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How independent coffee shops are building communities across America

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As brothers born in Cincinnati Tony and Austin Ferrari decided to open the coffee shop of their dreams in 2019, they landed in the Camp Washington neighborhood almost immediately.

There, tucked away in a residential neighborhood in the heart of this remote working-class neighborhood, which until then was best known for its classic 24-hour Chili Parlor, they opened an all-day café. Perfect cappuccinos and breakfast sandwiches in the mornings, natural wines and imported canned fish in the evenings with an expansive outdoor patio and gardens, complete with outdoor kitchen for summer bistro nights.

Even her friends thought she was crazy.

“As excited as they were for us,” says Tony Ferrari, “they said, ‘Are you guys crazy? It’s so weird, they would say, it’s so off the beaten track – we really don’t see you guys making it here.”

However, the brothers were sure they knew what they were doing; After all, they had worked in San Francisco for years as co-owners of a popular coffee shop in Potrero Hill—another neighborhood that for years was considered the far end of the world.

They also had their new neighbors in Camp Washington on their side—as part of their market research, they spent days knocking on neighborhood doors, pitching the project to complete strangers, and showing them their plans.

Almost every single interlocutor – 99%, says Ferrari – was on board.

When coffee-loving college friends became business partners, Brad Penna and Nam Ho settled on a semi-abandoned block on the edge of downtown Des Moines to start her first business, 2017 there were hardly any neighbors to talk to; the neighborhood of rugged old industrial buildings and derelict land was beginning to show signs of life, but still had a long way to go.

This time there was no one to tell them they were crazy – mostly because they didn’t know anyone in Iowa. The two grew up in suburban Los Angeles, met in Cal Poly Pomona and have talked a lot about starting a business together. They wanted to get into coffee in the worst possible way, but as they looked around Southern California’s progressive — and already very crowded — coffee scene, they quickly realized they were better off trying elsewhere.

“We didn’t have the capital or resources to do this in the Los Angeles area,” Penna recalls. He says they chose Des Moines because it met their only two requirements: that it was an affordable place to live and work, and that they would love to live there, too. They recognized in their chosen neighborhood more than a few common traits with familiar territory at home – build the right store, do it very well, and people will find you.

For them, the right store was essentially everything they had seen at home – a perfect drink every time, but also perfect service; The latter, Penna says, was hit or miss in the stores they frequented before they made the decision to move.

Doing everything right and trusting people to find you was also a lesson Hugo Cano learned working in the Los Angeles coffee scene a decade earlier. When life took the native Californian to Indianapolis, he often thought of an opening his own shop—never more than the many times he drove past that one particular abandoned gas station, on a busy corner just outside the shadow of the downtown skyline.

Where others saw an unfortunate rot in the heart of an otherwise coveted area, Cano looked beyond the grass and weeds growing through cracked asphalt and saw potential. Given the possibility of returning to a place where you don’t have to check the weather every time you leave home to know what to wear, something he says he still hasn’t gotten used to , Cano decided not only to stay, but to put down roots.

“For me, coffee is an experience and I wanted to open a shop to share the coffees that inspire me,” says Cano. “My attitude has never been that I’m the guy from California who’s going to teach everyone about coffee.”

Still, Cano was never going to fit in easily — he’d had most of his experiences with coffee in Los Angeles’ more forward-thinking shops, a far cry from what Indianapolis had in early 2020 when he opened Amberson’s Coffee & Grocery store.

The store’s tipping ban, serving of take-away coffee by the glass, offering multiple pour-overs daily, showcasing a rotating selection of roasters from across the country, and a distinct lack of the usual sweet drinks found in a typical coffee shop found in Indianapolis stuck out like sore thumbs.

Even the neighbors, who might not have fully understood Cano’s penchant for precision — “we like to do anything to make coffee shine,” he notes — were thrilled to see something in the space.

Cano’s realized dream until recently seems to have given the local coffee scene a bit of a jolt given the city’s sheer size. New shops have sprung up, as have a handful of roasters. At a time when so many cities are losing ground, Indianapolis’ coffee culture is growing tremendously.

“In the last six months alone, we’ve had three or four new roasters in town,” says Cano. He likes one of them so much that he presents it in the shop. People still occasionally tease him about his car’s license plate – he has yet to change it from California to Indiana – but he has no doubt that he made the right decision to start a new life here.

“We were just grateful that we could be part of the conversation, part of Indy’s coffee boom,” he says. “Do what inspires you and serve with kindness – that’s been our whole goal since we opened.”

Back in Des Moines, the worries Brad Penna and Nam Ho may have had when opening Horizon Line Coffee are now firmly in the rearview mirror. Launched with a used La Marzocco machine and no marketing budget, the place was a smash hit from the start.

“A lot of people said, ‘Oh, this is a hipster place,’ but others said, ‘We needed this.’ Maybe they didn’t know how to articulate it, but people loved it; there was no negative pushback,” says Penna.

Your Des Moines neighborhood has changed significantly in just a few short years. In the beginning there were a lot of people driving here; there is now something of a housing boom, with a sparkling new block of flats recently completed almost directly across the street.

Meanwhile, back in Cincinnati, the Ferrari brothers had to deal with lines outside the door Mom’n’Em coffee Shortly after it opened, the forgotten, remote Camp Washington was suddenly on the map.

“People who laughed, who doubted – now they wanted to know how you did it,” says Tony Ferrari. “It’s given the neighborhood a lot more leverage, allowed it to brag a bit, it’s helped generate investment.”

One of these investors is his brother Austin, who bought a historic, almost move-in-ready townhouse just around the corner in the summer of 2021; The family was a little worried, was he spending too much? (List price, approximately $150,000.)

“That would have been a $3 million house in San Francisco,” says Tony, who admitted he’d love to buy in the neighborhood too, if only he could find something.

“There’s literally nothing available now,” he says. “The stuff is barely on the market a day.”

https://www.fastcompany.com/90743468/independent-coffee-shops-community?partner=feedburner&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=feedburner+fastcompany&utm_content=feedburner How independent coffee shops are building communities across America

JACLYN DIAZ

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