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Though coffee shop owner Josh Cooke says he loved almost everything about growing up in Bluffton -- from the flip-flop weather to heading shrimp with his father -- he was acutely aware that he was not, for a variety of reasons, the most popular kid in his class.
"What I lacked in social prowess I made up for in a strong work ethic," Cooke said.
The 29-year-old's early years were spent in Ridgeland until his parents bought a home on Confederate Avenue in Bluffton.
His first job, at age 14, was at Resort Appliance in Burnt Church Park, the same property where his coffee shop, The Corner Perk, is located today. Cooke can look out the window of his shop and see the exact spot where he spent a couple of summers selling his grandfather's watermelons.
With absolutely no places to hang out as a teen, Cooke began going with friends to church in Savannah. He felt the call to youth ministry at that time, explaining that "God had really got ahold of me and transformed me from the shy, dorky kid I believed myself to be, to a more confident, more outgoing person."
As he pursued a degree in youth ministry in Charleston, Cooke met his wife, Kali, a music therapist. The couple moved to Atlanta so Kali could work in her field, and Cooke became a Marietta Starbucks barista, which allowed him to meet all sorts of people.
He learned that, in addition to handing over macchiatos, he could "effect spiritual life-change" in the lives of the people he worked with. Then, as now, he was able to talk to hundreds of people in a given week.
"I am almost always talking to someone or listening to them," he said, adding that some customers have called him their "coffee therapist."
During three strenuous years in seminary at Mercer University to earn a master of divinity degree, Cooke got a prestigious transfer to the Starbucks kiosk in the CNN building and was positioned to open a new store there.
At the time, he and his wife were
coming back to Bluffton often because his mother developed leukemia, which took her life during his last year of seminary.
Cooke felt desperate to move home to be with his family after her death.
After his graduation, the couple moved to Bluffton, and while he looked for a job at a church, Cooke was sure Starbucks would hire him, "since I was such an important barista in Atlanta." But the economic crash affected the coffee chain, and Cooke couldn't even find an entry-level position there.
On a trip to visit friends in Atlanta, Cooke spotted a cute coffee shop in the "underbelly" of Atlanta, and was inspired to fulfill a dream: having a cafè of his own.
The couple came up with the name "The Corner Perk" on their drive home: "Perk" after an Atlanta coffee shop they loved, plus an homage to the "Corner" that's figured so prominently in Cooke's life.
"I hope the town one day decides to honor me and call (Bruin Road) Brewin' Road," Cooke joked.
The Corner Perk opened April 1, 2009, a day after the mid-island Starbucks on Hilton Head Island offered Cooke a position.
"It gave me no greater joy than to say 'thanks, but no thanks. I have ... my own coffee shop,'" he said.
Cooke's upbringing in Bluffton and his youth ministry work have inspired him to host a teen night at The Corner Perk with live music most Saturdays, so kids can have fun in a supervised environment.
And Cooke will realize another dream in the coming year when he and Kali start "a very informal, multidenominational worship service" at the cafè.
Though "it's not all sunshine and
roses," Cooke said, he's acutely aware that he is living "the life people dream of," having found a way to make a
living doing what he loves in a place he loves.
"I plan on being around Bluffton for the rest of my life," he said. "My heart and soul are here."