In Western NC’s skittish entrepreneurial scene, where bistros and breweries pop up like privet bloom but often don’t last the season, the independent coffee shop now has as many feels as it does flavors. Some of them are geared toward geeky, wholesome fun — life-sized chess games, interactive robots — and many others morph into live-music venues at night. A few cling to the cutting edge, with side-eye service and unframed, outraged art on the walls.
But most of them, to survive, must try to be everything to everybody. And all of them promise the best beans in the business.
On a recent rainy afternoon, Appalachian Coffee Co. in Laurel Park was working a blend of foodie sophistication, warm service, and — although it can now boast three locations — a vibe of anti-chain rusticity. In the south-mountain milieu, the business is blossoming fast, with an anchor location in Brevard geared toward students and tourists and a drive-through spot on Asheville Highway, near Fletcher.
The airy space on Fifth Avenue is pitched soft and full of natural hardwood. Someone had programmed the ideal soundtrack for the day, flowing and wistful — songs such as Jerry Garcia and David Grisman’s version of the traditional mountain ballad “Dreadful Wind and Rain” and Bill Evans’ and Megan Lynch’s earnest rendition of “Rocks and Water.”
“Each of our spaces is designated for a certain type of community engagement,” says owner/founder David Schnitzer. “The Laurel Park location is our biggest venture to date. It’s a whole new realm for us as a team. We wanted it to be the perfect spot to bring out-of-town guests, or for studying or meeting a client for work … or just for relaxing with friends.”
An expanded menu offers breakfast and lunch items, included fully loaded artisanal sandwiches. Evening brings shareable items — a meat-and-cheese board, a honey-and-herbed-feta plate, etc. — and dessert. There’s draft beer and wine, a retail space with coffee accessories and company apparel, and a 1,400-square-foot space planned for private events and meetings.
The company promotes sustainability in every fiber, using fair-trade organic beans in its coffee and reclaimed local lumber in its interior. “It’s vital to us that [the business model] stays that way,” says manager Avery Ross. “We want to ensure that what we serve doesn’t take advantage of anyone on its way to your cup.” He says this model of kindness extends to treating employees and customers “incredibly well.”
Appalachian Coffee Co. is steered by a group of committed outdoors enthusiasts. This shows in the titles of its signature coffee drinks. Curiously, almost all of them are shout outs to northern locales; for instance, the very lovely Mahoosuc Mocha refers to a New England mountain range in Maine.
If they’re not dubbed after stops on the Appalachian Trail, menu items reference associated literary culture. The Gribley, a pepperoni-and-salami baguette, apparently honors the protagonist of My Side of the Mountain, a classic coming-of-age novel set in the Catskills. And Ross quotes environmental activist/poet Wendell Berry when he says, “‘It all turns on affection.’” Newly established as it is, Appalachian Coffee Co. already engages in charitable work “aimed at getting young men and women outside and connecting with nature.” The idea, he explains, is to “advocate for kids and help them have amazing experiences outside in the land that we have come to love so much.”
GM Luke Costlow tries to define the aura of the Blue Ridge. “There’s something magnetic about this part of the Appalachians,” he says. “It’s peaceful and serene. It feels like home.” That cozy vibe pairs well with the trend of localization, or what he calls the “growing desire in a lot of people to ‘know thy brewer’ or ‘know thy coffee roaster.’
“More recently,” he adds, “we have seen ourselves as a bridge, helping to connect people and businesses to work together and thrive rather than just forging our own path.”
Giving back while blazing ahead, implementing community outreach while sustaining in-house excellence — it’s not a trail anyone would blaze “Easy” or even “Moderate.” Juggling it all, “we are trying to keep the main things the main thing,” says Ross. So great coffee, then, comes first. “We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin and get away from the core.”
Appalachian Coffee Co., Laurel Park (1628 Fifth Ave. West), Hendersonville (1314 Asheville Hwy.), Brevard (135 East French Broad St.). See appalachiancoffeecompany.com for more information.