As the name of his business suggests, Matt Ludwikowski is a bit brash.
The 32-year-old coffee barista, who doesn't speak Spanish, traveled to the outskirts of El Salvador two years ago and while driving up a volcano discovered a tiny village where he now buys and mills thousands of pounds of coffee each season. For several months, he worked two jobs -- one at a coffee shop in the Atlanta suburb of Buckhead and the other in a rural part of El Salvador.
"I worked in El Salvador three days a week and then would fly back to Atlanta to work at Octane (a coffee shop in Atlanta)," Ludwikowski said. "A lot of people said I was crazy, but when you love something like I do it's not really work."
Three months ago, Ludwikowski traveled to Chattanooga for the first time, and he is now planning to open a coffee shop in Warehouse Row -- the latest among more than a half dozen other downtown coffee shops.
Ludwikowski has opened a temporary "pop-up" outlet for his Brash Coffee on the first floor of the North building at Warehouse Row. Within the next two months, he plans on opening a 1,089-square-foot storefront created by Atlanta-based designer Smith Hanes to pay homage to the century-old history of the buildings in Warehouse Row.
Ludwikowski imports his coffee from El Salvador, roasts the beans in Athens, Ga., and lives and works primarily in Atlanta. But his first coffee shop will be at Chattanooga's Warehouse Row, where he found a welcoming landlord in a space similar to the unique and sustainable culture his business is trying to promote. By August, he plans another coffee shop in Atlanta.
"I'll be driving a lot," Ludwikowski quipped.
Ludwikowski has proven his bold moves to be successful so far. His trips to El Salvador helped cement an ongoing supplier relationship with vendors in Laguneta and the craft coffee he produced last year won the Southeast Regional Brewers Cup for 2012 and scored in the top six in the National Brewers Cup competition.
Even if his business name and strategy is brash, Ludwikowski insists that his customer and supplier relationships are anything but.
"We just hope to present a very pure, honest product and have a warm and welcoming space that people can enjoy," he said. We think we have the best way to get coffee and that is to get it from the farmer ourselves so we know the quality of the product and to know that those farmers are not being mistreated."
Ludwikowski has cultivated relations with farmers in Laguneta, El Salvador. Through the coffee mill he built in January 2012, he estimates the coffee farmers are earning a thousand times more than what what most farmers are getting for the commodity price of their coffee beans.
"As coffee buyers and brewers have gotten more meticulous, we're really starting to discover that you can get very delicious flavors out of coffee, which is surprising to a lot of people who are accustomed to coffee being bitter or not very flavorable," he said.
Ultimately, Ludwikowski said he foresees having a dozen stores, "but right now we're just focused on being a part of the community."
Ludwikowski's Brash Coffee debuted at Warehouse Row to welcoming customers just before Christmas and the initial response has been encouraging to the young entrepreneur.
Previously, Brash Coffee has been available only through select restaurants and boutique retailers or to those who seek out owner Matt Ludwikowski at his Peachtree Street office in Atlanta.
Brash Coffee's Warehouse Row location will be accessible through both a Market Street storefront and an interior entrance, easily accessible by the building's office lofts.
"Brash Coffee has an accessible, approachable take on the traditional coffee shop," said George Krauth, vice president of Jamestown, which owns and manages Warehouse Row. "Their style is very fitting for Chattanooga, and a welcome addition to Warehouse Row."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 757-6340