By Collin Kelley
When Steven Horwitz and Shira Levetan opened Java Jive on Ponce de Leon Avenue 20 years ago it was, literally, a different world. There was no BeltLine or Whole Foods and the hulking Sears & Roebuck building had yet to be transformed into City Hall East (or even considered for something as ambitious as Ponce City Market). Rather than families and cyclists, prostitutes and clubbers mainly walked the street after late nights at Clermont Lounge, Masquerade and MJQ.
“It was quite an adventure,” Levetan recalls. “Twenty years ago it was a very different experience. It was also pre-Olympics, which is when Ponce started to transform.”
Long before Starbucks was on the scene, Java Jive was also on the frontline of the indie coffeehouse scene, but even that has changed over the years. “We’re an accidental restaurant,” Horwitz says. “We’ve become more known for our breakfast than being a coffeehouse.”
Levetan and Horwitz were visiting Pittsburgh in the early 90s and enjoyed visiting the small coffeehouses there. Upon returning to Atlanta, they found nothing comparable and decided to open their own as a place to showcase Levetan’s baking skills.
They searched for a suitable space in Decatur (which was also years away from its renaissance), Morningside and Virginia-Highland before settling on the building – a former laundromat – at 790 Ponce de Leon in 1994.
Since then, Java Jive has earned accolades for Levetan’s deserts and biscuits and has numerous “best breakfast” awards from local newspapers and magazines displayed on the wall. The space is filly with retro diner tables, appliances and other kitsch that the husband-and-wife team loves to collect. The patrons love it, too.
“We have customers who have been coming in since day one,” Horwitz says. “We’ve watched their children grow up, go off to college and come back.”
Unlike other successful restaurants, Horwitz and Levetan have never had any desire to open a second location of Java Jive.
“We are Java Jive,” Horwitz says. “It wouldn’t be the same if Shira and I weren’t there.”