Waterbird Coffee Pours in Heart of Government District

Brian Denman (left) and Jamakee Blackburn, co-owners of Waterbird Coffee.

By Kevin Collison

A new coffee shop has found a nest in the middle of the government district at 12th and McGee, providing a caffeine jolt to help boost public employees–and other customers– through their day.

Waterbird Coffee set up shop in a long vacant corner space at 1200 McGee and has found solid business from public employees at nearby City and County Hall, the massive federal Richard Bolling Federal Building as well.

The new shop was opened by friends Brian Denman and Jamakee Blackburn in November, and its also experiencing robust business from nearby residents as well. Their formula is good coffee in an unpretentious environment.

“We want to be an inclusive coffee shop for the daily drinker,” Blackburn said. “Number one is to have quality coffee and a close second is we didn’t want to alienate people because they didn’t know the process.”

Denman and Blackburn have known one another for 18 years and have played music together as bandmates.

Denman said he’d worked in several coffee shops around town, his last stop being Black Dog coffee in Lenexa.

Then Covid hit.

“I was laid off during Covid and we always had talked about opening a business,” Denman said. “Being laid off allowed me to get a business plan together.”

The 1,700 square-foot space at 12th and McGee had been empty since the Nineties except for occasional events and the landlord was willing to work with the men.

“This worked best and we made a handshake agreement,” Blackburn said.

The toughest part was going through the city permitting process “it’s an antiquated system,” Denman observed.

And while the area has a couple large apartment developments, including The Grand and the Argyle, the vibe of the neighborhood changes from block to block. The Zoo Bar is around the corner on McGee and the From the Earth dispensary is just down the street.

“We did a fair job of knowing what we were getting into because of the location,” Blackburn said.

Besides their menu of coffee drinks, Waterbird serves pastries made by Scratch Bakery and also has a few grab-and-go sandwiches. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed Sunday.

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  1. Love seeing small businesses like this taking a risk in a quieter corner of downtown. I wish them all the luck!

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