By Meagan Nichols
Patrons of a popular breakfast spot located in the land of the Tiger blue and gray could soon be seeing double.
The restaurant, which is run on the principles of food, family, community and church, is owned and operated by Jonathan Koplin, his wife Pauline, daughter Sarah and son Patrick.
The nationally recognized Memphis breakfast joint wants to take the current restaurant structure “another step” with the new site, Jonathan said.
“It would be a restaurant, bakery, coffee roasting—might do some training out there again,” he said.
The “training” is a reference to a nonprofit program Brother Juniper’s started in 2000 called Juniper Bakery, which taught at-risk youth how to make artisan breads. Jonathan said the program lasted three or four years, before they passed it along to another organization.
Community service is and always has been at the forefront of the Brother Juniper’s business model.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jonathan said the members of the religious group decided to join the Eastern Orthodox Church and thus began to disperse throughout the country, which was when the Brother Juniper’s restaurants started to close.
“We weren’t able to support them (Brother Juniper’s) the way we were in the early days of our ministry,” Jonathan said.
Of the seven Brother Juniper’s restaurants that were at one point scattered throughout the country from Portland, Ore., to Boston, Memphis is the lone survivor.
The Bluff City location opened in 1988 and was purchased by one of the ministry members in 1991. It was sold to the Koplin family in January of 1999 when the owner decided to move to Kodiak, Alaska, to conduct missionary work.
“That’s when Pauline and I began to take it over and make it what it is today,” Jonathan said. “It was always built on these four foundations: food, family, community and church life. I managed a Brother Juniper’s in San Francisco in the late 80s and early 90s, so I was familiar with the Brother Juniper’s.”
These principles of family, spirituality and producing a quality product continue to steer the restaurant, evidenced by the ingredients, family business atmosphere and ongoing charitable works.
One of those works is a monthly community spotlight the restaurant conducts, which allows nonprofits a place to raise awareness for their organization and earn money for its cause.
“Every business has to somehow give back to the community that supports it,” Jonathan said. “It’s just a natural process, and for us our main goal at Brother Juniper’s is just creating a prayerful environment for people to eat their food in. The kind of business that we run is a disappearing model in America today—small family business is just being run out.”
Sarah Koplin, who graduated from the University of Memphis two years ago with a degree in marketing, comprises part of that fleeting family business model. Sarah, who started helping in the restaurant at the age of 12, has worked alongside her parents for the past 14 years. She now manages the books and accounting for Brother Juniper’s.
“I like meeting new people,” she said. “It is always fun to talk to different people. It is very family run and all of us are usually here. I feel like it is very homey. It’s different, it’s not corporate at all.”
The accolades Brother Juniper’s has accumulated over the years are too long to list, but two highlights include a visit from TV personality Rachel Ray, as part of the “Rachael Ray’s $40 a Day” segment on the Food Network and being voted Best Breakfast in Memphis by the Memphis Magazine restaurant poll in 2013. The consensus seems to be that the food is worth a visit.
Jonathan said when it comes to serving food, it is self-explanatory and consists of doing the simple things like removing MSG, corn syrup and trans fats.
“It’s not just about serving the highest quality food; it is also about being conscious about what you serve, like our homemade spreadable fruits that have no sugar in them,” he said. “Our hot sauces have no preservatives; our coffee is roasted twice a week for us fresh.”
David Walker, a Memphis attorney and alumnus of the U of M, is one of the Brother Juniper’s faithful customers. He and a friend have frequented once a week for the past four or five years.
Walker said he always orders the No.2 on the menu, which includes two eggs, bacon, grits and a biscuit.
“It (Brother Juniper’s) is consistent,” he said. “I would give it my highest rating.”
Jonathan said the restaurant never stops looking at ways to get better and said being called the best is never an excuse to stall growth. The plans for expansion are illustrated by this philosophy.
“We are always looking for better quality food, better products,” he said. “I think that’s where a lot of places, they get to a certain point and they think it can run on autopilot. You can never run on autopilot and you can never say you’re there. There is a certain excellence in doing a job well done and doing it every day and always looking for ways to improve.”