AJ Jemison Coffee grew up in Tulsa. Her neighbors and friends were the Wilsons, three brothers who would later form The GAP Band.
The Wilsons headed to stardom in Los Angeles and kept in touch while Coffee attended college, got married, had children and then went to work for Williams Realty Corp. in Oklahoma.
“That’s what really got me into doing what I do today,” Coffee said.
What she does today is manage retail properties. Over the years she has worked for some of the biggest names in the retail real estate sector — Taubman Co. and Simon Property Group, for example.
Though skillfully managing people is her forte, she really got her hands dirty on the construction end working for the developer.
“It was all guys and me. They all hated doing the retail part, so I offered to be the retail construction coordinator,” Coffee said. “I learned what it was to envision and create an atmosphere that makes a shopper want to buy.”
Coffee has racked up some premium assignments — from Peachtree Center in Atlanta to Beverly Center in Los Angeles with other stops in Albuquerque, Denver and Memphis. Earlier this year, Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group recruited her to manage its new retail development at The Domain mixed-use project — Domain Northside and Rock Rose.
Coffee is overseeing a large collection of carefully curated stores — from locally acclaimed brands such as Raven & Lily to big-name retailers such as Restoration Hardware and Sur la Table.
Her tenacious spirit, she said, can be traced back in part to watching a spelling bee in third grade.
“I saw it and I thought, ‘Wow, I want to do that,’” Coffee said. “So I got a dictionary and I studied and studied. In fourth and fifth grade I was the runner up and in sixth grade I won.”
Winning suited her to a T and convinced her she could succeed at anything with sufficient desire and hard work.
Another pivotal moment for Coffee occurred mid-career.
“I wanted to manage 1 million square feet by the time I was 40,” Coffee said. “I hit 1.5 million square feet when I was 38. (That’s when) Taubman called me to manage Fairlane Town Center in Detroit.”
Nearly 20 years later, she’s just as excited as during those milestone moments. A new assignment. A new company. A new city.
“I just love this thing about Austin weird,” Coffee said. “All my friends are so happy about me coming here.”
You love motorcycles. What kind do you ride? A Honda Stateline 1300 and a Honda Shadow 750.
Your favorite stretch of highway? Route 66.
What song are you listening to these days?“Lake By the Ocean” by Maxwell.
Favorite website? domainnorthside.com
Would you rather shop alone or with someone? With my oldest daughter who has amazing style and taste. She is a fashionista and truly brand conscious.
What was the last item you purchased? A Fossil wrist watch for an anniversary gift.
When did you first visit Austin? For a conference at the Westin Domain while working for Simon Property Group in 2010.
What do you drive? A Hyundai Sonata.
What’s the best way to spend $100? A massage.
What city have you always wanted to visit but haven’t yet? Honolulu.
What personality trait are you most proud of? I am compassionate.
What would be the title of your autobiography?”Just Aj!: Simply Stated.” I already self-published it in 2004.
What’s at the bottom of your purse? Lip gloss. I hate dry lips and since I talk a lot they have a tendency to become dry.
What’s carried you through the toughest storm? The Bible verse, “I can do all things through Jesus Christ, who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
The best meal you ever ate? Maryland crabs. I love seafood.
What color could you never live without? Purple.
If you could go back to college to study something, what would it be? A foreign language. Probably Japanese since my youngest daughter loves it and we could communicate and travel to Japan together.
What’s your best advice for someone who wants a retail career? Do what you love irrelevant of pay, because if you make it into a career, the pay will be the icing on the cake and you will never look at a clock.