Ryan O’Donovan and Colby Barr, the owners of Verve Coffee Roasters, met in college at Chico State. They both played vintage keyboards, often in the same bands (but never at the same time). You’d think that would be enough to bond over, but Barr says it was coffee that brought them together.
O’Donovan was working in cafes around the Bay Area and roasting his own beans at home. “He was always ordering crazy coffees and then we started hanging out and tasting them and it became apparent, like, we could make that coffee better than anyone is making coffee,” Barr says. “We should do that.”
At the time, Barr was doing disaster response work as a consultant for FEMA. “One day I just called him. I was sitting on the curb at the farmer’s market and I said, ‘Dude, let’s start a coffee company.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.'”
Verve Coffee Roasters opened in a small cafe in Pleasure Point on the east side of Santa Cruz, just up the street from a locals-only surf spot called the Hook, in 2007.
Santa Cruz is out of the way–two hours south of the Bay Area, where the closest third wave cafes like it are clustered–but Verve quickly built a serious reputation on its beans. In 2011, when a Long Island City cafe began selling Verve beans, the New York Times dedicated a story to its arrival in New York. (The Times was a little late to the story–Verve actually supplied Cafe Grumpy with beans before Grumpy began roasting its own in 2009.)
Six years after its founding, Verve’s name is now thrown around alongside Stumptown, Intelligentsia, and Ritual in conversations about the country’s best roasters, and Barr and O’Donovan have found themselves the unlikely heads of a mini-empire. Verve has opened up two additional locations in Santa Cruz, and another cafe and roastery, based in L.A., is on the way.
Next up: New York.
Details on the next page.
Verve will be doing a three month pop-up in Brooklyn, slated to open the first week of November. They’ll be importing a couple of baristas–and those laid back Santa Cruz vibes–to a light, open spot a few blocks from the East River in Williamsburg.
“We will be serving espresso and coffee. We’ll have a full coffee bar, we’ll have a full espresso machine, Chemex pour-overs, and we’re going to bring some special coffees out,” Barr says. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Serving world-class coffee should give the space an edge over the other barber shop and wilderness supply pop-up in the neighborhood, Fellow Barber and Juniper Ridge (the latter specializes in backpacking cologne) on North Eighth Street.
Asked if Verve might be testing the waters for a permanent expansion to New York, Barr answers cagily, “I’ve learned in life that everything is a possibility. There’s potential for it to continue, but for sure we’ll be there through the holidays: November, December, January.”
He adds: “Its just really nice also to have this excuse to get to go and showcase what we’re doing in New York, because obviously, it’s one of the greatest cities in the world and we’re just stoked to come.”
Find Verve in its temporary home, 33 Grand Street, beginning next week.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 31, 2013