Me: What’s the best place for coffee in Richmond, VA? Siri: One moment... That would be Brewer’s Cafe, 1125 Bainbridge St, Richmond,VA 23224
If Siri says it, it must be true; and in this case it is! Brewer’s Cafe is more than your run of the mill coffee shop, it’s an experience. The cafe, featured in the New York Times, is a space where people instantly feel relaxed and laid back, “it’s not snobbish or pretentious, there’s just a really nice vibe”. Despite how popular Brewer’s has become, it was almost the dream that did not come into existence.
Ajay Brewer owner of Brewer’s Cafe, who once worked a successful stockbroker, was approached by his friend Baker, who presented him with an idea. The idea was that they would quit their jobs and open a coffee shop, and call it Bakers and Brewers. Ajay, not a coffee fan or drinker, was not immediately sold on the idea, but recognized that a seed had been planted. “At the time couldn’t get along with my boss, so I quit thinking I would leave and find a job at another brokerage firm. About a month after I quit my job I called Baker and asked if he wanted to open the coffee shop but he wasn’t in the position to do it, so I said I want to try and open up a spot and see what happens”.
Although, he was passionate about the project, Ajay found that he was missing an important key element to making things work- faith. “A month into trying to opening it, I didn’t have the faith it would happen. So 3 months after quitting, I walked back to my employer with my 5 month son Parker in hand and asked for my job back. It was quite humbling for me. My former boss said no. That day was when I wrote a 70 page business plan. It was the defining moment for me”. And the rest as they say is history. Brewer’s Cafe successfully opened in October 2015.
Opening the cafe was not without its set of challenges. Ajay acknowledges that his 9 years of working in finance prior to opening the shop made it a less intimidating process for him; however, what was difficult for him was learning how to get rid of his “hero-complex”. Ajay recalls, “The catalyst for pushing me forward was a text message the mother of my child sent to me. It was a forward of an article about how individualists have this superhero complex where they want to do everything themselves. So I had to learn to reach out to my network and figure out who could help me. For me I thought I could do everything myself and until she sent me that I did not really step on the gas and get going”.
In addition to realizing the importance of working with others, Ajay also learned the hard way the importance of maintaining a work-life balance. “My biggest loss is my personal relationship. Being able to navigate someone else’s feelings while opening a business was extremely difficult. If I could do it differently, I would put more effort into our relationship as a whole. Taking the time to realize it now, it would’ve been worth saving [the relationship] and not being caught up in the restaurant that can and will go one day”.
While there were losses, opening Brewer’s did come with its share of perks and advantages. Ajay shares, “Through the cafe we’ve been able to help a lot of people and be a part of charitable programs that work to feed the homeless and buy medications for those in need. Brewer’s is a part of the community and that’s what we stand for. We even threw an outdoor art and music festival, Manchester Manifest. Being able to give back to people in an extremely productive way makes me very happy.” Sharing the cafe’s accomplishments is a no brainer for Ajay, “I’m against not bragging about the good people do, people give because they are motivated to do so, so every chance I get I tell about the good we’ve done to inspire others”.
Ajay, who is the product of an inner city upbringing, credits his environment with helping to set the tone for his outlook on life. “After getting a promotion that brought me to Richmond, I knew I wanted to get out of it [corporate America] and I had an overwhelming feeling to give back to my community. I wanted to take control of my destiny and give back to others. Going to work and making 6 figures wasn’t enough, it wasn’t something I was proud of and I wanted to show the world that you can succeed doing the things you want to do without feeling the overwhelming need to work for someone else”.
Ajay, who has been described as eccentric, creative, and compassionate, wants people to know that they, just like him, can be progressive individuals who think highly of themselves and their families, and still live in the city as opposed to moving out to the suburbs. “A lot of people who grow up in the inner city feel like they have to move to another area, like Short Pump, DC, or Atlanta to get what they want. No you don’t have to. You can make your area great; just invest the time, that’s what Brewer’s is about”!
In a time where money is on everyone’s mind and people seem to be looking out for themselves more and more, Ajay Brewer is proving that it’s not all about the money; it’s possible to positively impact those around you and make a difference in your community, while doing something you love. To some a cup of coffee is linked to the start to a new day, an afternoon pick-me up, or an opportunity to meet with or catch up with a friend but to Ajay it is so much more. It’s the place where is passion and purpose met, and ever since then greatness has ensued.
by Natacha Lorius
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