Something is BREWing up in Raleigh. This month, I talk with AJ Viola about starting his new venture, BREW and how it’s different from most coffee bars and the process getting there.
DD: When did you start drinking coffee?
AV: Well, that depends on your definition of coffee. I started drinking coffee at around age 10. My dad has owned restaurants all my life and when I was about 10 I started getting up early and going into work with him. Early in the morning he would hand me this super sugary drink he called coffee. I know it now as coffee with lots of flavored creamer and sugar.
That was my definition of coffee for most of my life until about 4 years ago when a neighbor, who worked for a local coffee roaster, brought over some fresh roasted coffee. We brewed it up and as I started to pull out all my creamers and sugar my neighbor gently encouraged me to try it black. I scoffed, thinking all black coffee was gross. I tried it black and was blown away that it was actually good. It had natural flavor to it and before I knew it I had finished the cup. From that moment on I knew I would never drink coffee the same again. I started seeking out coffee like that. Fresh, locally roasted and delicious.
DD: How are you involved in the coffee industry?
AV:I’m currently involved in the coffee industry as the coffee manager at Yellow Dog Bread Company and as a production roaster at Raleigh Coffee Company.
DD: When and why did you become a Barista and now business owner?
AV: I first became a barista about a year ago at New World Coffee House. I left my full time career to become a barista because I wanted to be a part of the coffee industry from the inside out. I wanted to put in my time and learn the ropes. I wanted to train and learn from the best before I began to plan and create my business.
I’m becoming a business owner for many reasons. It’s in my blood. My parents have been entrepreneurs since I was a kid, owning and operating over a dozen restaurants. Probably the most important reason is that I love people and I love coffee. But coffee represents something much stronger to me than flavor. It’s something much greater than a hot cup of black liquid. It represents community. It represents hard work. It represents friendships. It represents love. Every time I brew coffee at home or at work I’m participating in an act that not only supports people I care about, but supports employees and farmers I’ve never met, but because they are people I care about them. It represents to local roasters that I’ve created such good friendships with. It represents the passion they have for their product. I want to create a business that help sustain those people and push the boundaries of making this industry even better.
DD: What makes your coffee business unique?
AV: BREW is unique in that it combines three things that I love. Coffee, beer and people. The Triangle has so much to offer when it comes to coffee and beer. We want to be a place that highlights the amazing roasters and brewers in our area.
DD: Why is this a big deal?
AV: BREW is a big deal for many reasons. Anytime you feel like you’re meant to do something with your life it’s a big deal. It’s the culmination of many years of planning and dreaming and hoping. It’s a big deal for the neighborhoods just behind Seaboard Station, for the students and faculty at William Peace University, for the other businesses in Seaboard Station that we get to work with and next to and it’s a big deal for the people of Raleigh to have a place where they can experience the Triangle’s best brewed coffee and best brewed beer.
DD: What steps did you take to get to this point?
AV: Over the past three years my love for coffee and my involvement in the local coffee community has grown exponentially. Whether through exploring all different types of brewing methods, roasting coffee, learning all aspects of the coffee business, working in shops or participating in local coffee culture events my desire to work in the coffee industry has been confirmed. I helped start The Raleigh Coffee Club which has given me the incredible opportunity to work with multiple local roasters here in the Triangle, as well as build relationships with many people within the local coffee community. Through it I’ve had the opportunity to introduce people to new coffee, which is something I thoroughly enjoy.