There's an air of comfort when walking into Nashville's Steadfast Coffee. Influenced by the Copenhagen aesthetic, white tiles and soft wood grains encompass the shop's interior. Baristas wearing chambray tops, khaki bottoms, and cream aprons greet customers over a horseshoe bar and direct their attention to a small chalk menu. A Modbar allows for face-to-face conversations about their coffee drinks. Co-owner and coffee roaster Sean Stewart wanted the emphasis to be on hospitality.
“There seems to be a perception from customers, people that are just kind of scratching the surface on specialty coffee, that you have to be rude and or angry to really be into specialty coffee,” Stewart says. The job of a Steadfast barista, says the shop owner, is to interact and make customers feel welcome, not “like they are ordering something dumb that they should not have ordered, or make them feel bad for wanting cream and sugar. Those types of things that are pretty commonplace in the industry.”
Stewart's decade-long coffee career began at Starbucks. Along with his business partner Nathanael Mehrens, the duo originally came up with the idea to open their own cafe when traveling to a Barista Guild of America certification seminar. Before pursuing their dream of owning their own cafe, the pair worked for local cafe and roaster Crema Coffee Roasters, as well as running a coffee consulting business.
The approach of Steadfast Coffee's drink menu is one that asks “What if?” What if, for instance, you let the flavors in an iced latte really develop? When one orders the shop's signature butterscotch latte iced, it's actually “rested.” Baristas make a batch of the lattes (espresso, milk, and butterscotch), jar them and let them sit in the refrigerator until ordered. Compared to iced espresso drinks prepared à la minute, resting the espresso allows for a deep, mellow-flavored drink experience, the owners claim. And on the other end of the time spectrum, Mehrens wanted to know what would happen to their cold-brew coffee if it was carbonated. Steadfast's cold brew is ground on a dual-head Mahlkönig EK 43 grinder, brewed on a dual-sided FETCO brewer, then flash-chilled in their cafe's kitchen, and carbonated. After a year of development, the shop's coffee soda is set to strike out on its own as “Matchless Coffee Soda.” The fizz is popular enough that Steadfast has partnered with local brewer Fat Bottom Brewery, where 450-gallon batches of coffee soda can be made. Rounding out the shop's experimentation is a house-made almond macadamia nut milk for the lactose intolerant. For those not into coffee, the shop carries San Francisco-based Red Blossom Tea made with two dedicated Bonavita variable temperature kettles.
Due to Nashville's high rents, Steadfast was looking to add more to their lineup than coffee to round out the experience. Enter chef consultant Julia Sullivan, veteran of top kitchens such as chef Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Thomas Keller's Per Se. Food can be ordered all day and features a poached egg sandwich with avocado on brioche, as well as a savory twist on the Southern classic grits: a rich Anson Mills polenta with roasted mushrooms, ricotta, spinach, garlic, and a poached egg. Lunch and dinner items include a Mahi Mahi fish sandwich. Pastry consultant Beth Owens, with stints at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, New York City's Gramercy Tavern, and Nashville's Husk, has the traditional coffee shop fare covered. On our visit, there were a variety of muffins and cakes including a coffee cake and chocolate shortbread cookies. Accompanying their coffee soda on tap is a selection of beers.
The young company is already making moves. Plans to put in another Modbar and counter system on their horseshoe bar have been discussed. After opening up with coffee roasters Sweet Bloom and Slate on the bar, Steadfast recently began roasting its own beans in Franklin, 20 miles outside the shop's Germantown location. The initial roasting lineup includes eight coffees, and Stewart says the early reports are positive. Plans for a training center for staff and wholesale partners are also in the works. They're also planning their second retail location, Steadfast Commons, set to open in downtown Nashville later this calendar year. Until the late afternoon, Steadfast Commons will operate like a coffee cafe. After closing for an hour, it will then reopen for the evening as a cocktail bar. Canvas Bar Design founder Troy Sidle will be training the staff and formulating the drink list. Sullivan and Owens will reprise their roles regarding food.
“I feel like we have been to a lot of places in the US, that do this, and I feel like it is kind of either/or,” Stewart says. “You either focus on ‘This is a really great coffee shop, and it just so happens to have some cocktails,' or ‘This is a really great cocktail bar, that serves coffee.' We really want it to be both, and hopefully we can pull it off.”
Evan C. Jones is a Sprudge.com contributor based in St. Louis. Read more Evan C. Jones on Sprudge.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Troy Sidle opened Violet Hour in Chicago and Nashville's Patterson House.