Though the cafe celebrated it’s one year anniversary on September 18, the story of Sump Coffee’s arrival in Nashville started more than three years ago. Their involvement in the striking oneC1TY development was, according to owner Scott Carey, a case of “dumb luck.” The developers mentioned the idea of including a coffee shop in the complex to Gerard Craft of Italian eatery Pastaria, who opened his own location within the development. Craft suggested Sump as a candidate, and a representative was dispatched to St. Louis to check out the brand and the coffee. They liked it, and hands were shaken.
But the coffee climate in Nashville changed a lot in the intervening years. New cafe after new cafe opened, leading Carey to question more closely how his cafe should fit into the growing community.
“The market here is very mature and so we have to ask ourselves what are we doing? Who are we? And how do we communicate that to people?” says Carey. And like many business owners have found before him, even the best-tested practices don’t always translate city to city.
At first, Carey expected that what worked in St. Louis would also work in Nashville. “But that’s not what the market wants or what the location is dictating,” admitted Carey after Sump Nashville’s first year. Though Carey tried to bring the “slow bar” mindset of his St. Louis location to Tennessee, demand forced new methods. His team has had to quickly adapt in ways they hadn’t previously planned—like implementing a Ground Control II batch brewer. Other issues, like finding a consistent quality milk supplier, have taken time to perfect. However, just as the cafe has changed over the course of the year, so has its surrounding neighborhood.
As the area has thrived, Sump Nashville has come to draw an early-morning crowd of commuter-regulars—hence the batch brew. This part of Midtown Nashville has drawn restaurants and grocers that are themselves magnets, allowing Sump to fit right in as a coffee destination. “How we’re thinking about the model and how we’re thinking about the coffee goes hand in glove with how this part of the city is growing,” Carey says.
To that end, a stage has recently been added to a grassy area just outside Sump’s doors for live music, movie screenings, and other events. And in the coffee-specific realm, Sump hosts brewing classes and other coffee events, like open sessions for customers to bring in coffee from any roaster and learn how to brew it better. “We don’t sell a finished product,” Carey says. “We have to do a better job, without being pedantic, of providing accessibility and a doorway to go home and have a good experience.”
Functionality and volume were at the heart of the equipment choices for the Nashville location. They eschewed the Slayer espresso machine that is used in St. Louis for a Kees van der Westen Spirit, which boasts volumetric programming capabilities. This promotes consistency while freeing the barista up to engage with the customer. A Poursteady automated pour-over coffee machine fits this mindset as well. “If you’re manually brewing, you can’t really create that engagement,” says Carey. “It’s more like being a sommelier. They don’t make the wine, but they know a lot about it. So their goal is more engagement.”
Opening a shop five hours southeast from his original location brought about unseen challenges and insights, Carey says, but he appreciates the challenge. “It adds so much depth to how I think about the coffee and the business that I didn’t have before,” he says. These insights, although hard-earned, have been rewarding. He’s committed to the two existing Sump locations, but still has his eyes to the future. “The goal is just to figure it out, and if we get this figured out, I’d like to open up in another market.”
For now, Carey is focusing on what’s already in front of him and learning everything he can. “Opening here has definitely broadened my worldview and caused me to reevaluate some thinking and maybe some of the absolutes I have.”
“It’s still an exploration,” he says. “Maybe I was more naïve than I thought… but I think sometimes being naïve and not completely digesting all the details allows you to do something risky. And now I’m figuring out what that means.”
Josh Rank is a freelance contributor based in Nashville. This is Josh Rank’s first article for Sprudge.