By Lamisse Beydoun
There’s something about walking into a coffee shop draped in brick and covered in wood. Your boots feel heavier and chest feels larger. Variety Coffee Roasters has a look, an atmosphere, an aesthetic, a feeling. It’s a feeling so organic, so unintentionally raw, that you can’t help but feel part of it. It’s a “working man’s coffee shop,” as owner, Gavin Compton, puts it.
On arrival you can’t help but notice the infamous and huge metallic coffee roaster. It demands your attention. It takes up a large space in the back of the shop; your eyes can’t stop from wandering to it. The Bruce Springsteen poster hung up behind the machine sets a rock vibe that resonates with a lot of the staff (especially Gavin who’s a big fan). Like most New Yorkers, music plays a massive role in the staff’s lives, even outside work. Three of the employees are in a band together. “They’re the best people on the planet,” Gavin said about his employees. The relaxed mood creates a fun environment for the staff who have worked consistently at the shop for years.
The median employee has been working there for around 5 years, Gavin calculated off the top of his head. (This is especially impressive when considering the first location just opened in 2008 in Williamsburg.) The poster is a symbol for what the shop embodies. It manifests into the hardworking, American culture the shop possesses.
All this culture translates quite effortlessly at Variety. Gavin explained that the classic rock atmosphere happened naturally. His decision to open a coffee shop was poetically straightforward. “There was no coffee shop in my own neighborhood and I really like coffee, so I opened it… Who wouldn’t want to do it?” he told me. His mantra was quite simple, “Be nice to everybody and make really good coffee”. And the coffee really is amazing.
Everything on the menu is roasted at Variety’s Bushwick location. This third location was created with the purpose of on-site roasting in 2014. As a result, they have “complete control” over the finished product, ensuring their clients get the best of what they have to offer. They brew, roast and do basically everything except grow the beans themselves. Not to say they aren’t careful about where they get their coffee beans. They come directly from specific farms on the bean belt. They especially love the Ethiopian and Columbian produce. All their coffee is single-origin coffee, no blends. Unlike your average coffee shops, Variety puts just as much time and care into their iced coffee as their other caffeinated beverage. In fact, Gavin called it their most popular order. Their customers love it.
The committed clientele is a major factor in the pleasantness of the coffee shop. Walking in, the majority of people that you would see sitting down are regulars. Gavin came up with another number off the top of his head, “about 80%” of them can’t help but come back for me. He explained that the shops are “melting pots of whatever community they’re in”. Consequently, the Brooklyn location has played a great role in shaping the aesthetic of the shop. The people who walk in come from a variety (happy accident) of backgrounds.
From “stroller moms to a lot of neighborhood people, freelancers, students, ‘F-list’ celebrities, construction workers, ‘9 to 5’ workers”, you can find about anybody in a Variety Coffee Roasters. It’s no mystery why this coffee shop attracts all walks of life. The locations are ideal, and unlike most New York cafés, it’s affordable. When I asked him about the shop’s core ideals, he was quite clear. “Providing the best possible product we can at a price point that’s realistic.” This place isn’t for the pretentious. “Rich people have a lot of stuff that caters to them,” Variety Coffee Roasters is for the working person who wants to enjoy a really good cup of coffee, surrounded by really good company. He could even play a game of the classic arcade game, Galaga. (I challenge you to try to beat the high score, held by none other than Gavin himself.)
Gavin and his team have successfully put up three different Variety Coffee Roasters around Brooklyn in just 8 short years, and intend to open a fourth in the near future. “All I do is coffee,” Gavin admits. The plans for the new location are still underway, it could be anywhere from Bed-Stuy to Manhattan. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Lamisse Beydoun grew up in Los Angeles, California and is now studying journalism at The New School, in NYC. She’s a young, Lebanese-American writer who’s passionate about art and social justice.