The leaves, they turn from green to orange. Autumn is upon us, which makes for a very special time of year indeed in which to visit the city of Asheville, North Carolina, home to an eclectic mix of arts, culture, food and beverage nestled in the foothills of the Applachian Mountains. Just in time for fall—and as our 2021 Build-Outs feature series nears its end—we’re visiting Rowan, a gorgeous new coffee bar in Asheville, NC.
As told to Sprudge by Bow Smith.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
Rowan is a specialty coffee shop in downtown Asheville, NC. We started out back in October 2020 as a mobile espresso cart, popping up in different retail spaces around town. We began the build out of our space in January 2021. Our mission is centered around finding balance in our business in order to create a positive environment for both guests and our team. Drawing on a collective 11 years of collective experience and various roles in the coffee industry, we’re hoping to help contribute to a more sustainable future for the coffee industry.
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
We wanted our space to be special and unique. It is naturally a cozy space, and we decided to lean into that by making the cafe have more of a cocktail bar/speakeasy feel to it. We wanted the cafe to register as modern, but also reference design elements of the early 20th century.
What’s your approach to coffee?
We are currently a multiroaster, though we prefer to maintain core relationships with a few roasters rather than constantly cycling new roasters. We’ve worked pretty consistently with Ilse, Hex, Morgon, and Tandem. We shoot for flavor clarity, while also pushing for high sweetness in our brewing. We also really prioritize consistency. We buy both approachable and more unique coffees, though we want all of our coffees to be clean, sweet, and balanced. We also have a rotating menu of seasonal coffee cocktails that keeps us inspired and is a fun way to present more creative drinks to guests.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
We worked on a Decent XL espresso machine with the pop ups, which was a lot of fun and allowed us to experiment a lot with our espresso. In the cafe we have a Slayer Steam LPX, which gives us the capability for programmed preinfusion (which we loved about the Decent), but also has very reliable volumetrics. This lets us push extraction for espresso, while also improving our bar efficiency and consistency.
How is your project considering sustainability?
We understand that sustainability is multifaceted and complex. While we are making efforts for environmental sustainability, we think that one element that is often overlooked in the discussion of sustainability is the barista role. As a new barista, there is a lot to learn and it’s highly rewarding. However, that curve quickly plateaus for a lot of folks in the coffee industry and oftentimes, there is no opportunity for further education and the position can feel stagnant. Combine that with a wage of $8.00/hour and it makes sense why new baristas who are hungry for knowledge are immediately trying to move into other positions in the coffee industry, be it roasting, sales, etc. We are working to make an environment that has structured educational opportunities for our team so that they are constantly learning and growing, and are able to apply that knowledge to their role as a barista. We’re also starting out our baristas at $13.50/hour with a raise to $15/hour after six weeks to four months (depending on full time vs part time status). Although this wage is still modest compared to what some cafes are doing in larger cities, it is significantly higher than the average barista wages in our region and we hope to help push others around us in the direction for higher wages. We want careers in coffee to be sustainable, starting with the role of the barista.
What’s your hopeful target opening date/month?
As of September 4th, we are now open.
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
We had a lot of help from family and friends. Our architect, Aaron Ryba was a huge help early in the project helping us to determine the scope of the project and making sure we were set up for success. Our designer, Jessi Cord helped us along every step of the way from assisting us with the layout, design details of the bar/seating/lighting, etc, to staging the cafe to give it a lot of life and context for the look we were trying to achieve. Drom Construction helped bring all those plans to life and was a major resource for helping us navigate all the unexpected elements of the buildout.