Q&A With the Banjo Coffee Founders
Following is a Q&A conducted by Atlanta Coffee Shops with the Banjo Coffee co-founders, husband and wife team, Billy and Chasidy Atchison. The back-story above frames the origin of Banjo Cold Brew and Banjo Coffee (the coffee shop), which is also reiterated in the Q&A.
Q: How did the name Banjo Coffee come about? Is there someone in the family that's a banjo player?
A: Long ago, Billy got a joke tattoo of a banjo (instrument) on his knee because you know…we’re from Alabama. So, when we started thinking about the cold brew business around the kitchen table, we really wanted it to create a specialty coffee brand that was warm and enjoyable – like talking to family around a kitchen table or playing music around a fire. We came up with lots of brand names, but Banjo was the one that felt like home base for us and the tattoo was a constant reminder to not take it all too seriously.
Q: Can you comment on the banjo make/model and significance of the banjo that's hanging on the wall inside the shop?
A: [Chasidy]: It was my mother’s, and she and Billy used to strum it, and pick a little… It’s a Fender, newer model but there’s little pieces of our family history throughout the shop that remind us of our roots.
Q: Banjo is one of the very few independent coffee shops in Atlanta that's partnered with Café Campesino in Americus, GA. How/when did this partnership begin, and what has it been like through the years? [Per this article, the partnership began in 2015, just want to confirm the details, and if there's anything else you'd like to add]
A: Yes, the partnership started in 2015 when we met Bill Harris at Coffee Fest Atlanta. Ethical sourcing and direct, real relationships to farmers was a key goal of our foundation and working with Café Campesino allows us to be a part of those relationships. They have been authentically and directly working with 10 specific farmer coops throughout the past 20 years. They have become friends with the farmers, watched kids grow up, helped build schools, helped build bridges... more than just purchasing and supplying. Café Campesino was also the first organic, fair trade roaster in Georgia, and they are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Billy just got back from visiting our Guatemalan farms with Café Campesino and was able to finally connect us directly, which is going to be an even more vital role in the next several years.
Q: What's been your process for developing / featuring some specialty drinks inside the coffee shop? For example, the bourbon vanilla latte, strawberry matchito, tonic youth, etc.?
A: We like to be inspired by the seasons and using other local products. Mocktails are fun to play with, and sometimes it’s just something simple and familiar with a new twist. For instance, muscadines are now in season, and while it’s a process, we love to use those for our Muscadine Soda with ginger and agave, and it tastes like one of the best, non-processed grape sodas. It takes a good bit of time and effort to make, but they’re only in season for a month or so, so we jump on it! For the hibiscus tea, which has become a regular on the menu, we were inspired by taco stands in LA with their super sweet Jamaica drinks. We wanted to make a version of that using local hibiscus and run it on nitro. It’s all a lot of trial and error but it’s one of the more fun and creative outlets of our business. Also, we get bored drinking the same stuff, so experimenting is just part of the DNA of the company.
Q: In addition to Café Campesino, you have almost a dozen partnerships with food and drink vendors at the moment (1821 Bitters, Arden's Gardens, Emerald City Bagels, Ratio Bakery, Xocolatl Chocolate, Montane Sparkling Water). Can you pick one or two of these partners and explain how you decided to partner with them?
A: The coffee shop is an extension of our farmers market and local food roots. We work with companies that we have bought from personally, vended next too, and loved over the years. There are so many talented companies/farmers/makers right here in Georgia and we want to showcase them whenever we can! Pine Street was always our go to for local meats… Xocolatl is just the best chocolate producers around, and they source their cacao directly. The hard part is narrowing it down.
Q: Banjo Cold Brew recently announced they have launched their nitro cold brew cans into Whole Foods for the entire South region. How important was this initiative for your brand?
A: This is pretty big for us. Our bottles have been available at the Georgia Whole Foods for a few years, but the change to cans played a key component. Switching allowed us to have a longer shelf life and more approachability, while significantly reducing costs and pricing. Moving to regional was one of our primary goals in the beginning, and now that we are here, we began the journey of maintaining it! We have a lot of supporters, friends and family around the south, so it’s great they don’t have to wait on us to visit before they can get their coffee now.
Q: For those people just learning about Banjo Coffee and Banjo Cold Brew, can you provide a brief explainer on how you are differentiating Banjo Coffee Shop and Banjo Cold Brew (the brand)?
A: Banjo Coffee shop is the place you can engage with the company every day of the week in Avondale Estates. We offer a variety of cold brew options on tap, as you could imagine, as well as, hot coffee, espresso drinks, and breakfast/lunch. Banjo Cold Brew is based in our cold brew brewery a couple blocks down from the coffee shop. We serve the rest of the coffee sphere out of there, including: packaged wholesale, farmers markets, events, catering, and local office delivery.
Q: Is the Banjo Cold Brew a much more significant portion of the business now and the coffee shop is sort of secondary for people who are looking for a space to study/read and consume some coffee?
A: Both sides of the company are important to us. One connects us to a local community and one certainly has a broader reach, but really one flows into the other on a daily basis. Right now the cold brew side is more significant primarily because it’s 98º outside, and truth be told, while BCB was our initial approach, at a certain point in the year, when it does get cold and there are no events or markets, and cold brew coffee is the last thing on people’s mind, we have our “winter survival plan” aka the café. While that’s part in jest, it is how we survived the last 2 winters while we were building our brand. As we grow regionally, we now have to figure out ways to support the accounts out of state, so we will see how that develops over the next year(s)—whether through a similar approach, or something local that people can physically touch.
Q: Does Banjo Coffee Shop have any recurring events hosted in its location at Avondale Estates? If so, what are they?
A: Not yet, but we will be focusing on events starting this quarter. Follow our Instagram or Facebook to keep in touch.
Q: What's been the most interesting and/or exciting part of your journey so far in operating a local coffee shop?
A: Being part of a community is awesome! The support is unreal, and for the first time, we feel as though we have planted roots both professionally and personally.
Q: What are some of the challenges you are currently undergoing with the coffee shop and/or Banjo Cold Brew (the brand)?
A: Where to start! One of the main challenges is that Billy and I have a lot of ideas that we want to realize, but we run out of time and money too often to do them all. We are growing organically, so that comes with the reality that we just can’t do everything. Plus, we have to value our family time and juggling time, kids, school/activities and home life balance is tough.
Q: Is there anything else that hasn't been asked in this Q&A or widely reported in the past about Banjo Coffee that you would like the general public and/or coffee enthusiasts to know?
A: We just want to say a genuine “thank you” to our loyal fans and to those who support us. We don’t have a big marketing budget, so our growth is largely due to one person telling another person to try it! It has helped tremendously, and Atlanta has proven to be one of the best places for local love.