Words by Christiana Roussel
As any musician will tell you, timing is everything. For Javier Solis and his family, timing has been everything with their Nashville coffee shop, Tempo. Located in the edgy south side of Nashville, Tempo is more than a family-owned-and-operated coffee shop. It is the center of a community—like the rhythm of a sold back beat—and one that has percolated up with just the right timing.
Family patriarch Javier, and his wife Yvonne, both grew up in San Antonio musical families who were dedicated to their churches and an evangelical life. The baby in a family of five, Javier’s early years were filled with tumult, with a father lost to alcohol addiction. Once he got sober, Javier’s father gave his life over to God and eventually felt called to become a pastor. Javier notes, “He changed all of our lives when he quit drinking. He opened a church and you know, it is fitting that all pastors’ kids play an instrument—our family was no different.”
Javier’s instrument of choice was the drums, and he took it so seriously that when he was only 13, he told his family, “With my hands and my talent, I am going to take care of my family.” They thought he meant he would go into the construction business, a common side hustle for members of his community, but he intended music to be his calling. Playing local gigs in and around San Antonio was great for a long while. He played his pick of bands while also being a backup in Coca-Cola advertisements or other commercial work.
Javier was introduced to Yvonne, as her family was also deeply involved in the evangelical singing community. Both were very young still, so it took several years of being just friends before the relationship evolved romantically. They married in 1992, both still plugging away at their dreams.
Outgrowing the musical scene in San Antonio, he leapt at the opportunity to go on tour with Latina ingenue Jaci Velasquez. “That was an amazing time in our lives. Being on tour and opening for artists like J. Lo and Marc Anthony. I felt so incredibly blessed.”
With two young children, Zylah and Uriah, the family packed up and moved to Nashville, where musical opportunities would be more robust. Javier is quick to add, “There is no way that I could have done all of that without Yvonne’s support. We moved here and she did not know anyone. The kids were just four and two. But there were a lot of perks to being on tours like that, and places where we played. The family came along sometimes, and we went to Disney World and stayed at real high-end hotels. It was not a normal life, but it was amazing.”
Once in Nashville, Javier quickly noted that there were many drummers there, and that he would need to round out his skillset to get more work, so he became known as a percussionist. Going beyond the simple drum kit and cymbals, he mastered bongos, congas, shakers, chimes, timbales, steel drums, and more. To better grasp the distinction between drummer and percussionist, Javier says, “Think Earth, Wind & Fire, and you’ll get it.”
An opportunity to be a part of Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston presented itself, and the family moved to Houston for several years but kept their home in Nashville, seeming to know they would be back when the timing was right. “We were there [in Houston] until 2018. I would still travel back to Nashville for session work during the week. But in that time, I started to look around, and I was thinking, “I am in my 40s. How much longer do I want to do it this way?” As Zylah was completing her BBA in Music Business at Belmont University, and Uriah was earning his BBA in Finance there, Javier says, “I had this idea for a coffee shop and started to discuss it with Zylah. She was like ‘Yes! We could have a small venue there too, for music.’ Uriah said, ‘We need some really special coffee—the stuff from Greenway in Houston.’ We started running the numbers to see how it could work.” Javier clearly takes delight in seeing the perfect timing of this plan—that he could employ his musical background in a new, stable venture, while engaging his now-adult children in the launch of this business. Both Zylah and Uriah would bring important skill sets to the operation of Tempo. There was just one other person they had to convince of their new idea.
“We took the idea to the queen, Yvonne, for approval. My wife said, ‘Well, what food will you serve?’ I wasn’t thinking about having a restaurant, but she said, ‘You gotta feed the people, like at least breakfast tacos.’ As a family, we agreed we would do this and set about making business plans, using the schooling the kids had already acquired.”
Tempo opened its doors on Nolensville Pike in September of 2018, and the response was immediate, positive, and welcoming. Yvonne oversees the kitchen, turning out fresh tortillas and a classic Texas scramble. On weekends, Tempo sells donuts from Conny & Jonny, in addition to their Tex-Mex classics. The majority of their ingredients come from Texas—Greenway coffee, the Mexican chocolate for coffee, chorizo, dough for tortillas—but the vibe here is decidedly of this musical family. Javier smiles and adds, “The palate tweaks the melon, you know?”
Church pews from the set of the television series, “Nashville” line both sides of Tempo. Cymbals have been repurposed into light fixtures. An antique upright piano is a major talking point at Tempo. Damaged by movers when they brought it into the space, Yvonne had the idea to recreate it as a water fountain. Now you’ll find a spigot coming from between the keys, where customers can refill their glasses with fresh filtered water. At the far end of Tempo is a stage where singer-songwriter nights are held and, given that this is Music City and with Javier’s rich musical heritage, you never know who will show up. One thing that is guaranteed is a sense of community. And this one has shown up hard for the Solis family. There are the neighbors who come by daily for a cortado or horchata. There are the friends and classmates of Zylah and Uriah. There are the session musicians and songwriters. And there are plenty of Tex-Mex expats seeking a taste of home that Yvonne lovingly doles out.
Javier notes that before the pandemic hit, they were experiencing the kind of success they had not expected to hit for another three years. He credits the strengths of each member of his family for that success. Yvonne runs the kitchen, Zylah oversees staffing, social media, and the website, while Uriah is in charge of the finances. Javier likens his role to that of the proverbial cloud, which encompasses every aspect.“It is funny, we unknowingly did a few things right because this was our first business. One of the things we did right was not to try to do everything we wanted to do at once.” Other owners might have tried to be a coffee shop, caterer, full-service venue, restaurant, and bar. But the Solis family chose their own beat, to master one thing at a time and perfect that rhythm before adding anything else. They have plans, post-pandemic, to add additional outdoor seating and perhaps dinner service. They may add liquor to the nighttime menu as well. “We keep things tight, lean, and mean. We are not afraid to take chances, but we want to do that in a clever and savvy way, utilizing our own resources.”
And of course, timing is everything.