Coffee is more than just a caffeinated beverage to its fans. Its presence symbolizes the start of the day or respite from the fatigue that sets in between meals. At its core, coffee is a vital tool used to re-center its drinker from the throes of their current affliction, and local coffee shops Café Kindred and Rare Bird Coffee Roasters are willing to make sure the product they offer can be a cure as well as a cause for community that larger chains don’t address.
Rare Bird and Kindred share significant similarities. They’re both local start-ups who found fertile ground in Falls Church. Each emphasizes sourcing quality products in a responsible manner while creating a work culture that demands the most from employees and does its best to give them the most in return. And they don’t want people to see them as simply a place of business, but an extension of their personal space.
Coincidentally (or maybe not?), they’re also both founded by married couples, with Jen Demetrio and Gary O’Hanlon operating Kindred and Lara Berenji and Brian Becker overseeing Rare Bird. Perhaps the only way they differ in their current occupations is the backgrounds that led them there.
“Typical to us, we do everything backwards. What we should have done was to have nothing to start with as far as coffee and then jump ship to Vigilante [Coffee Company],” Demetrio said, who comes from a background as a pastry chef along with O’Hanlon. “I have to credit them big time…they guided us on everything and they put those pillars in place – quality, price point, knowledge and support.”
“I always feel like there’s this connecting line for the arts – from salon stylists to tattoo artists to coffee makers – they share creativity,” Berenji said, explaining that she and Becker met at the Corcoran School of Art & Design as photographers before Becker turned a coffee roasting hobby with a Whirley Pop popcorn maker into the couple’s primary vocation.
On a grander scale, both shops make up what is known as the third wave of coffee. The first wave started with growing coffee consumption exponentially such as store shelves that were lined with Folgers tins and the second wave came with the rise of specialty coffee stores like Starbucks or Peet’s. The third wave is broadly defined as turning coffee into an artisanal food stuff, similar to wine, and valuing the origin of the product as well as its unique methods of production.
As Demetrio puts it, the third wave is actually coffee as it should be. Pure flavors of the product and direct trading with international farmers supersede the commoditized influence prominent in the first and second waves. A staffer at Rare Bird joked that the store is on the cusp of the fourth wave of coffee, since they not only operate a storefront but also wholesale the coffee roasted in house.
Returning to the roots of production works to both establishments’ advantage in the Little City that favors the grassroots concept. Many standalone restaurants fill prominent space in the city’s streets, from Ireland’s Four Provinces to Clare & Don’s Beach Shack to Dogwood Tavern, while others such as Mad Fox Brewing Company got its start in Falls Church before expanding. City residents take pride in helping craft the identity of its local watering holes, though it’s the shops themselves that do most of the heavy lifting.
“There’s a lot of growing pains [and] there’s a lot of figuring out what’s gonna work,” Demetrio added. “Especially in the beginning, there’s a lot of forks in the road where you have to say, ‘What direction do we go here? Because this will determine who we will be in two, three or five years.’ At some point you commit it to yourself and say ‘That’s what we are.’”
For Kindred, their brand is more concrete after some early bumps while Rare Bird may find themselves at a crossroads in the near future. Initially, Demetrio and O’Hanlon focused on making an abundance of pastries. But customers favored hot dishes out of the kitchen, so the couple responded by nixing the pastry display and focusing on a more developed menu. Rare Bird could find that wholesaling their coffee beans is more prudent than running a storefront, or vice versa. Though with just under a year on the books they’re still in a “wait and see” approach (plus it might revoke their status as a fourth wave coffee innovator – *gasp*).
“It almost feels like two businesses in one, and it is in a sense,” Berenji continued. “We’ve thought about [choosing between wholesale or hospitality] periodically, but I think the combination is really interesting for customers and it’s what helps draw people in.”
There is one final similarity between the two coffee shops: They’re both participating in this weekend’s Taste of Falls Church Fall Festival. Samplings of their drinks and menu items will be available for competition judges and attendees alike who’re curious about the relatively new restaurants that have sprung up in the Little City the past couple of years.
Kindred actually won the Taste of Falls Church competition last year, much to Demetrio and O’Hanlon’s surprise. It was nice moment of recognition for the young business, but they refuse to get too high on their horse.
“We’re always pushing everyday, even when we’re dumb tired. We do 16 hours a day here,” O’Hanlon said, before Demetrio added “We’ve said it from day one: Before we try to get a million people in the door we wanna make sure that they know they’re going to get quality food and service.”