Borealis Coffee Company opened its doors in Riverside, Rhode Island, in August 2016. The roaster and cafe has found its home in an old train depot built in the 1850s. Train tracks that once ran along its side are no more, replaced by a 14.5-mile-long bike path. Step into the red-brick building and you’d think the depot had been left mostly untouched, that a cafe counter and some furniture had simply been carried into the historic building, ready for business. The reality was a bit messier.
Borealis’s founder, Brian Dwiggins, fell in love with the structure at first glance. Once inside he found that the previous incarnation of the depot was a tanning salon. Seeing potential in what the building once was, Dwiggins called in favors from friends and family and got to gutting and rebuilding the interior from scratch. They removed drop ceilings, mini tanning rooms, horse-hair plaster, and paneling. Now high ceilings, wide windows, wainscoting, natural woods, and copper accents give a forgotten dignity back to the former station.
The cafe hopes to become a community hub for the Riverside populace, a place where everyone feels welcome. Two-dollar batch brews are always on the menu, as well as a variety of choices for pour-overs and espresso based drinks. Both traditional and adventurous palates can find something here to satisfy.
Borealis has been a long time in the making. Dwiggins grew up drinking locally roasted coffee in Anchorage, Alaska. Back then he took it for granted that his home’s vibrant coffee culture and numerous coffeehouses were common everywhere. After moving to New England in the early 2000s and seeing a sterile sea of corporate coffee, however, he realized that wasn’t the case. In 2010 he began hobby roasting on a Behmor home coffee roaster and became addicted. “I was fascinated by how you could roast the same coffee a dozen times,” he says, “and each time it could taste different.”
At that time Dwiggins was working in movie lighting, and he began bringing his home roasts to the job. People took notice of the set-lighter with the hand grinder and began to ask questions. “I’ve made Salma Hayek a cup of my coffee…I guess that’s pretty cool,” Dwiggins chuckles. The interest he saw from his co-workers spurred him to go bigger. Shortly after, he was attending an intensive roasting workshop and searching relentlessly online for a roaster. Soon, he and an orange, five-kilogram Probat roaster became Borealis Coffee Company. One of the many old mill buildings in the area became their base. A few years later, after burning out working weekdays on film sets while spending weekends roasting and attending farmers’ markets, he decided to go all in on coffee.
Now, at the end of their third month, Borealis has begun to settle into its new home. What was once a one-man operation is now helmed with an eager staff of coffee enthusiasts. The baristas serve up a Chemex with a smile, and can be caught tinkering with recipes between customers. Curious locals are starting to become regulars, cyclists out on long rides now have a pit stop, and coffee geeks have another roaster to frequent—the old railroad station, long dormant, is a hub once more.
Eric Tessier is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo. Read more Eric Tessier on Sprudge.