Capital Joe plans multi-store coffee franchise, including shop opening soon in Mechanicsburg

Capital Joe owners Rick Hawtrey, left, and Kasey Sees sit in front of their shop on Forster Street in Harrisburg. The pair hopes to open nine more locations by the end of 2018. - (Photo / Submitted)

The owners of Harrisburg coffee hangout Capital Joe hope to go from one location to 10 by the end of next year.

The first step in that process will be the June 15 opening of a new shop at 36 W. Main St. in Mechanicsburg during the borough’s Jubilee Day. 

The owners’ ambitions, though, extend well beyond Mechanicsburg. They have their sights on yet-to-be-determined locations in York and Carlisle, followed possibly by others in areas like uptown Harrisburg, Harrisburg’s east side and maybe near the Carlisle Pike, if the right opportunities arise.

The 130-year-old building set to dole out Capital Joe‘s drinks in Mechanicsburg started life as a bank before becoming a police station and municipal building. The space will house two community rooms in addition to the coffee shop, including a 400-square-foot room with high ceilings and hardwood floors for small gatherings and a 1,200-square-foot area for larger meetings, open-mic comedy nights or live music. 

The design will play off the building’s history, eschewing the popular retro-industrial look for one the owners feel is warmer and more welcoming. Rick Hawtrey and Kasey Sees, the techies-turned-coffee-aficionados behind the shop, will also have offices there for their IT training and consulting firm, ITSM Specialties.

After the Mechanicsburg location is off the ground, they hope to pursue their goal of opening 10 shops by the close of 2018. They eventually hope to franchise.

“We’re excited and we’re having fun,” Hawtrey said. “Somewhere in the last several months, I caught a bug.”

The 10-store goal represents an about-face for Hawtrey and Sees, who in 2015 bought the building that would become Capital Joe’s first location solely as offices for ITSM.

The more than century-old building on Forster Street seemed like an ideal spot from which the firm could serve its state government clients. But then the budget impasse hit, putting a good portion of ITSM’s business on hold.

Hawtrey and Sees opened Capital Joe in August 2016 with hopes that it would keep them afloat long enough to avoid losing the space they had just bought.

The Harrisburg shop now employs six people and offers an array of brewed drinks using beans from Lancaster’s Square One Coffee and pastries from New Cumberland’s Brew Crumberland’s Best, both of which will continue supplying food and drink for the Mechanicsburg location. Hawtrey said the plain-drip coffees and cold brews are especially popular among customers, while Hawtrey himself enjoys the shop’s caramel lattes.

The original Capital Joe location sparked in Hawtrey a passion for the coffee business that he had never expected.

A self-described “PowerPoint ninja,” Hawtrey knew little about coffee before opening Capital Joe other than the fact that he liked it – the caffeine, the taste, even the feeling of a warm cup in his hands. Still, the pairing between his IT work and the world of roasting and brewing ended up coming more naturally than one might expect.


“If you know anybody that works in IT, the thing that runs through their veins to keep them going is coffee,” he said. 

Hawtrey and Sees translated their IT experience into a business model for Capital Joe. They focus on customer service – their tagline is Good Drinks to Make People Happy – as well as communicating with their staff to make sure they understand the vision.

Hawtrey still runs ITSM, which has eight employees and plans to hire 15 to 20 more because of pending contracts. Profits from the business are helping to fund the Capital Joe expansions, as are a few short-term investors.

Hawtrey can’t see himself ever leaving IT to pursue the coffee business full-time, even as he and Sees plan their big expansion. They focus on hiring the right teams to run the shops while they’re not there.

But the coffee business is still a beloved hobby. He can’t see himself giving that up either.

“When I need to relieve stress, I hop behind the counter and make some drinks,” Hawtrey said.

Jennifer Wentz
Jennifer Wentz covers Lancaster County, York County, financial services, taxation and legal services. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at jwentz@cpbj.com.

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