Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater chats with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
Over the weekend, downtown's Black Tap Coffee marked their first birthday with Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts, party hats and, of course, the kind of coffee drinks that have made their Beaufain Street shop a destination over the past year. Owners Jayme Scott and Ross Jett sat down with Eater Charleston to talk about how their vision for a West Coast-style coffee shop came to be, as Jayme puts it, "like a second living room for a lot of people."
"What started as a conversation over Gchat turned into this," he continues. "During work, we would chat and be like, 'Why don't we just quit our jobs and start a coffee shop?' And it's what ended up happening somehow. All the pieces fell together."
Eater Charleston: What did you initially envision for the coffee shop?
Ross: I was living out in the Bay Area in California before this, so I would go into San Francisco every weekend and see what was going on there [in the coffee scene]. Coffee, at the time, was just a hobby for Jayme and I, and I really liked the style of the West Coast coffee shop. I wanted to get back to the East Coast--all of my family was here--and I wanted to bring that style of coffee shop back here: a simple menu, one size for everything. I felt Charleston had such a great culinary scene that they'd be receptive to the idea. At the time, Hope and Union was doing well on that front, but we felt there was room to expand, so that's why we came to Charleston.
Jayme: Likewise, I was in DC and I spent a lot of time in New York. Their coffee scene at the time was also taking off and that's how I became interested in it. There were lots of cool shops up in New York, with a similar idea, though: small menu, nice, cool space. We just wanted to bring that somewhere where there's a nice lifestyle to live, so that's why we picked Charleston.
Are there any differences between the initial concept and what you're doing now?
Ross: We started very, very simple, especially with regards to food. It's still pretty simple, but we've slowly added more. We've added specialty drinks, like the black julep, but we've kept the core menu. During the summertime, we did homemade sodas, so we've had a few things come and go off the menu, seasonally, but the core of the menu has stayed the same.
Jayme: We talked to a lot of cafe owners and they said, start with what you never want to get rid of. If you offer something and then take it away, a lot of times customers will get antsy. There was a time when we bought larger size cups, thinking that we'd have two sizes of coffee. But then we said, no, we're going to stick with one size to keep it consistent. It makes drinks better on our end and it's easier for the customer. It's worked really well. We got a little bit of kickback at first for not having multiple sizes of drinks, but it's not an issue any more.
How has the reaction been, both in the neighborhood and beyond?
Jayme: The neighborhood's been very receptive to us from the beginning. We have a big following. A lot of the culinary people frequent the shop...they're looking for the same high quality in everything they drink and eat, so they come to us to give them that great cup of coffee.
How did things change when [coffee shop] Hope & Union closed?
Ross: It's hard to parse it out, because they closed right at the end of July and that was right when the students came back to town. Summertime is typically a slow time around Charleston for food, in general. So right when they closed the students came back. We definitely got a lot of their regulars down here, so it really did pick up. But how much of that was people coming back into town and how much was them was hard to say.
I mean, there was definitely a bump for us, but I would prefer if they were still there. It definitely helps a city like Charleston to have more than one really great coffee shop. It was sad to see them go..it was such a cool space. Luckily, all of the baristas landed on their feet at Collective. We've maintained a good connection with them.
Jayme: We've become friends with all the baristas there. They serve different kinds of coffee, so it's good to go over there and try what they're serving. We try to go over there once a week, each of us. It's a good community, and it's growing. It's fun to be a part of that.
What can we expect in the future? Any menu changes coming up?
Ross: We're going to keep the core menu the same, but soon, very soon Sweeteeth will be doing a liquid truffle--a sipping chocolate--for us. And we're trying to get WildFlour to do a shortbread to pair with it. Hopefully the cold weather will come back for that. We might do a grapefruit soda, because GrowFood Carolina has grapefruit in season right now.
Jayme: As far as coffee goes, we're going to hopefully start a coffee delivery system, where every two weeks people will be getting fresh coffee delivered to their door. If you go to the grocery store, all your coffee has been sitting there for a long time. We'll get you the freshest coffee...hopefully that's going to be rolled out in the next month or so.
Do you ever take the shop on the road?
Ross: We've done a few events. We did the Kinfolk dinner. We're starting to bring our coffee to people's work. We'll do that once a month, where we head out into other people's office and make coffee for them.
Does it feel like it's been a year?
Jayme: I mean, probably not if I sit back and think about it, but it's been a long time of working hard, I can tell you that. I remember at three months, I couldn't believe it had been three months. But at this point, I can believe it's been a year. I guess looking back, it's quite an accomplishment.
· Black Tap Coffee [Facebook]
·All Black Tap Coverage [-ECHS-]
Photo: Jayme and Ross of Black Tap [Provided]