Nestled within the New Bohemia ("NewBo") district of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is one of the state's top tier coffee shops: Brewhemia. Before I tell you about this wonderful shop, let's do some quick history.
According to CRMainStreet.org, in the early 20th century the area now called New Bohemia was designated by the city to be a warehouse district to many large-scale manufacturing and wholesale businesses. By the late 20th century, the district had fallen on hard times and was then dealt a severe blow in 2008 when a massive flood hit Cedar Rapids, putting much of the district - and the other parts of the city near the Cedar River - underwater. In May of 2009, the city renamed the district "New Bohemia" and began pouring significant resources into recovery and economic redevelopment. In the 10 years since, NewBo has flourished into a bustling neighborhood with many retail and corporate businesses, as well as new residential living options.
In other words: NewBo is the perfect spot for a coffee shop! Enter: Brewhemia.
Co-Founder Steve Shriver was kind enough to conduct a little interview with me over email, so read on for Brewhemia's story and how they see their role in the community, as well as some lessons learned after 6 years of helping run a top-notch café...
Roaster Brian: What's the "Brewhemia startup story?"
Steve Shriver: We wanted to start up a family business in the New Bohemia district so we started looking for opportunities in 2013. We decided to open an Iowa tap room specializing in Iowa craft beer. After an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a space to run the tap room we came across a little slow neighborhood coffee shop for sale. It sold Iowa beer but really specialized in Third Wave/Specialty Coffee. We decided that coffee was something we could really get excited about so we purchased it and re-branded it to Brewhemia. During the rebrand process we improved the menu and expanded the offerings. We began attracting new customers every day who became our regulars. The rest is history!
RB: How do you see yourself as a member of your community/neighborhood?
SS: When we launched Brewhemia we believed Cedar Rapids needed an independent, locally owned cafe that served as a hub to the community. We love to see the role we play to the hundreds of customers we have every day. We see everything from artists, entrepreneurs, families, politicians and beyond. Blue collar workers get their coffee on the way to work, a musician writes music alone in a booth while an architect shares drawings with a client and everything in between. We are proud to facilitate every one of these interactions and experiences.
RB: What's been your biggest "hard lesson" learned?
SS: The slow times are hard. We built the business up to handle the occasional line out the door and with that comes overhead costs. In the depths of winter when we see fewer customers than average it can be challenging. We want to be ready to provide a great experience at any moment but sometimes it's hard to predict and sometimes it's easy to overspend on labor. Managing cashflow as it relates to this is probably the toughest lesson we've learned.
RB: What about owning Brewhemia brings you the most joy?
SS: Knowing how many people we positively impact daily. From the growers of our coffee, our suppliers, our employees all the way through to the customers!
RB: What about owning Brewhemia gives you the biggest headache?
SS: Road construction. Anytime we have road construction or road closures in the neighborhood we see a dip in business. We know it's a pain for our customers and we can't do anything about it.
How RSR became besties with Brewhemia
Brewhemia has a near and dear place in my heart, as they played a key role in the early growth of Ross Street Roasting Co. Founded in 2015 and fully operational in the 4th quarter, we didn't start seeking out wholesale clients until early 2016. Tama-Toledo is an hour from Cedar Rapids, and is one of the closest metro markets to us. I had begun networking with the CR entrepreneurial community through the local chapter of 1 Million Cups. I applied and was accepted to give a pitch for my new business, and the organizer was kind enough to pass me the name of Steve's wife and Brewhemia co-owner, Andrea Shriver.
After I dropped off some samples, the staff and owners at Brewhemia had a chance to try our coffee. I believe it was a single origin Kenyan coffee. A few days later one of the owners called back and said they'd loved the samples and were interesting in partnering with us.
And as Steve said above, "The rest is history!" Steve was also very generous to give us this testimonial after 3+ years of our working together: "Ross Street Roasting has been a top rated supplier of Brewhemia for over 3 years. They have always delivered premium coffee, on time, and in full. As our cold brew business spikes in the summer, RSR is able to accommodate larger orders while maintaining consistency. We are proud to offer their coffee at the busiest independently owned coffee shop in Cedar Rapids!" Thx, y'all! :)
I'm obviously biased, but I truly believe Brewhemia is something special. Their commitment to Specialty Coffee is of course important, but their food is also fantastic, the menu is impressive, and the owners and staff are awesome human beings. They also have a nice back-bar with a rotating cast of Iowa craft beers for when I stop in after "coffee drinking hours."
On the operations side, they take staff training seriously and we've done a few cupping events with them over the past 3 years we've worked together to boost staff knowledge on the roasting & growing/production aspects of Specialty Coffee. I rely on them to be a sounding board for new coffees that we roll out, and I work my butt off to keep them happy when I hear any feedback, questions, or concerns that come back from them.
So if you find yourself driving through or anywhere near Cedar Rapids, stop in and say hi to my friends at Brewhemia and grab coffee and some food. They'll treat you right.