Dave Fafara stands over the noisy machine in the back of his Shenandoah Joe’s Preston Avenue shop, coffee-scented steam rising from a batch of freshly roasted beans. A metal arm pushes through the beans heaped in the cooling tray, and Fafara occasionally stirs them with his hand, until they’re cool enough to slide out a trapdoor into a container. Workers nearby stand ready to weigh and bag them.
“This really is a factory,” says Dan Zimmerman, architect with Alloy Workshop, watching Fafara’s labors. Zimmerman says he once used Fafara’s notes to calculate the amount of coffee beans roasted by Shenandoah Joe since the company was founded 17 years ago, and came up with more than a million pounds.
Yet, of course, this Preston Avenue space is also a well-trafficked coffee shop: meeting place, social hub, a spot where customers develop their own rituals. When Fafara approached Alloy about renovating, he and Zimmerman both knew it would be important to maintain the balance that has existed here since the company moved in a decade ago.
“We wanted to keep our roots,” says Fafara. While the renovation would roughly double the customer seating area, and improve the look and logistics of the bar area, the “factory” part of the facility needed to remain visible as it always has. (Not to mention audible and sniffable.)
And while Alloy would lend its signature modern look to the space, the old living room style, with burlap coffee sacks and comfortably beat-up furniture, wouldn’t be going anywhere. In fact, Fafara says the wedding planner’s mantra (“something old, something new,” etc.) guided his own thinking, with “something borrowed” coming in the form of furniture lent by regular customers who heard about the expansion.
Zimmerman and his colleagues came up with a unifying concept for aesthetics and function that they called “the bean.” It’s a core that anchors the center of the space, extending from the bar in front through utility and bathroom spaces to offices in back.
Its public side is clad in dark, nearly black wood that wraps around both sides of the central core. Upon a closer look, this wood isn’t painted or stained; it’s treated with a Japanese burnt-wood technique called Shou Sugi Ban. The Alloy team devised a homegrown method for charring the wood, in which a turkey fryer provided the flame. The result is modern in its simplicity but organic in texture—a nod to the idea of roasting, and a visual echo of coffee flavors and scents.
“The coffee industry is ever-evolving,” says Fafara. “I wanted to educate Charlottesville about different brewing methods.” He’s always aimed for a customer experience that’s dense with information about where the coffee comes from and how it gets to the cup, and the new layout furthers that goal by giving a designated space to each type of drink: a pour over bar, an espresso bar, a drip coffee bar and a front bar for pastries and paying.
“If you look at most coffeehouses, they have one distinct bar and everybody gathers there,” says Fafara. “Here, we can control the flow.” So, if you just want a drip coffee, you can quickly be served and pay without having to wait behind the aficionado who’s watching the barista weigh and grind beans for a custom pour over.
“The idea was to invite people to learn more” without any pressure, says Zimmerman—yet for those thirsty for knowledge about their favorite caffeinated drink, the new space includes a community cupping room where groups may gather to taste and be educated.
The “bean” breaks up the space to keep it from feeling cavernous, and a dropped ceiling over the coffee bars clearly designates this zone as distinct from seating areas. Alloy specified a solid-surface white bartop and three different browns—reminiscent of light, medium and dark roast coffees—to dress the walls.
The space feels fresh, yet anchored in the presence that Shenandoah Joe had already solidly established in this spot. Zimmerman says the project was an exercise in enhancing and respecting a place that’s been part of the community for years. “An interesting thing for us,” he says, “was to stay out of the way.”