When it comes to coffee, Everett, Washington has earned the dubious distinction of being home to some newsworthy bikini-barista stands. But the city 30 miles north of Seattle welcomed a new option of the high-end-cart variety when Narrative Coffee Co., the project from veteran barista competitor Maxwell Mooney, opened on July 4 in the heart of the city’s small downtown core.
Narrative is hedging its bets on Everett, a still-affordable Pacific Northwest city that Mooney hopes will attract coffee enthusiasts from near and farther afield. “I definitely see the democratization of specialty coffee happening for a variety of reasons,” he says. He theorizes that as big cities with thriving coffee scenes produce more and more professional baristas, some who came to the city from small towns will want to move back and start something new. Like Mooney, “they see more opportunity in places no one else has touched.”
For a growing population, Mooney noticed that there was no “new wave-style” coffee companies in Everett and very few options in the entirety of Snohomish County. “You have this incredible concentration of brilliant coffee companies in Seattle. Then you go outside the Seattle city limits and you can’t find hardly anything. So it’s been a major point of mine to try to be that for people outside of Seattle,” he explains.
Everett began as a mill town and houses both the largest public marina on the West Coast and the biggest building in the world by volume—Boeing’s airplane factory. Still, the small town “gets referred to as grungy and kind of dingy. It’s the brunt of many jokes,” Mooney says. “But it’s got a really thriving music scene, and a lot of really cool stuff that’s happening.”
Everett is currently more affordable than Seattle, a city with quickly changing demographics that, thanks to the rise of tech, is in the middle of a housing shortage and affordability crisis for renters and homebuyers. “[Everett] is getting more expensive but it’s radically more affordable,” Mooney says, citing the average home price in Everett as less than $350,000, compared with more than $650,000 in Seattle. A few new apartment buildings with retail space on their ground floors are being built in the blocks surrounding Narrative, including a market-style project headed up by Steve Carlin, the guy behind several upscale markets in California such as the Ferry Building Marketplace and Oakville Grocery.
Mooney has been sitting on the Narrative name—a nod to the story behind coffee and the connections it can create—since he was at Caffe Ladro. He wrote the company’s business plan a year and a half ago and pitched the idea to Spotted Cow Coffee Company, “but a lot of people are scared to take a chance on [Everett],” he says. “My boss was not as thrilled about the idea as I was, and I said, ‘Okay, if you won’t do it there’s a huge possibility here and I’d like to take it on.’”
Mooney has lived in Snohomish County, of which Everett is the county seat, for the past seven years. On his first official day of his first-ever barista job at Caffe Ladro, he competed in-house and was selected to represent the roaster at the North West Regional Barista Championship 2013. He left coffee to finish school and worked as a pest control specialist in California, then headed back north to work at Mill Creek, Washington-based Spotted Cow, where he still helps out from time to time. He competed for Spotted Cow in the NWRBC in 2014, 2015, and 2016, earning third place in the Northwest in 2015. He made United States Barista Competition appearances in 2015 and 2016.
In addition to lifting Narrative off the ground, Mooney intends to train for competition. An amicable, down-to-earth guy, he turns serious when asked about plans to compete in the future. “Competing is in my DNA. I intend to compete until I win,” he says, or until it’s time to pass the baton to a burgeoning Narrative barista.
So does Mooney see Narrative as a risk or an opportunity? “It’s both,” he says. After searching for a brick-and-mortar space and settling (for now) on a cart in downtown's Wetmore Plaza, Mooney was able to keep startup costs low. He rebuilt a machine and refurbished a cart donated to him from a local church. But starting any business involves risk, especially in an emerging town with lighter pedestrian traffic than Seattle and that is less acclimated to a milk-and-espresso menu.
Mooney says the biggest challenge with his cart is the focus on hospitality that he would want to prioritize in a future brick-and-mortar space. Narrative rotates through a trio of roasters: one chosen from Snohomish County, a second from the Pacific Northwest, and a third based outside the region or internationally. In addition to educating customers about roasters via Narrative’s menu and helping them find a drink they love, Mooney says that “in a to-go setting, one of the most hospitable things you can do is get someone their coffee relatively quickly and see them about their day.”