For Ashley and Jayson Johns, it started with a quest — to find the perfect go-to coffee shop in Utah.
The couple live in Eagle Mountain, and they were willing to travel to fulfill their dream. According to Jayson, they tried “at least 80% of the coffee shops within about an hour radius of where we’re at.”
The criteria for their quest: A place to get good coffee, and a certain je ne sais quoi — a particular flavor that could become part of their regular coffee routine.
“It’s hard finding something that had good flavor, but you never lost the coffee flavor,” Ashley said. “You either got really sweet or strong — no flavors to play with.”
Since they relocated to Utah County from St. George, they had been looking for something in particular — and searched from Magna to Moab to find it.
“We’re both very big coffee enthusiasts,” Jayson said. “Getting up here, that was one of the first things that we actually [did] was trying to branch out. We couldn’t find a coffee shop that we really enjoyed that was nearby.”
In April 2022, while on another research trip, they started wondering if the way to find the best cup of coffee was to make it themselves.
“We found this trailer for sale online that seemed like it was a pretty good deal,” Jayson said. “It was the exact size, everything we talked about. … So we just kind of flirted with the idea a little bit more back and forth on the drive.”
After another unsuccessful expedition, they decided to buy that trailer — which now bears the name Holy Grounds Gourmet Coffee.
The Johns acknowledge that it was a wild dream. Neither Ashley nor Jayson had any experience as a barista.
“We didn’t even have the espresso machine,” Jayson said.
They found an espresso machine and bought it, and got a three-hour crash course from the people who sold it to them on how to pull a shot and other barista techniques. After that, they watched videos and did research.
Then Ashley got to work. “She had a full menu created in a week after going in on the espresso machine,” Jayson said.
The truck still carries that menu, which has something for everyone in five core categories: “Holy Standards,” “Cold Brew,” “Chai-ing to Get to Heaven,” “Folklore Magic Monster Energy” and “Sweet Magic Lemonades.”
Yes, there is a theme here. “I love fantasy like ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’,” Ashley said. Some of the drinks have such names as “Dragon Fire,” “Unicorn Blood” and “Goblin King.” (Some of the owners’ favorites include “Calypso”, “Boondock Saints” and “Fairy Dust.”) Another theme is paganism, and playing with the religious aspect of the company name.
When devising the truck’s unique flavor options, Ashley said, she usually starts with a single flavor, like a syrup. Jayson pointed out recently that Ashley experimented with Torani syrup’s flavor of the year: salted egg yolk.
“It sounds plain awful,” Jayson said, “But she got it and was like, ‘I want to see what I can do with this because it’s unique.’ That’s kind of our thing: we like finding unique flavor blends.”
After a few test runs, Ashley realized the syrup with the off-putting name had a custard-like flavor. From there, she made some drinks based on desserts, like tiramisu and banana cream pie.
For each drink Ashley creates, the Johns put it through a taste-test protocol before serving it to customers: They test it, set it aside for 30 minutes, and see if the taste holds up. If not, they tweak it.
What makes a good coffee, the Johns say they have discovered, is something with a good balance that can last awhile, but stands strong with flavor.
The next challenge for the Johns: Finding a permanent place to park their truck. It hasn’t been easy, Jayson said. They’ve bounced from one parking lot to another, he said, usually asked to leave by business owners who say the truck is adding competition.
“We’ve proven that in most places that we go, we’re really upheld by our regulars,” Jayson said. When they are forced to move, customers flock to their comments page with suggestions. (Recently, the Johns have made an agreement to park at the Traverse Mountain Outlet Mall in Lehi.)
Part of the challenge is the perception, Jayson said, that Utah is a tough market to sell coffee. Some of that is based on the prohibition against coffee for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Hot drinks … are not for the body or belly,” according to The Word of Wisdom, the set of rules set forth in 1833 for what food and drink are forbidden or allowed under doctrines of the Latter-day Saint faith. In recent years, the rules against coffee have been clarified to include drinks with names that include café, caffé, mocha, latte, espresso or anything ending with -ccino.
Jayson recalled one instance when their truck was parked by a sporting goods store, and a mom walking by shielded her son’s eyes from seeing the truck.
“Utah’s kind of villainized coffee,” Jayson said, with a laugh. “There’s so much more than what we’re offering than just the coffee.”
The Johns’ response has been to offer a wide variety on their menu. Sometimes, they offer samples of their lemonade, to show they have something for everyone.
Eventually, the Johns want to expand Holy Grounds’ territory into Salt Lake County. That may take some time — the company had power troubles with their truck in late February and bought a second truck when customers said they were sad that they missed their favorite coffee place for several days.
“It’s been a game of ours,” Jayson said, “to try and find a long-term place since the very beginning.”