Perhaps the most rewarding part of competing in barista competitions is the camaraderie among competitors. Both years I spent on the USBC circuit I was neck and neck at regionals with Tim Jones, then of my favorite Raleigh cafe, Jubala Coffee. As I got to know Tim as a friend I learned he and his wife TiLissa wanted to open their own café. Years later, that dream is on the cusp of becoming a reality. The couple recently took to Kickstarter to raise the last $20,000 they need to cover their start up costs. I caught up with my old friends to hear about their plans to open in Durham early next year.
I know opening your own shop has been a dream for many years. What’s it like to see that dream start to materialize?
We’ve known for several years that we wanted to create a cafe space in Durham, even before we moved here fourish years ago. And having worked for a number of great companies in our region, we have known for a while that we wanted to bring something different to our community. When this opportunity was presented to us, it just made sense. There are many mixed emotions right now. We are thrilled to finally see the space coming together and the dream beginning to materialize. But we are also feeling the weight of the risk that we are taking, launching our vision into the real world – and all that starting our own business entails. Over all, we’re really pumped. We can’t wait to serve great drinks to this city that we love.
Obviously, Durham looms large in the coffee industry as being the home of Counter Culture Coffee. What’s the local cafe scene like?
Our local cafe scene is really unique and it has been a lot of fun watching it develop. We’ve got a number of roaster/retailers in Durham specifically that are each trying to do different things and really crushing it. In a city with as much diversity as Durham has, we are fortunate to be among many different coffee styles and presentations that are interesting to explore.
Counter Culture has contributed a lot to our local coffee community. Because of them, I think a lot of coffee drinkers are open to lighter roasts and conversations about flavor and terroir. As a company they’ve set a standard in our region for quality and that helps the whole specialty community here thrive.
Your café is going to be in the Durham Food Hall. Tell us about the space. How did this opportunity come about?
We began dreaming about spaces several years ago as our catering business was getting off the ground. Looking around at at multiple options and working within a budget, we felt ready to pursue our dream but were limited by our resources. During this time, a friend of ours connected us to the owner of the Food Hall because they were looking for a coffee vendor. Together we looked at the space they were creating, the other vendors they had on board, and the upfront costs to do it. We saw in the Food Hall an opportunity to create a space that would allow us to work in the heart of Downtown Durham while sharing a space with other likeminded entrepreneurs who are working hard to introduce unique specialty food and beverages to a city we all love.
The stall we are creating will be a combination of clean and rustic, highlighting the vision that we each, as a couple, have for our coffee shop. TiLissa picked out our locally made hand thrown mugs that match the paint on the walls, while Tim contributed the idea of subway tile and clean lines in the space. Our shared vision, as well as our close collaboration with local craftspeople will hopefully be evident in the design. The space is roughly 150 square feet of bar/prep space with counter seating, communal tables, and a standing bar. We also have the privilege of sharing a common area with a juice bar and a dessert shop, which we believe will bring a little something for everyone.
Does the name Liturgy have any significance?
It does! Thanks for asking. As we were playing with a lot of different names we kept coming back to this idea of creating space for communal rhythms. At it’s most basic level, a liturgy is a shared ritual. As we started digging into the word and it’s history we realized that the concept of Liturgy originated in Ancient Greece. In that culture it meant “the work of the people”. We put those two different meanings together and have the vision to create a space for our community that celebrates the “work of the people” (producers, roasters, baristas, et al), as well as allowing those who visit our shop to meet and gather with other diverse working people (artisans, creatives, business people, etc.) and share their daily rhythms. And for the record, we aren’t just a coffee company. We chose “Beverage” on purpose, because we are about all kinds of drinks, not just coffee.
What’s the plan for the coffee service? Do you know which roaster(s) you’re working with yet?
Coffee service is going to be really simple. We will serve filter coffees, espresso and milk drinks as well as a small selection of seasonal drinks. We will also have single producer teas and a small selection of craft chocolate beverages. For the gearheads out there, we’ve got a Linea Classic, a couple of Curtis brewers and three grinders from Mahlkönig.
We haven’t made any final decisions about our permanent roaster lineup, but we are intentionally seeking out a few roasters to partner with. Our vision is to work with 4-6 roasters in an ongoing basis, changing our menu seasonally to serve the best fresh crop ingredients we can. Our anchor roaster is Black & White Coffee Roasters out of Wake Forest, but the others are TBD. There are so many great roasters and coffees out there that we are basically just going to ask for samples, cup them blind and then try to introduce Durham to new approaches to coffee.
I know you’ve been busy catering local events, like the Tedx conference in Durham. Has that helped iron out your concept or process?
It definitely has. We’re so grateful for the opportunities we’ve gotten to cater events like weddings, holiday parties, office pop-ups, conferences, etc. The catering side will continue in full force after the launch of the retail space, because there is nothing quite like being out in our community and interacting with the people that we have the privilege to know, serve, and learn from.
We have known from the beginning of our concept that we wanted to push the boundaries of our coffee community and we’ve really been able to test a lot of different ideas. For example, I (Tim) had originally planned to do all of our espresso service with an EK43. But after using that grinder for several events, we realized we couldn’t get the work flow with the EK down to an acceptable time frame. So we’ll have a PEAK for our house espresso and then use an EK for our single origin espresso menu.
Another thing that we really wanted to test was the receptivity of our community to brighter and fruitier coffees. So for that TEDx event you mentioned, we served a natural Gesha as espresso and filter. And the overwhelming feed back from that event was that people loved it. Properly extracted light coffees don’t have to be sour and thin, they can be accessible to “normal people”… but that’s a rant for another time.
When are you hoping to have the shop open?
Construction is ongoing, and we’re hoping to get the doors open in February or March.