Kent and Trish Romine stand inside the Mojo Monkey Cafe, their recently opened business on Grand Avenue in downtown Houston.

While they might not see monkeys swinging from the rafters, patrons of a new restaurant in downtown Houston can drink some Monkey Milk if they want to.

At the Mojo Monkey Café, at the corner of Grand Avenue and Walnut Street, Roby residents Ken and Trish Romine serve a variety of specialty coffee creations, several styles of sandwiches and a selection of homemade baked goods. Sandwich fare includes pulled pork, brisket and homemade meatballs. Choices like chicken wraps are available for the health-conscious. And as Ken likes to point out, prices are comparatively low, and portions are not skimpy.

“As long as we can serve a great product at a great price and still pay the bills, that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I like to say that I would rather sell you 10 for a dollar than one for 10 dollars.”

The two members of the Romine couple come from different sides of the continent –– and even different countries. Born in Houston, Texas, Ken spent many years in the Bakersfield area of California’s San Joaquin Valley. Meanwhile, Trish was living in eastern Canada, in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Wanting to “escape the rat race” and leave some hard days behind, Ken came to Texas County about three years ago. His connection here was some good friends in the Summersville area.

Ken said a Mojo Monkey-like project has always been on his radar, so to speak, but life circumstances prevented it from manifesting.

“I’ve been through some rough situations,” he said, “but I really have a good support group now. I’ve always had this in me, I just never had the support or was in the right situation to make it work.”

The space occupied by Mojo Monkey has seen many businesses come and go in the past. But it bears little resemblance to its previous looks, as Ken –– a former construction worker –– has single-handedly given it a complete makeover.

Thanks to his efforts, customers are treated to an atmosphere featuring a new, darker paint scheme (even a black ceiling), extensive woodwork and wall-to-wall carpet. Most of the booths are equipped with an electrical outlet, and there’s free wi-fi throughout the store.

“We’d like everyone to feel like they can hang out here and be comfortable,” Ken said.

The Romines plan to make Mojo Monkey a community-oriented gathering place. There’s a small stage in one corner that could eventually feature open mic nights, talent contests and even amateur comedians.

“We’d like to even let people use the shop to do fundraisers,” Trish said. “And I think we’re going to try to connect with the schools. We’re certainly open to suggestion from anyone who has ideas.”

“We’re definitely going to be geared toward charity events and things like that,” Ken said. “I’m not looking to get rich, I’m here to enrich the community. And I feel like I can make a bigger difference in a small community than a large community.”

Ken, who is also an artist into pottery and painting, said he would like to someday bottle a couple of his signature chilled creations, “Monkey Milk” and “Mocha Milk.”

“I have a really good recipe that’s so cost effective it’s insane,” Ken said. “We’re also planning on franchising and opening up small, drive-up huts. We’re not stopping here –– this is just the first step.

“I’m a big dreamer, but you don’t know if you can accomplish something unless you try.”

The Mojo Monkey Café is open 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The phone number is 417-967-7160.

“Thank the Lord, everything is going great for us and we’re doing very well so far,” Ken said. “We appreciate that, and we hope we can keep this going in the right direction.”

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