Welcome back to another edition of Sprudge Maps Spotlight, our global compendium of noteworthy coffee bars informing Sprudge’s ongoing work with Apple Maps, and supported by our partners at La Marzocco and Pacific Barista Series. Today on Sprudge Maps Spotlight we’re featuring a long-running cafe in North Carolina, Scott Conary’s Carrboro Coffee.
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As told to Sprudge by Scott Conary.
Introduce yourself to our readers—tell us about your cafe!
The Open Eye Cafe is in its 23rd year, and its second location over the two-plus decades. This welcoming hub for the cool and quaint downtown has been called “Carrboro’s Living Room” and always strove to be a reflection of the eclectic town it grew up in. The owners’ international work in specialty coffee education and competitions keeps the cafe on the cutting edge of the industry and balances that with the preferences of the community, all while emphasizing education and the cafes’ long term aim at sharing knowledge and experiences with customers, to attempt to increase appreciation for how good coffee can be!
Open Eye Cafe embraces not only all members of its community, but advocates for them by creating a safe space, and through support and sponsorship of local and national programs designed for advocacy. We are equally interested in advocating for equality in all mediums and supporting organizations championing such things as fair housing practices, Living Wage (we are a certified Living Wage provider) and transportation alternatives, to name a few. Being cyclists ourselves, we promote alternate transportation structure, by increasing the amount of safe bike parking and a bike repair station for all who pass by our corner shop location on their way to and from the Libba Cotten trailway that connects up to UNC/Chapel Hill.
What equipment do you use in your shop?
We have the first Nuova Simonelli Eagle One two-group espresso machine in a cafe in NC! With this we use the Mahlkönig E65 and Peak espresso grinders. For batch brewing we use the new design of the FETCO CBS52H15 brewer and the Mahlkönig EK43 for our grinding needs. The Marco PB3 water tower gets us our three specific water temps and our twin Marco SP9 pour-over brewers means we can offer unique special coffees a cup at a time! Currently we are using the Kalita Wave on the SP9. We have both our own cold brew and nitro brew on offer that we create ourselves and keg in-house.
Which roaster or roasters do you serve?
Open Eye Cafe acts as a flagship cafe for Carrboro Coffee Roasters (CCR), which has been a leader in specialty coffee in NC since 2004. This allows us to feature their exclusive Farmer Direct Relationship coffees from their farmer-partners that they have worked with and supported for decades. The original roastery space actually inhabits about a third of the building that the cafe resides in, allowing for the freshest roasted coffee (as of 2018 they have expanded their production to include an additional 4000-square-foot building)!
What is the neighborhood like where you’re located? What’s some other cool stuff nearby?
Carrboro is the funky neighbor of the better known Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina. We benefit from the energy of the university without being defined by it. Our little town of 20,000 is known for its walkability and progressive views that are meant to embrace everyone in our eclectic town. Previously a working mill town on the “wrong side of the tracks” from Chapel Hill, the town has embraced its local business focus, so we have wonderful locally owned business neighbors that we collaborate with like award winning Steel String Brewery, Neals Deli, Glasshalfull and Tandem restaurants as well as handmade pasta spot Tesoro and so many more, plus so many award-winning chefs and makers.
We are the hometown of Elizabeth Cotten, famed blues guitarist of such hits as Freight Train, and have a bike/hike trail that goes through town named after her. We are also adjacent to many wonderful woods and trails used for hikers, mountain bikers, and runners, easily accessed from downtown.
We like to say that we have city-level restaurants and shops here, without the downsides of city living; since it is easy to walk around town, it being a 10-minute walk from the cafe to the Farmers Market and really everything else in town!
This area is also well-known for its music scene and the famous Cats Cradle music venue In Carrboro, which is a major stop for artists on their southeastern tours between DC and Atlanta.
One can grab a pre-show dinner and coffee and walk the five minutes to the Cradle, or our ArtsCenter that also hosts music, and then wind down after at one of our awesome bars right down the street, like the Belltree speakeasy or Orange County Social Club (OCSC).
Did you close during a mandated Coronavirus shutdown, and if so, for how long?
We were fortunate to not have to close, but we did restructure and limit our hours severely, and of course reimagine and rebuild ourselves on a regular basis like so many others, as the landscape constantly evolved. We worked endlessly as we made almost daily updates to both create a safe environment for employees and customers alike, and not have to downsize, but instead we made sure we met our Living Wage Certification during the pandemic. None of us slept much for those first two years to make it all happen… We were able to expand and put a roof over our back patio for increased outdoor seating year round.
How has Coronavirus impacted daily work at your cafe?
From the start we adopted every safety measure possible while still staying in business, from the extreme of no one inside and all take-away, utilizing online ordering and designated curbside pickup, along with intense hourly sanitizing—all the way to our current situation where we are still spacing customers out, indoors and out, while also keeping distance between customers and employees; who stay masked, and are all vaccinated and boosted for their safety.
What’s something cool or unique about your cafe you want folks to know?
Besides having some of the most delicious and one-of-a-kind coffees to share from CCR, we also work hard to (nicely) educate our customers to appreciate the hard work that goes into our focus on best practices in the creation of all of our beverages and offerings. We try to meet each person where they are at and work toward whatever would be the next step for them to enjoy their experiences.
Whenever possible we also want them to have a learning moment, to understand all the work that has to come before the coffee reaches us; from producers to mill workers and transportation, all the way to the roaster; to better appreciate how it all ends up in our hands to honor that work and make a delicious experience for them to enjoy.
We are an unusually large cafe, both inside and out, especially for a small town, but it is alway lively and full of energy and our employees, who train so hard to be knowledgeable and skilled coffee professionals, are also great at making everyone feel welcome! We are also unique in our area for offering CCR coffees that come from the prestigious Cup of Excellence program, and CCR was also a past recipient of the Good Food Awards.
Is there a community organization or charity you’d like to shout-out as part of this feature?
SOHRAD (Street Outreach Harm Reduction and Deflection) who we use regularly to help those in need who DO NOT need police to interfere in their lives.
Of all the local and regional/national programs we support, from TABLE who provides food for those in need to safe spaces for supporting inclusivity of all; this one has been so wonderful to actually have a resource for us to turn to, where before (especially here in NC) we didn’t have another resource beyond ourselves and police when things took a turn in the cafe or community.
Photos by Open Eye Cafe, used with permission