Lakeland coffee shop owner goes from ‘rags to riches’ with Uniltered

Kailynn Bannon | The Southern Newspaper Folder’s granddaughter, Faith Towles, behind the bar at Unfiltered. | Photo by Kailynn Bannon

Kailynn Bannon
The Southern Editor

From growing up homeless to adopting her siblings at age 16, local business owner Geanie Folder has known for a long time that her purpose in life was to make a home for those that needed one. For the past three years, she has done that—through coffee.

Unfiltered, a locally owned coffee shop and artisan marketplace, is the newest addition to Lakeland’s coffee scene. Unfiltered’s grand opening on Feb. 25 was a success, with people lined up outside the door.

The space, which was originally a gas station, includes an outdoor patio and outdoor kitchen, where customers can sit down and enjoy an iced latte in the warm Florida heat. Inside there are antique sofas, decorative mirrors and even a giant elk’s head.

Unlike several other Lakeland coffee shops, Unfiltered is open after dark for those that might want to grab a late-night bite or even a cup of coffee. The store’s hours are 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Monday through Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The shop is currently closed on Sunday.

Lakeland resident and Florida Southern College alumni Leah Stambaugh loved visiting Unfiltered’s Bartow location, and was excited to hear that the shop would be coming to Lakeland at later hours.

“I really liked that there was going to be a coffee shop with longer hours in Lakeland because there wasn’t one until now,” said Stambaugh.

Unfiltered serves several coffee staples such as cold brew and cappuccinos, along with selections like lavender lemonade and bottled soda for the non-coffee drinker.

Paying homage to The Poor Porker, which previously occupied the space, Unfiltered dedicated a menu item to the restaurant. Beignets covered with maple syrup and bacon, dubbed The Porker, can be found on the shop’s menu along with traditional beignets made from in-house vegan dough.

The property is also home to four independent storefronts. Unlike the Bartow location, all of the storefronts at Lakeland are inside the building. Outside the coffee shop, visitors can stop by East of These, The Vintage Warehouse and My Crazy Plant Life. Inside the main building, a custom hat shop can be found, called Champagne and Gravy.

Folder, the owner of Unfiltered, just celebrated the third anniversary of the Bartow location days after opening in Lakeland. The first shop opened with only $300 and what she had inside her own home.

Folder was excited to open the new location so she could have a second chance at building the store’s brand.

“We were never meant to be a coffee shop, per se,” said Folder. “We were meant to be a marketplace hub that housed a coffee shop within it.”

However, after the COVID-19 outbreak happened the month of the first location’s opening, it was difficult to get people inside the shop. They had to start offering takeout to keep business open, which became the main function of Unfiltered.

“We’re now trying to take our brand back to where it should have been all along,” said Folder.

“If I don’t get the brand right now, I’m never going to get it right.”

Folder always envisioned having marketplaces, or her homes as she calls them, in several locations.

“I lived in Lakeland a majority of my adult life,” said Folder. “So if I could call any place home to me, it would be Lakeland.”

The two most important things for Folder as she developed Unfiltered’s brand were that it needed to be artisan-driven and that it needed to feel like home. She knew, even as a child, that this was her purpose.

From the day she was born to age 11, Folder was homeless. She, her five siblings and her father would live out of cars, motels and abandoned houses. As the oldest of five, she always took care of her siblings and encouraged them to make something out of nothing.

“I vowed as my last kid left home and I could leave my full-time job that I would provide this place that felt warm, restful, peaceful and artful to the community,” she said.

Even though her childhood was difficult, Folder said that it served her well. She went from making soup for her siblings in the back of a station wagon on the side of the road to making soup in her shop for anyone who was struggling and just needed a place to come in and rest.

She had an appreciation for art since she was little; she recalls going to the store with her dad to pick the color of the gallon of paint that they would use to paint the walls inside whatever abandoned house they found. They filled these houses with furniture found on the side of the road, and anything else that they could find that could be upcycled. 

“I always wanted some sense of home for myself and my brothers and sisters,” she said.

At age 13, her dad was sent to prison for a short period. She and her siblings were sent to live with their mom and their mom’s husband. He disliked Folder and locked her in a closet, where she lived for a year and a half.

Her little brother, whom she was very close to, would shove crayons under the door so she could have something to do. With just those crayons and lots of time, Folder turned the small closet into a mural. She drew all over the walls until there was no space untouched. She learned at a young age that art can tell a story.

“Art saves people,” she said. “Art is such a beautiful thing, that’s why when I started this thing I surrounded myself with people that were artists.”

She took care of her siblings throughout her entire childhood, especially when her dad abandoned all of them. At just 16 years old, Folder legally adopted her brothers and sisters, continuing to make a home for them.

“I’ve spent my whole life doing this thing that feels normal to me,” she said. “To me, it’s normal to make a home for people, and that’s what I intend to keep doing.”

Folder has now made homes for two communities and hopes to serve many more in the future.

“I could not be more happy in that location…I knew from day one we could make magic there,” she said about the new spot in Lakeland.

The team at Unfiltered hopes that Lakelanders will enjoy coming by to grab a drink and hang out and is having a Thursday evening 10% discount promotion for college students.

Despite the hardships she faced in childhood, Folder continues to put her community first, showing that her work can become a home outside of home for herself and everyone else.


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