[F]lorida sunlight spills through the glass-paned doors of Buddy Brew Coffee’s newest location in Tampa’s Hyde Park Village. The shop is bright and welcoming. High white walls feature hand-drawn silver details; marble countertops and industrial light fixtures provide an air of homey sophistication. Black wicker chairs pick up dark accents in the honeycomb-patterned tile, matched by black wood paneling on the front side of the bar.
The polished café reveals little about the grass-roots beginnings of Buddy Brew Coffee—but a conversation with owners Susan and Dave Ward quickly shows what’s at the heart of this growing business: exceptional people dedicated to making high-end coffee.
When Dave and Susan met in 1995, he was running an insurance and investment business, and she was working as a dietitian. Their first date was a three-hour lunch (originally planned in the name of discussing insurance), and the two married the following year. “One of the big things we did when we were dating, and really our entire lives, is coffee,” Susan says.
Dave picked up home roasting as a hobby in 2002 after a friend visited and roasted coffee in their kitchen. “It was like a lightbulb went off, it really changed our lives,” Dave says. He immediately went online and purchased a grinder, brewing equipment, and an i-Roast 2 from Sweet Maria’s.
Dave and Susan experimented with different roast profiles, giving coffee away to neighbors and friends. When the 2007 financial crisis hit, Dave’s work in the financial sector slowed dramatically, and he found himself with lots of idle time. “After six months of staring at a screen, I’m like, you know what, I’m just going to throw up a website and see if I can actually sell some coffee,” Dave says. “And sure enough, people started buying coffee.”
As much as the Wards enjoy geeking out over brewing methods, they point to their “Brew Good, Do Good” motto to explain what really drives them.
Dave bought another i-Roast 2, then added two Behmor 1600s to his line-up, running them all out the garage. Friends and neighbors would pick up bags of coffee and leave money in a pouch by the door. As business grew, more and more strangers started showing up at their house to buy coffee. The Wards decided it was time to start roasting out of a commercial space (aided by the realization their newly purchased Diedrich IR-7 made their home roasting operation very illegal). Dave left his job and Buddy Brew opened their roastery in April of 2010.
Originally, Buddy Brew served brewed coffee out of airpots each morning, then closed shop to roast in the afternoons. Customers paid by dropping change in an empty Folger’s can on the end of the bar. Though the space was only intended for roasting, the demand for better café options in the Tampa Bay area quickly became clear. “We never really planned on opening retail cafés,” Susan says. “We began to realize people wanted better coffee—that side of business kept growing and we embraced it.”
They added an espresso bar to the roastery, which helped ignite a cascade of continued growth. Fall of 2012 saw the opening of their second location at the Oxford Exchange, a destination dining and retail space in Tampa. The Hyde Park Village café opened earlier this year.
Each Buddy Brew café showcases different equipment and features, reflecting the character of the surrounding neighborhoods and giving the Wards an opportunity to explore various espresso and brew methods.
Hyde Park Village is fully powered by Modbar, with two espresso modules, two pour-over modules, and a steam module. One side of a Mahlkönig K30 twin houses the espresso selection, the other side is decaf. A Mahlkönig Kenia grinder sits on an island behind the bar, designated for manual brews and batch-brewed coffee. Kalita Wave Drippers are used as the featured manual brewing method.
The Ward’s enthusiasm for trying new things is apparent in their espresso equipment. The roastery location houses a La Marzocco GB5, while Oxford Exchange boasts a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle and a two-group La Marzocco Strada EP. Dave was drawn to the Black Eagle for the opportunity to play with gravimetric espresso preparation and chose the Strada EP for its pressure profiling capabilities. “We’ve always enjoyed pressing the envelope when it comes to espresso,” Dave says. Buddy Brew will open a location at the Tampa airport later this year, which will feature a three-group Linea PB Auto Brew Ratio, another gravimetric espresso machine.
As much as the Wards enjoy geeking out over brewing methods, they point to their “Brew Good, Do Good” motto to explain what really drives them. Dave says their business is about people–from staff, to customers, to the farmers they work with to source coffee. “We believe that through our corporate success and being responsible corporate citizens, we can actually truly change the world.”
—Ellie Bradley is Fresh Cup‘s editor.