Nico Samaras is an adventure advocate.
The Arizona native was in the Marine Corps. He tells a lot of stories about camping. He goes camping a lot. He likes fast cars, specifically Porsches. He collects Porsches.
After leaving the Marines, Samaras used his GI Bill to study fine art at the University of San Francisco. In California he fell in love with coffee. “I was drinking… everything. You’re always trying different places. You go for the experience,” he says.
Samaras wasn’t yet a barista, just a casual connoisseur. But he and Four Barrel Coffee founder Jeremy Tooker bonded over a shared interest in cars. When Samaras moved back home to Scottsdale, Arizona, he decided to bring a little bit of his California coffee experience with him.
Fourtillfour Coffee opened in January 2016, and was born of Samaras’ desire to combine his interests. “It’s cars and coffee, it’s the Steve McQueen lifestyle, it’s ‘cool living’ inspired. It’s the brick and mortar to bring people together to talk about these things,” he says.
The shop itself is a clear representation of its owner. It’s artfully designed. Samaras helped build almost every element of it, from the floors to the bar to pouring the concrete for the patio. The shop itself is simple, but not unsophisticated. And—oh yeah—it’s Porsche themed.
The name itself is a subtle sportscar reference. “Fourtillfour was a vanity plate I had for a Porsche 356,” Samaras explains. “Four minutes ‘till four is 3:56. It was a cute thing I did when I was 16 or 17, and it always kind of stuck. It makes it extremely confusing when you have a brick and mortar place and everyone thinks those are our hours.”
Fourtillfour is itty bitty on the inside, but the shop’s front wall is occupied by a garage door (of course). This opens to a spacious patio, giving the cafe a breezy West C oast feel. The shop is conjoined to The White House Collective, a studio space for creatives, which Samaras manages. “It’s a play on the house and the garage,” he says. But this emphasis on outside space also accentuates an experience Samaras hopes people have with his shop. “My vision is pushing the outdoors, pushing the adventure. I want meetings, I want people talking, I don’t want people plugged in all day inside or outside.”
Inside the cafe, everything is on brand: sleek, clean, and classic-car themed. A Snap-On roll cab holds lids and condiments. The tip jar is an air-cooled cylinder. Framed Porsche art lines the walls, including several watercolor pieces Samaras commissioned from South African artist Claudia Liebenberg. He’s proud to tell me these works have been featured in Maxim and Silodrome magazines.
The floors at Fourtillfour were milled in Tucson from a pine log. The base of the bar and the shelving is dark walnut, and the countertops are concrete with unfinished edges. “The original idea was to smooth them out,” Samaras says. “But when we did the blowouts on the corners, it became so beautiful so we left that element.”
Though Fourtillfour was inspired by San Francisco’s cafe culture, it’s an Arizona shop through and through. In keeping with the adventure theme, a taxidermy javelina hangs over the bar. The javelina is the shop’s semi-official mascot, owing partly to Samaras’ experience living in North Scottsdale, where the boar-like creatures run wild in packs. “My neighbor just had my girlfriend and I over for javelina burritos,” he says. (The same neighbor also recently brought them a fresh rattlesnake to eat, because Arizona.)
When he decided to open the shop, Samaras harkened back to his relationships at Four Barrel. “I wasn’t a barista before this,” he admits. “I did all my training as I was doing the build-out with Four Barrel, they took me in as a family member.” Samaras’ seamless drink execution disguises the fact that he’s still very new to the industry.
The cafe’s menu is straightforward: espresso drinks, FETCO-brewed coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. There are no pastries at Fourtillfour. If you want a snack, they serve scrumptious cinnamon sugar toast with Irish butter using loaves from a local favorite, Noble Bread—but that’s it as far as food goes.
In addition, Fourtillfour recently started bottling cold brew on site under their own label. With design by Christian Watson at 1924US, the bottles reinforce the shop’s cars-and-coffee brand. As Samaras puts it, “It’s the vehicle to explore and do things. Cold brew is our big way to package something and have it be the gasoline for your body that fuels you.”
On the first Saturday of each month, weather permitting, Fourtillfour holds a Porsche meet-up. Samaras says the best part of these meet-ups is seeing young and old aficionados come together, with new and old cars alike. When asked what similarities he sees between coffee and cars, Samaras says he views his shop as convener for people who want to have adventures. “The footprint it leaves is way bigger than this shop. [Coffee is] an excuse. It could have been almost anything and car guys would have been around it. Coffee is the catalyst. You have a reason to talk about your cars and meet about it.”
He adds, “I guess you could go to a bar, but that doesn’t really work.”
Zaida Dedolph is a Sprudge contributor based in Phoenix, Arizona. Read more Zaida Dedolph on Sprudge.