized bed roasting system, the beans levitated on a bed of hot air. This gets rid of the bitters (from the skins) and allows a consistent roast profile.

Looking back over the 30 years since they first opened the doors, Michael has no regrets about the long hours to get GoodBean on solid footing, the years before they could hire employees. When they started, Jacksonville was far from the busy town it is today, but the couple stuck with it and their diligence paid off. However, Michael Kell doesn’t linger too long in looking back. He is focused on today and contemplating what the future might hold. You can feel his energy and see in his eyes the enthusiasm and love of what he does.   

And he now drinks coffee.


GoodBean Coffee

165 S OR St, Jacksonville



GoodBean Cafe

3240 Hillcrest Park Dr, Medford



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