One of Knoxville’s favorite coffee shops will soon arrive downtown. Co-owners and brothers Michael and Pierce LaMacchia decided to take the best of K Brew at their very successful shop at 1328 N. Broadway and bring it to the north side of the Federal Courthouse building. Starting sometime in February, you’ll find them on Cumberland just up from the Bijou Theatre in the edge of the arched walk-through to the courtyard of the building.
The brothers grew up in the Knoxville area, mostly living in the city. Both attended UT and would not have seemed to a casual observer to be headed into the coffee business. Pierce did, however, work sporadically in food service and always knew he’d like to do something entrepreneurial. Along the way, he catered parties at Smokies Stadium and enjoyed delivering a good hospitality experience to others.
A 2008 cross-country trip to Seattle with their older brother John turned into a coffee tour when they discovered Coffee Huts – small, mostly portable buildings selling coffee from the middle of large parking lots. They talked about Knoxville needing something similar. But that was largely forgotten for several years.
Five years later Pierce graduated from UT with a degree in PR and was working for a local firm when he decided he wanted something very different. He called Michael and said he was willing to quit his job on the spot if Michael would agree to go into the coffee business. Michael agreed (after a slight pause, Pierce noted) and they set about the business of buying a coffee hut ($1900) they were destined to never use.
After retro-fitting the hut to sell coffee, Pierce pitched the idea to seven different businesses, all of which declined. Driving home from the seventh pitch, however, he drove past the empty building at 1328 N. Broadway. He noticed it was on a corner in an interesting and changing area with a lot of traffic – all very good indicators for business. He also noted it was very small and needed significant love. It seemed perfect, the hut was forgotten, and six months after the fateful phone call, K Brew opened on October 19, 2013.
The first day they opened from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM. A line had formed at the door before they opened and it never stopped until they closed. A jazz band led by Vance Thompson played outside while the community celebrated. The shop sits at about the point where Old North meets Fourth and Gill, so it quickly became a part of both neighborhoods. Pierce felt people were celebrating the spark of life in that part of town – and that’s why the brothers leave the Edison lights on at night – to reflect that good things are happening in north Knoxville.
In the time since, the brothers have had an opportunity to both learn about business and to learn about themselves. They had to consider if the plan would be shorter term – sell the business after building it, or run it for a while, then move on, for example. Or whether they wanted to build the business for the longer term. The answer came in their increasing love for and commitment to their city. Pierce suggests that he personally has gone from planning to leave the city when he was young to liking the city more and now finding joy at being a part of a special time in a place the brothers love.
From the beginning K Brew has featured a difference roaster each month for their drip coffee, striving to bring the finest coffees to Knoxville. Their espresso beans come from Commonplace Coffee Company in Pittsburgh and the decaf is provided by Coava Coffee Roasters in Portland.
Food offerings have shifted since the opening. Originally offering biscotti, they later added bagels from the Hot Bagel Company in Oak Ridge. Though they have now shifted to a plant-driven menu, the relationship with Hot Bagel Company was key in getting the new location at the courthouse, as it had been previously occupied by the bagel business (a closure I missed in my summary of the year).
Their new menu, which will carry through at the new location, grew out of the thriving coffee culture of Melbourne, Australia and is designed to be a more healthy lifestyle option, which is what K Brew wants to promote. They include choices such as maple, almond and pear chia seed yogurt, natural energy bars and sweet oat bars. The current hours at the original location are 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM Monday through Saturday and 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM on Sunday.
The new location, given its ties to the courthouse, will have more limited hours. The brothers are tentatively looking at 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday. There will be no indoor seating so that they might maximize product and service inside the very small (400 to 500 sq. ft.) space. Seating will be available outside in good weather.
Given that the original location is also very small, the brothers have learned quite a bit about efficiency in a small place. For the new store they have purchased equipment designed to operate more quickly in order to keep the clientele – which they expect to include people in a hurry – on their way with coffee drinks in hand. All the same food and drink options will be available and the two are considering grab-and-go lunch options.
The hope is that the new location will be open in early February, though there could be delays. The build-out is “75% complete.” One of the immediate questions raised online related to whether this was a move or an expansion. It is definitely an expansion and long-term plans call for more growth for the company.
Pierce said, while the original idea resulted from seeing a hole in Knoxville culinary service, “running a coffee shop changed me and how I relate to people. In what other business (other than a bar) are you preparing a food and you are able to engage people for two or three minutes straight while you make it?” It’s a human connection and a commitment to a good product that have been the core of the K Brew success story to this point. Expect it to continue when they arrive downtown.