Alex Merrell opened Hammerhand Coffee last fall in historic Liberty. “We’re hoping a gathering of businesses will attract more like-businesses, that they’ll see the potential here like we do,” he says. Joe Ledford | jledford@kcstar.com

How Liberty’s Hammerhand is modernizing the coffee game

Hammerhand resides in an old title company building, with high ceilings and a brightly lit space. Customers Brett Jackson (left) and Elaine Barella, both of Liberty, sit at custom-made tables and bar tops. Joe Ledford | jledford@kcstar.com
Although Merrell studied graphic arts in college, he hired out the branding of his coffee shop to Ocean & Sea’s Brendan O’Shaughnessy, of LA-KC-NY T-shirt fame. Joe Ledford | jledford@kcstar.com
Hammerhand’s temporary address is 22 N. Main. Its intended permanent location was to be in the former Ethan Allen building, whose roof collapsed and is undergoing litigation and renovation. “You think you know what to expect and you don’t, like your building falling down,” Merrell says. He estimates it’ll be at least a year before Hammerhand moves. Joe Ledford | jledford@kcstar.com
Hammerhand’s name comes from characters in fiction and folklore: a king in “Lord of the Rings” and the tale of John Henry. Joe Ledford | jledford@kcstar.com
Scratch Bakery in the Crossroads delivers yummies, like those raspberry whoopee pies, daily. Hammerhand also serves light lunch menu options, as well as craft sodas, beer and wine. Joe Ledford | jledford@kcstar.com
Hammerhand owner Alex Merrell says a wide demographic of customers stop in. “I’ve never had that experience at a shop, of having everybody, which I’m pleased with,” he says. Stephanie Thomson (left) and Samantha Campbell, both of Liberty, shared a cup together recently. Joe Ledford | jledford@kcstar.com

You can get a cup of coffee anywhere, anytime, but the coffee shop experience is what attracted Alex Merrell, owner of Hammerhand Coffee in downtown Liberty, to get in the business.

The graphic arts graduate dreamed of having his own place after stints in coffee shops from Westport to Philly.

“I’m not sure what my professors would think if they knew I was only using my degree for Instagram,” Merrell says.

He and two silent partners chose Liberty because “we wanted to commit our investment to a specific area and to see its success,” Merrell says. The historic Liberty Square may not sound like the hipster hot spot for hobnobbing, but it gets a fair share of traffic, especially from nearby William Jewell College.

A cafe and brewery, plus construction of new sidewalks and parking spots, are reviving the small district.

For his part, Merrell brings a bright and happy design element to the block, occupying the corner building at 22 N. Main. It features tall ceilings, stained glass transoms and a shotgun-style layout. Hammerhand’s signature color, turquoise, pops throughout the shop.

“It’s simple, timeless design,” he says.

Some of the hardware, however, may be off-putting to die-hard coffee fans.

“What we offer isn’t quite the same. We are taking a different stance than other shops by embracing modern technology,” Merrell says.

For instance, Hammerhand brews through an automatic pour-over machine, sleek and white, like it was made by Apple, as well as a “big, ugly, drip-coffee machine.”

Merrell previously worked at Quay Coffee where everything was made by hand. “That’s great, but when you get busy, that can become a liability,” he says.

The coffee he puts into the machines — from Counter Culture and Oddly Correct, as well as a guest slot on rotation (currently, it’s Post Coffee Co., from Lee’s Summit) — ultimately create a quality cup of joe.

Merrell — and his customers — are pleased with Hammerhand’s choices and success. “We may lose street cred in the coffee industry for using technology, but we say don’t judge it before you taste it.”