Floyd is a tiny town situated in the mountains of southern Virginia. On a crisp winter morning with impossibly high skies, blinding sun cut through the hilly scenery, granting occasional peeks of dilapidated farmhouses, tractor dealerships, and mountain streams.
I’d heard of Floyd, a hippie town in the middle of nowhere with a population of less than 500—an anomaly that betrayed its rural surroundings with a vibrant music scene, art galleries, the East Coast's premier yurt-manufacturing company, and a progressive coffee roaster that was winning awards in national coffee festivals and competitions. A few winding roads past fields and forests finally brought me to the cafe.
Situated in a huge cinderblock building on a quiet street, easily mistaken for a small factory or production facility, is Floyd's acclaimed Red Rooster Coffee. Making its home in a former furniture store, the front of the shop is landscaped neatly with shrubbery, joined by patio seating beckoning patrons to stop in. It's modest and country-modern on the outside, but once through the front doors, customers are welcomed by a beautiful cafe, full of exciting design details, hustling baristas, loud conversations, and exposed wooden beams.
A busy squad of baristas dance a beautiful coffee ballet behind a Slayer Steam espresso machine and a Mahlkönig PEAK grinder. The gleaming poplar counter is full of dark stripes and knots which scream, “This was a tree!” Behind the busy workers is a wall of subway tiles in muted tones of blue, beige, white, and black. A set of saloon doors offers an occasional peek at the kitchen staff working hard to put out fresh breakfast biscuits and other delectables. To the left of the coffee counter, a handful of tables seat chatting customers, and a staircase leads upstairs to a loft with a large communal table and bar seating that overlooks the store below.
The decor of the shop is heavily influenced by the community around the cafe and the connections that owners Rose McCutchan and Haden Polseno-Hensley have made over their years in Floyd. The bar and community table are made by a woodworker friend. The beautiful chandelier lighting the space comes from local restoration company, Crenshaw Lighting. Platters and sculptures on display are by Polseno-Hensley’s accomplished parents. Even the tile work was done by one of the cafe’s first regulars. “The point of everything in here is to have meaning,” says Polseno-Hensley.
Red Rooster Coffee started in Floyd’s downtown in 2010, where McCutchan started a coffeehouse above her mother’s book store. It began as a gathering place for locals, but after marrying Polseno-Hensley the two decided to get serious about the business. “We were deciding what our life together was going to be like, and thought ‘if we are going to do something, let’s make it great,'” reminisces Polseno-Hensley. They began to experiment with roasting, studied coffee, and soon gained a steady following and a reputation for quality. Continuing to strive to “make it great,” the company they have built has three main tenets: transparently traded coffee, sustainability and environmental action, and making a positive impact at home.
In 2018 Red Rooster moved to its current location. A look behind the scenes of their now much larger space reveals how busy the couple has been. The first floor is split between the cafe space and a spacious roasting facility housing a 25-kilogram Diedrich roaster. Upstairs, a training lab for staff development and SCA classes—something not even all large cities offer—is overflowing with coffee gear. Around every corner is something exciting; areas reserved for syrup production, tea-blending, bookkeeping, and a home-built flash cooler for iced coffee.
Red Rooster Coffee is a Floyd powerhouse with more than 30 employees. Staff have become like relatives, and employees have built families for themselves. It’s hard to make it in the service industry, especially once kids come along, and that’s where the company's Yellow Hen Child Care comes in. In the back of the shop is a warm and inviting space—an onsite daycare that allows employees to stay with the company when babies happen. In fact, this is the only coffee company in the country with on-site daycare for staff. McCutchan and Polseno-Hensley’s children attend as well.
Red Rooster Coffee is an encouraging example of what a coffee company can be: a successful specialty coffee shop far from an urban center. For many, high-end coffee has an elitist image—It’s the fancy stuff those big-city folk drink. As the industry grows and adapts we need reminders that every town, big or small, needs a gathering place. If you can stay true to the community, present something worthwhile and from the heart, then you won’t need to pander. Red Rooster is a piece of Floyd, a place locals are proud to call their own, something great.
Eric Tessier is a freelance journalist based in Providence, RI. Read more Eric Tessier on Sprudge.