Blacksmith, the coffee shop that brings together Greenway Coffee and Tea's David Buehrer and Ecky Prabanto with the Anvil/Underbelly/Hay Merchant ownership group, quietly opened to the public this morning at 7:00 a.m. It will be open seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. with a menu of coffee, tea and food items created by former Plonk chef Erin Smith. Greenway roasts all of its coffee at a facility on the east side.
As for the name, Buehrer says it's designed to connote the artisanship of something that's made to order by a skilled technician. Thinking back to the past, he explains that "if you had a badass blacksmith, you wouldn't go to anybody else." If the Blacksmith team executes as they plan to, the shop will become an essential part of people's lives, as Greenway has for its many fans. While they take their work seriously, the shop's sense of humor manifests itself in the bright orange painting of Freddie Mercury on the wall; the first person in line when a Queen song plays get a free drink.
Buehrer refers to Blacksmith as "the ultimate coffee machine," and there are several obvious differences from Blacksmith's former incarnation as iconic gay bar Mary's. First of all, there are windows that let light in, which was definitely a no no back in the day. Then there's the bar itself, which has been moved back to allow for additional seating. Blacksmith enhances Greenway's reputation for stellar customer service with this detail; everything the barista needs to make coffee is set in front of him or her, so there's never a need to turn away from the customer.
For most customers, Blacksmith will function as a normal coffee shop with a quick order counter that serves beverages such as lattes, cortados and regular coffee, along with food either from Blacksmith's nine item menu or Heights bakery Angela's Oven. Where Blacksmith sets itself apart is the Enthusiast Bar, an 11 seat counter where a barista will serve a rotating mix of coffee beans prepared different ways to showcase the different flavors of the bean. Buehrer notes that shops such as Blue Bottle Coffee in New York and Chicago-based Intelligentsia have four seat counters that are available during specific times, but Blacksmith's enthusiast bar features more seats and expects to be available all day, every day.
As to whether he thinks the Enthusiast Bar will be intimidating to regular customers, Buehrer calls it "an opportunity" and says he hopes non-enthusiasts will be intrigued when they see other customers sitting at the bar having a good time. Ultimately, he hopes to utilize the kitchen to serve food items specifically paired with the coffee being served at the Enthusiast Bar in what he thinks of as a "coffee omakase" service.
One sign that Blacksmith is something special is the presence of barista/roaster/coffee guy John Letoto who moved to Houston from Louisville to be a part of this project. When asked why he moved here, Letoto notes that in the coffee community it's not unusual for baristas to move to Los Angeles or New York; he sees this move as similar to that. Also, he says "I'm 33 and staring at 40. (Unlike in my 20s), I like to think I am accomplishing something rather than going to accomplish something." Besides, he concludes, "it's going to be fun, with lots of delicious pho." For those familiar with Buehrer's devotion to Pho Binh, he took Letoto there within his first 36 hours in Houston.
Turning to the food, Buehrer says that Australian coffee shop St. Ali inspired his thinking. Australian coffee shops have good food, and he wanted Blacksmith to follow that model. About the menu, he says that "everything needs to be good, because the coffee is good." Just as Blacksmith makes its own syrups, chef Smith's menu features from scratch biscuits and yogurt. Smith says that the small menu "fits perfectly" with Blacksmith's small kitchen. While those biscuits are destined to become Blacksmith's signature food item, Smith's favorite item is the BLT, which features a pickled green tomato.
Blacksmith is similar to Hay Merchant in the sense that, just as someone who isn't a beer drinker probably wouldn't go to Hay Merchant just to eat, customers are likely to come to Blacksmith for coffee rather than food. Still, just as at Hay Merchant, the food tastes good and is well-made. Besides, those seeking Greenway coffee with a more diverse array of food options can always visit Paulie's or the Eatsie Boys Cafe, which are only a mile or so from Blacksmith.