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Small-business landmark in Hagåtña saying adios

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — For John and Maria Taitano, Java Junction has been more than a source of revenue.

It was a source of pride that also provided a creative, and industrious, outlet for their children.

Their son JohnRay — who graduated from culinary school just before the family decided to purchase the coffee shop — ran the kitchen and the coffee shop's overall operations. Marie made the cookies and pastries. And Joey ran the popular Open Mic Night, drawing in new and varied crowds before he went off island.

The Taitanos said the coffee shop, for them, had been "a good business, a comfortable business."

Unfortunately, a series of added costs, beginning with the increased business privilege tax, then the increase in the minimum wage, and the closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by increased restrictions, took their toll.

"At some point, if you're not making money, and that's since March — if we depend on the revenue that comes in to be able to pay the bills, and if you have zero revenue — at some point, you've just got to say, 'We can't do this anymore,'" Maria Taitano said. "Your resources have already been depleted."

 

Maria, Marie and John Taitano, of Java Junction, pose for a photo in front of "Constance," the portrait many local residents have become familiar with as the backdrop to study sessions, meetings, interviews and selfies. The Taitanos, after 11 years, are closing the doors to Java Junction. Photo by Haruo Simion/The Guam Daily Post

Maria Taitano is referring to the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused public health and economic crises around the globe beginning in January. In March, the virus reached Guam's shores. In an effort to keep the virus from spreading, the governor ordered the shutdown of all government agencies and businesses deemed nonessential.

And to the dismay of many college students and young professionals — popular coffee shops, including Java Junction, shut their doors as they had to reconfigure their services to accommodate curbside delivery since indoor service was prohibited.

"We did try the drive-thru. The kids have their contacts (and) you have the regulars who come in...but, like John said, that's only a few," Maria Taitano said.

"It was OK for the morning hours...but after 11 o'clock came around, once everybody was settled in it's like, OK, let's wait awhile," John Taitano said. "They were pretty good with lunch orders because of social media and stuff, but everybody back here was closed so there was no foot traffic. No foot traffic at all. (It was) really devastating to us."

11 years

Nevertheless, the Taitanos are proud of what they've accomplished these last 11 years, and they've grown along with their customers, serving high school students, for example, who eventually became college students and then professionals.

The Taitanos purchased Java Junction in 2009, when it was located at the Agana Shopping Center.

"Our son JohnRay had just graduated from the culinary academy. You know you're coming home and want to do something and we figured, let's start with something small, let's see how it actually works out. ... We just kind of kept it low-key, enjoying it, and the kids were running it, and that's how we got into it."

"It's been really awesome," said John Taitano, adding the kids "took on their mom's personality" making customer service a strength for the small business.

In addition to their Open Mic Nights for young singers and poets, the Taitanos opened their doors to local cultural educators, who hosted CHamoru language and culture classes at the coffee shop. Among the teachers were Mike Bevacua and Ken Kuper, both with doctoral degrees.

"Mind you, these guys got their degrees out of here, too," John Taitano said with pride. "They would come in here to study."

"We couldn't figure out how they were doing it," Maria Taitano said.

"Through the noise and everything," John Taitano said.

"But it's something that helped them," Maria Taitano added. "God bless them because they got what they needed. Right?"

Saying goodbye

The husband and wife team said they had hoped that the coffee shop would be passed down to their grandchildren, which, sadly, won't be happening.

"It's hard letting it go," John Taitano said.

Behind him was "Constance," the portrait of a woman with a cityscape in the background. They brought the canvas with them from the Agana Shopping Center to the current location at the Ada Arcade near Paradise Fitness in Hagåtña.

Around the shop, most of the the chairs and tables were neatly stacked to the side. Utensils and pots that normally would be stirring or bubbling on the stove sat quietly on shelves lining the walls.

"We didn't make millions, but the relationships we made — that's worth millions," Maria Taitano said, adding with a laugh, "When our kids see people outside of the coffee shop they don't call them by their names. 'Hey, that's Double Shot Espresso.' 'That's Java Junction Latte.'"

"And when people see us, they would ask about JohnRay, or Ri - but they would call her 'Cookie,'" John Taitano said, noting her nickname was derived from her sandies and oatmeal cookies that were among the customers' favorites.

"We didn't make the millions but the kids were able to ... complete their education. You know they were able to choose the types of careers that they wanted to pursue and they're tooled for the next level," John said. "As parents we feel grateful for that, but we're sad. We didn't fail, we were just a victim of an unfortunate circumstance. ... One door closes, another will open. And we have God."

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