What’s the most classic foodstuff to pair with coffee? The answer to this question is quite different depending on where you live in the world, but for much of the United States there’s a consensus: donuts. The union of delicious donuts and filter coffee has deep working class roots, but the pairing is being reimagined as something gourmet in cities across the USA, from Blue Star Donuts in Portland Oregon to District Donuts in New Orleans, and many more places in-between.
Asheville’s South Slope neighborhood is going through a reimagining of its own right now, with property developments like 32 Banks bringing in a boom of new businesses, including James Beard Award winning chef Meherwan Irani’s new BBQ destination, Buxton Hall. The brewery folks next door, the fried chicken place upstairs, the BBQ pit masters: they’ll all be getting coffee from the program at Vortex Douhghnuts, run by barista competition veteran Zachariah Acquaviva. Read on for Synesso espresso machines, goat’s milk lattes, decaf drinks “not made with coffee,” and much more from this new coffee bar & donut combo coming to Asheville, North Carolina, itself one of America’s most progressive and fascinating food scenes.
As told to Sprudge by Zachariah Acquaviva.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your company, and how it all got started?
Vortex Doughnuts started when the owners, Ron and Valerie Patton, won the 2013 Big Tasty Contest sponsored by Blue Ridge Food Ventures, western North Carolina’s small business food incubator. That contest was held to find the next big North Carolina food product or service and Ron and Valerie won with the business concept of a gourmet doughnut and coffee shop based on high-quality local ingredients with twisted flavor combinations. The name, Vortex Doughnuts, plays on the idea of Asheville being considered by some to be a supernatural energy vortex – and a swirling vortex makes a very cool doughnut logo, too.
Being Seattle transplants to Asheville, Ron and Valerie were looking for the perfect coffee to complement their doughnuts. Through a bit of networking and some good luck, they connected with Ben Myers, founder and owner of 1000 Faces Coffee, who then introduced them to me.
We hit it off immediately and started discussing the possibilities for the concept. I basically told them what I tell all my accounts, which is if you want to do coffee, you have two choices. Stick with a high quality drip set up and just focus on the doughnuts, or hire a coffee professional to take care of the tremendous task of espresso, and blow the Asheville market away.
Shortly after that is when they hired me and bought a Synesso.
Can you tell us a bit about your new space?
Our space is located in Asheville’s bourgeoning South Slope area, home to several breweries, a chocolate factory, and a handful of other “producer” businesses. Our building, 75 years ago a skating rink and most recently a paper warehouse, had just changed hands and its renovation plans were still in the works when we signed for our space. It definitely took some courage and vision to be the first ones on board but we knew the South Slope was about to take off. Since we signed our lease a fun locals bar has joined in, and most recently, an all-wood, pit-smoked, whole-hog, barbecue restaurant owned by two Asheville James Beard nominees has announced as our new neighbors in the building. Couple that with being tucked between the medical district and the downtown core and the recent announcements of over 200 apartments and condos to be built nearby and we’re very happy with our location.
Inside, our space is about 1800sf carved out of the building’s 25,000sf. We’re keeping the warehouse feel with the open rafters, exposed roof trusses, and concrete walls and will complement that with a large chalkboard wall behind the counter, stained OSB panels, industrial chairs, and repurposed lights. One thing we love about the space is the 30’ of window space across the front. That entire length will be lined with long bar-height tables for enjoying doughnuts, coffee, and people watching.
What’s your approach to serving coffee?
My approach to coffee is my approach to all things: if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I have explored the many facets of coffee extraction and hospitality in my 10 years in the industry, and I have found that simple doesn’t mean easy. We are striving to perfect the most simple of all pairing, coffee and doughnuts, and will explore new and different avenues to experience the two. From goat milk lattes to house made everything, we know what we are doing, and look forward to sharing with our story with each customer that inquires.
The narrative around the ingredients is the story that weaves us all together, how the coffee was grown, or where the flour was milled makes a difference, and we are going to help people understand why.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
We have quite the set up coming into town. Ron and Valerie trusted me completely on the equipment purchasing, and I didn’t let them down. This is my dream set up. The heart of the set up will be our two group Synesso Hydra Manual. The folks that run this company are amazing. It is truly a machine that is built to the highest of standards. I visited the factory in Seattle in preparation for delivery and was walked through each tube and gasket the machine has, and I am thoroughly impressed. Independent pressure profiling, temperature setting, cool touch steam wands, shot counters, the whole nine yards….we may even get it customized further once we get it to the garage.
Pairing with the Synesso will be our Mahlkonig K30 Twin grinder. The beauty of this will be our ability to have two espressos ready to rock. We will have our standard that will go in most all the drinks, then offer a single origin. With the Hydra, we can just flip the settings and have a new profile in an instant for our single origin coffees. We are not going to offer decaf espresso, but will have decaf lattes not made with coffee.
The flow is going to be so efficient. A reach through milk fridge under the machine. Pitcher rinser on the right with drain. Grinder on the left, two baristas will work the machine to increase our efficiency, and we hope to be able to make two drinks every 45 sec. The espresso will not only be amazing, it will come out quick. There is no reason that people should wait 30 minutes for a drink, so we will focus on speed as well as accuracy.
We will have cold brew on tap, and a variety of other special ingredients that will add an interesting dynamic to the whole menu.
We will also offer drip from a Fetco Extractor.
What’s your hopeful target opening month?
We hope to soft open in August and be fully up and running in September.
Are you working with craftsmen/women, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
Our architect, Brent Campbell and designer, Marc Grassi, have done lots of work in downtown Asheville and have given new life to many old buildings. Their experience and connections hooked us up with Darren Green of The Old Wood Company who is making our bar tables. Between the Antique Tobacco Barn and the Habitat for Humany ReStore shop we’ve scored several industrial-chic light fixtures that work perfectly in our space. Our delivery and promotions truck, a 1963 Jeep-Willys fleetvan is being restored by Corbett’s Auto. And, 1000 Faces Coffee has been an integral component in this build-out, offering consultation and advice whenever needed. They have been really great to work with.
More from our Build-Outs of Summer series.