A Small Business with a Big Heart: Boston Brewin’ Coffee Co.

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Posted February 18, 2014 by Stephanie Rineman in Business
Danny Cordon, Andrew San, and Tom Barnes make up the bulk of the Boston Brewin' family.

Looking for a new place to get your daily coffee fix? Begin by walking down Bromfield Street. Avoid blinking. One step too many and you might just bypass one of the best hidden gems in the downtown area. Like a great espresso, Boston Brewin’ Coffee Co. is small but mighty. Not only does it pride itself on waking up the city one cup at a time, but this place also has some serious heart.

When I first step in, there is no line to speak of, though I soon realize that this must be some kind of bizarre anomaly. In the couple of minutes it takes to wait for a latte, the shop, which holds between two and three customers at a time, is at capacity, with a line snaking out the door. Forget Cheers—now this is a place where everybody knows your name. What follows is a steady stream of regulars, discussing everything from the weather to work and griping about classes (there seem to be a fair share of Suffolk Law students trickling in from around the corner).

Coffee, no surprise, is what this place does best. The space might be tight, but Boston Brewin’ managed to fit in top-of-the-line machines salvaged from the Border’s bookstore that once stood around the corner. No matter your choice for a morning pick-me-up, it has you covered—from espresso to cappuccino, macchiato to mocha, and all kinds of tea in between.

My latte comes out piping hot and more than satisfies my picky taste buds. You can pair your cup of joe with a pastry or sandwich as part of a combo deal, or keep it light with a fruit and yogurt parfait or hot cereal. Organic coffee? Check. Fresh and locally sourced breakfast options? Check. At a time of the day when your synapses are at their slowest, Boston Brewin’ makes it easy to make good, healthy choices. Even better? The shop’s relationship with local businesses and nonprofits means that with each coffee you chug, you are giving something back to the community. I can think of at least two other big-name brewers that can’t say that.

All of this is the brainchild of Tom Barnes, Boston Brewin’ owner, high-fiver, and general showrunner. Since he opened his doors on October 6, 2011, he has been grinding away (no pun intended) from 3:30 a.m. each weekday to get things up and running for his first early-bird customers at 7:00 a.m.

However, Barnes is no stranger to hard work. He picked up his first gig at age 8, for which he was paid $2 a day to pick up cigarette butts at an IHOP in his home state of Connecticut. From those humble beginnings, he traveled all over the world, spending a lot of time in places such as Thailand and Indonesia, where he bought jewelry and collectibles to sell in the United States. Eventually, he began his own wholesale company.

It was during these travels that he began to see the importance of giving back. With donations collected from his customers, he was able to raise thousands of dollars for an orphanage in Bali and also fund several procedures to repair cleft palates for children in that region.

Boston Brewin' serves up coffee, pastries, and sandwiches sourced from local businesses and nonprofits

Boston Brewin’ serves up coffee, pastries, and sandwiches sourced from local businesses and nonprofits. Photo Credit: Stephanie Rineman

“It was an overwhelming experience, being able to help these kids who have no money, who need attention,” Barnes said. “I started to realize that if we just come together, we could solve these kinds of problems.”

Barnes got out of the wholesale business and started to focus on building a local, community-based small business that could give back on a daily basis. His goal: to build the best coffee company in the world.

“I must have watched the movie The Secret a hundred times,” he said. “The biggest message in that movie is that if you stay focused on what you want, the universe will provide it. You just have to take the first step.”

The first step for Barnes was to learn from the ground up. After two months working unpaid at a coffee shop in Berkeley, CA, Barnes came back to New England to try his hand in a more corporate brewing environment. After a while, a listing for a street-level storefront at 45 Bromfield St. opened up on Craigslist, and it was Barnes’ for the taking.

“I really just wanted to build a family of people who can do what they are good at and build a great coffee company at the same time,” Barnes said.

Boston Brewin’ sources its products as locally as possible, with a big emphasis on responsible, fair-trade practices and supporting nonprofits. The pastries are delivered from the Haley House in Roxbury, a nonprofit that employs and empowers ex-convicts and others who face serious obstacles in getting jobs.

All coffee comes from Jim’s Organic Coffee in Wareham, which is not only one of the first coffee companies in the world to go 100 percent organic, but it also puts a portion of its proceeds toward community efforts in the places it sources from.

“You can’t give (these communities) money, but you can give them a library, education,” Barnes said. “Every cup we sell, we’re supporting a guy who uses the money to give back. With Haley House, you’re helping to give these people a home, a job . . . hope.”

Barnes rounds out his Boston Brewin’ family with Andrew San, Alyce Householter, and his right-hand man, Danny Cordon, but he has high hopes to add to that family in the future. He said sees his Bromfield location as the flagship and hopes to eventually open 20 more locations in the city, each one given to one of his employees who is dedicated to community service.

“Our goal is to dedicate each store we open to a local nonprofit,” Barnes said. “What are you getting? The best possible cup of coffee we know of.”

And plenty of peace of mind, to boot. The brownies aren’t too bad, either.

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