By Amanda N. Wegner | Photo by Liz Hoffman
Since opening the first location of their popular coffee shop Boxed and Burlap in a restored farmhouse north of Williams Bay in 2016, husband-and-wife team John and Lindsay Neighbors have gone on to add a second location inside the Lake Geneva Piggly Wiggly, incorporated a full event venue into their original location, and this fall they are opening a new Boxed and Burlap coffee shop and art studio/gallery in Delavan’s historic downtown. The busy couple says that they are inspired by the past and driven by a desire to stay true to their faith while encouraging others.
“Boxed and Burlap is a feeling, fed to the soul with coffee, creative spaces and community,” says Lindsay. “We aspire for our business to be a place that feeds the human soul with peace, comfort, hope and inspiration. We’re all about people. Coffee is a connected piece.” A dynamic duo, the Neighbors are committed to creating, ideating and exploring new possibilities.
A FAMILY ENDEAVOR
Family is a critical aspect of the Neighbors’ story. Lindsay is originally from the Geneva Lake area and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduating with a degree in art education. Her first jobs as an art teacher brought her back home, working one year each in the Burlington and Delavan- Darien school districts before taking a job at Lake Geneva’s Badger High School, where she was an art teacher for 11 years. John was born in Gary, Indiana, and raised in Texas. Eventually, he got a job in Chicago and moved to Elkhorn, where he met Lindsay. “Unbeknownst to me, my brother was friends with John,” says Lindsay. “My brother is not the type to make introductions, but he decided I needed to meet John.”
“I got the best of both worlds: a wife and a best friend, all in one family,” John adds.
After the birth of their second daughter, they started looking for a way to eliminate John’s Chicago commute and came up with the idea of starting a business of their own. “We talked about me changing careers and doing something we could build a family business around,” says John. “My thinking was that I was still young enough, and if I don’t do it now, it will be harder. And here we are.”
PUTTING THE PUZZLE PIECES TOGETHER
John and Lindsay opened the first Boxed and Burlap in 2016 in a lovingly restored farmhouse and barn at the intersection of highways 50 and 67. Their original vision for the space was to open a garden center and nursery. Lindsay says the idea to add a coffee shop came from a friend. “When they suggested it, it felt like a natural pairing with the nursery,” she says. “Plants and coffee, and the enjoyment of those spaces together at the same time made sense.”
In a history of the property posted on the Boxed and Burlap website, John and Lindsay explain that the evolution of the first location didn’t come easily. They initially opened on Mother’s Day 2016, then closed again in June 2016 to finish projects around the property. But three months later, their grand opening was a rousing success. “Like a work of art, Boxed and Burlap was a blank space with our team of two [working] as inspired students,” they explain. “Boxed and Burlap’s story was not planned; in fact, there were moments in the beginning when we had to stop and put all of the puzzle pieces together.”
John and Lindsay operated a nursery on the site for three years before phasing it out in order to develop the property into an event venue, which is now a popular spot for weddings. They converted the barn behind the coffeehouse into a full- amenity indoor venue, adding retractable glass doors, skylights, bar stations, dance floor space and a catering kitchen. A smaller structure on the property, known as the Batten House, provides additional prep areas for bridal parties. “Over the last three years, the event space has trended 100% toward weddings,” says John.
Then in 2018, John and Lindsay opened their second location inside Lake Geneva’s Piggly Wiggly. From the beginning, the couple sought to offer a bespoke coffee experience in their coffee shop. In searching for the perfect espresso machine, they connected with Christopher Calkins, a coffee roaster in Brooklyn, New York. Calkins, who apprenticed with Alfred Peet of national chain Peet’s Coffee and also worked with the co- founders of Starbucks, shared his expertise with John and Lindsay, and in 2020, Boxed and Burlap began roasting its own coffee at the Lake Geneva location.
“We wanted more of a customized, artisan experience, and what Chris offered was attractive to us,” says John. “That piece ties to our desire to offer a high-quality, welcoming experience that you can’t get anywhere else.”
A NEW LOCATION AND A FOCUS ON ART
The newest Boxed and Burlap location inside the former Schultz Brothers five-and-dime store at 230 E. Walworth Ave. in Delavan brings an added dimension to John and Lindsay’s vision: art. The new space, which contains more than 18,000 square feet, includes a coffee shop, art studio, gallery and classroom space, drawing on Lindsay’s background as an artist and art teacher.
“With the new space, we’ve brought visual creativity into the mission,” says Lindsay. The main level of the new location features an art studio space that will host classes in pottery, drawing and painting, led by local artists and teachers. John and Lindsay say that the front half of the art studio space, which sits toward the front of the building, can easily host drawing and painting classes, a gallery open house or an art show. The back half of the space will be dedicated to pottery. The art studio space and coffee shop are separated by glass walls so that café patrons can enjoy the creative process unfolding around them. “It’s a way to share the experience,” says Lindsay. “If a class is happening, customers can observe what’s happening, even if they are not in the class.”
The new location also features a few small, private, soundproofed rooms where people can hold meetings or even record podcasts. There will also be space for Lindsay to maintain an art studio for her own art, including watercolor, oil painting and photography, something she has missed since leaving her teaching job two years ago to focus on Boxed and Burlap.
In addition to the coffee shop and art studio and class space, Boxed and Burlap’s roasting operation will move to the new facility as well. The café will offer food for the first time, including light breakfast and lunch options, such as breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast, soups and salads, flatbread pizza and charcuterie plates. And for those looking for something less caffeinated, the new location also features a speakeasy space, which will offer a full bar, though John says it will be more “cocktail- and bourbon-forward, with a large number of allocated bourbons.”
The new location can also double as an event venue, accommodating small events of up to 40 people. Whether you’re looking to plug in to do some work, chat with a friend or curl up with a book from the space’s new library of donated books, there’s a bevy of seating options, including outdoor patio space. “We have just about every kind of seating — countertop, table, island, lounge seating,” Lindsay says. “There is a little bit of everything, and you’re almost guaranteed to find a space.”
With the new Delavan location opening, Boxed and Burlap will close their space in the Lake Geneva Piggly Wiggly. At the time of publication, the Neighborses are hoping for a soft opening of the downtown Delavan location around Sept. 17 to coincide with the six-year anniversary of the business.
QUALITY CRAFTSMANSHIP AND GENUINE CONNECTION
In everything they do, John and Lindsay enthusiastically support the movement to bring back the art of “slow food” and quality American craftsmanship. When restoring the former Schultz Brothers space, John says they opted for a mid-century-inspired aesthetic that incorporates artisan woodwork and metalwork, and unique, hand-crafted design touches. This level of artisan detail extends to their food and drink options, and their approach to service in general. “We have nothing against drive-thrus, but we have built our business around quality and service that we do not want compromised for speed,” says John. “That doesn’t mean our staff is slower, but what we want is for people, in a world that has become so stressed or anxious, to feel comfort and be in a space where the quality and service stresses the human connection.”
Lindsay concurs. “We want to offer a full human experience,” she says. “We want people to come in and order coffee, and experience having it handed to you with a smiling face and the warmth of human connection. We’ve worked to create an environment you want to come into.”
In addition to creating a welcoming environment for customers, the hard-working couple is also committed to giving back to the community through their charitable giving, donating a portion of the sales of select retail items to art therapy and mental health services in Wisconsin. This includes continued support of the Agape House of Wisconsin, which provides services to abused or distressed teenage boys and girls.
“We feel very blessed,” says John. “The support of our business, our mission, has been overwhelming. We are so grateful for the loyalty of our customers and followers. Their love, patience and excitement help us keep focused, and moving forward.”