Written by Dave Fidlin | Photography by Jen Schildgen
Creativity, community, and craftsmanship are the bedrock principles for Boxed & Burlap, a 7-year-old coffee shop, roastery, and events business with two locations in Delavan, Wisconsin. Local couple, John and Lindsay Neighbors, were working with a blank canvas when they planted the seeds for Boxed & Burlap, which first opened its doors at the
Piggly Wiggly in Lake Geneva in 2016 and has since transitioned into two historic spaces in Delavan.
“When we first started the business, we really didn’t know or understand what we were getting into,” John explains. Speaking to their original Delavan store, he adds, “We started as a garden center, and we opened a coffee shop. The garden center did well, but seasonally, it was just a hard thing to maintain. But the coffee shop took off really well because there was really nothing over in that area. The public really responded well to it. It turned out to be something that the area really needed.”
From the start, coffee has been a key ingredient for the Neighbors’ brainchild, but the business plan has branched off into a number of new directions— particularly in the banner year of 2023, when the new Downtown Delavan location at 230 East Walworth Avenue opened, alongside the larger flagship store and events space at 2935 State Road 67. “We really love being in the area, and we really can’t imagine being anywhere else,” John says. “It’s been a joy to be here.” After a few soft openings earlier this year, the Neighbors ushered in a new era for their business over Memorial Day weekend when they officially opened their doors at their freshly re-done downtown site.
Like the broader business itself, the Neighbors’ venture into coffee roasting has been an evolutionary one. Initially, the couple worked with Gotham Coffee Roasters out of Brooklyn to supply their product. “We wanted something different from what people were used to in this area, and we really wanted to do it well,” John says of the partnership. In what turned out to be a serendipitously timed decision, the Neighbors transitioned to roasting their own coffee in 2019—a year before the pandemic upended so many facets of everyday life.
“It was kind of a blessing buying the roaster because New York had shut down,” John says. “If we had continued buying our coffee out of Brooklyn, we would have been in a bit of a predicament.” The transition to a self-roasting facility also has provided the Neighbors with new opportunities—and new partnerships—with other establishments.
“As we continued to grow, we started providing coffee for other coffee shops as a white label type deal, and we realized we needed more space,” John says. “That became the motivation for the downtown store.” Doing business in Delavan, John says, has been a joyful experience. “Delavan’s pretty tight,” John says. “And by that, I mean they really care about small businesses. They really care about a local business. Whatever we do, we obviously want to do something that benefits the community. When we do that, the community rallies around us and supports us.”
Running a local business naturally has its share of ups and downs, but John says the community-at large has helped in weathering any of the storms that have arisen. “We’ve had our bumps along the way, but overall, Delavan has always been supportive of our vision,” John says. “It’s one thing to dump a ton of money into a new concept and be scared. In Delavan, they recognize that, and they come out of the woodwork for the company.”
As Boxed & Burlap has grown in recent years, John says he and Lindsay are taking stock of what has transpired as they assemble their blueprint for the road ahead. “At this point, we want to hone in on exactly who we are, and what we want to be for our community,” he
says. “We want to make sure we put systems in place and we’re branding ourselves for our audience and remain current and provide high quality customer service and products so that our brand is trusted.” Whether patrons are stopping in for a simple cup of coffee, ordering food from their new breakfast and lunch menus, participating in an art class, or
holding a special event, John says his and Lindsay’s overarching goal is the same—to leave feeling like they have experienced “a breath of fresh air.”
“Oftentimes, profits are focused; that’s obvious in businesses,” John says. “I want to focus on experience. I would say that when people leave our store, I want them to feel that there was a high quality of customer service and a high quality product. I want them to feel like their dollar was well spent.”