Brad Peer has taken a circuitous route to 603 W. Main Street and his new venture, Flow: A Brew Parlor. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, his parents moved to the Jonesborough/Johnson City area when he was in junior high school. It was a return home for his mother and it resulted in roots for Brad that he’d never quite shake. He attended both UT and ETSU where he studied Spanish and Criminal Justice, thinking that he’d like to be in the FBI.
Like so many of us, life had other plans, and after school he worked with Meridian Yachts, a division of Sea Ray, beginning in 2002. During the nine years he worked there, he often worked in downtown Knoxville. As he rose through management, he he saw their bridge boat become the best selling in the world. He described a period when times were good for the company and private jets were not an unusual way to travel.
After nine years, and ready for a change he shifted his locale rather dramatically, moving to Seattle. He stayed in the same industry, however, managing a yacht store there. More importantly for our story, he discovered coffee culture, as well as small breweries. His favorite coffee shop was Zeitgeist Coffee which required a journey for him to reach via trolley, subway and a lengthy walk. It was worth the effort because it was important to him, which is the kind of business he intends to operate.
He fell in love with the combination of elements brought together in the coffee house starting, of course, with the rich flavor of the coffee there. The business also embraced independent film and art, elements Brad hopes to incorporate in his new venture. They offered organic, free trade coffee and while Seattle coffee tends toward the darker roasts, this was just a little lighter. He learned about the phases of coffee consumption: first from a package, second better coffee for the masses, and then coffee more personalized with direct connections between growers, brewers and consumers. In the end, of course, it’s about the bean.
He changed companies, going to work for AVA Yachts, a British company selling mostly to China. He took the job because he could work anywhere and he wanted to return to Knoxville to be near his children. After failing to convince the company to move some of their production to the U.S., he quit to pursue his west-coast discovered passion: coffee and beer.
As he worked his way toward opening his coffee shop, he’s quick to point out that he’s had some very important help, first and foremost in the form of the couple he considers his mentors in the process, Shaun and Meg Parish of Old City Java. I expressed my surprise that someone who is soon to be a competitor would be so helpful, but he said they’ve been great, feeling that improvement in Knoxville’s coffee culture helps everyone involved.
As they taught him more about coffee, varietals and the brewing process. He will use the same roaster, Counter Culture Coffee, for his beans. The company, which claims to have transparent suppliers for their beans, is based in Raleigh, but operates a training lab in Asheville where, for a year, Brad learned how to make the best coffee. The company roasts their coffee the day they get it, ships it to their retail clients within two days and Brad says it needs to be brewed within two weeks or it isn’t as flavorful. He mentioned that Byron and Kiki Sambat, owners of the Sweet and Savory Food Truck helped connect him with Counter Culture.
He’s purchased a La Marzocco GB/5 Espresso Machine (the same used at Old City Java). He’ll also use a Mahlkonig EK 43 grinder. These pieces of equipment demonstrate his seriousness with the coffee (he didn’t say that – it’s an editorial statement – these pieces of equipment are seriously expensive). He’ll also have baked goods from Wild Love Bake House, which is, best as I can determine, baked goods produced by Meg Parish for Old City Java – and now for Flow.
Since I’d heard so much about Old City Java, I asked what would distinguish the new business from them. He said while Java uses Toscano espresso, Flow will use Rustico. The clientele will likely be different given the nature of the Old City vs. Main Street. The decor and, thus, the vibe will also be different. The Medical Arts Building has elements of art deco and gothic architecture and those will be echoed in the new coffee house aided by pieces harvested from elsewhere in the building.
But then, there’s beer. He’ll not have draft beer, but rather bottled beer for consumption on the premises or for take out, similar to the Bearden Beer Market, which serves as a pattern of sorts for that end of the business. Chris Morton, owner of Bearden Beer Market, is a personal friend and while Brad was in Seattle they explored breweries and coffee houses together. They also enjoy trail running together and a common desire to bring more west-coast culture to the city.
Brad hopes to “elevate the beer experience by the beer we bring in and the presentation.” He will start with Pilsner as a lager. His stout will be a Highland Oatmeal because, “honestly it’s the very best one I’ve found.” He’ll also have two sours, which he says are less common in Knoxville. They will be Flander’s reds (rouges) and he’ll also have a Lindeman’s Oud Brun Gueze Lambic Ale. He mentioned the possibility of bringing in the Cold Mountain Winter Ale brewed by Highland.
It will not be the kind of place in which a bartender hands you a bottle across the bar and takes you money. He hopes to talk to people about the beer that they drink, serve it in glasses appropriate for their choice and pour it as it should be poured. It’s a bit beyond me, but both he and Ben Hubbard insisted all of that matters. Ben, of The Village Marketing Group which I profiled a couple of days ago, joined us for the interview. The Village is helping with the branding and design for the new business.
I asked why he selected downtown, as opposed to Bearden or some other portion of the city. He mentioned the fact that he’s excited to serve a part of downtown that isn’t served by very much retail, but admitted that he’d initially inquired about a lease on the Strip. He’d known Tom Grace years ago when he rented an apartment from him and they’d remained friends. Brad’s girlfriend, Felicia Wright, suggested he talk to Tom and his brother Michael about renting a space in the Medical Arts Building. When he did, the pieces fell into place and he said, predictably, they’ve been great to work with.
He’s hoping for a mid-to-late October opening, so in three-to-six weeks we should be enjoying a new spot for beer and coffee. He plans to employee about six people and to be open six days a week, probably 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM on weekdays and 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM on Saturdays.
He’ll have seating for 15 to 20 with some outdoor seating available. He describes what he’s going after as a “cozy cafe with an edge.” Should be interesting. It’s certainly a good thing to see retail on Mainstreet and I’ll be looking forward to what happens in that spot. Give him a like on Facebook and watch for that opening.