High Country Coffee Culture
An inside look at three of the High Country’s lesser-known coffee shops.
Surrounded by the beautiful mountains of the Blue Ridge Parkway lies North Carolina’s High Country, a staple of the Southeast. Whether outdoor enthusiasts come to partake in the countless adventure attractions offered in the area or families visit to enjoy a leisurely and relaxing day soaking in the weather and mountainous views, there is something for everyone.
And the High Country’s coffee shops are no exception.
Like so many other small food and beverage businesses in the six-county region, the High Country’s coffee scene is driven by a homegrown, “local first” philosophy.
Three coffee shops in particular stay true to this Appalachian way of doing business. The trio receives less foot traffic than other, more mainstream coffee shops in the area that are usually packed with younger, college-aged crowds.
Below is an exploration of each shop — showcasing what they have to offer and how they contribute to a larger coffee culture movement in the High Country.
— BOONE, BANNER ELK, BLOWING ROCK —
— BOONE —
Located inside the building of Center 45, Boone’s newest climbing and fitness gym, lies a small roasting lab and a delicious cup of pour over coffee; the perfect pick-me-up after a full day of climbing or simply an inviting place to meet and hang out with some new (and old) friends.
Hatchet Coffee is just that place.
Although it is one of the newest coffee locations in the area having only been in the space for three months, it certainly does not make it the least.
Hatchet Coffee started as all great business ideas do: between two best friends in the wee hours of the night. Jeremy Bollman and Jeremy Parnell had been working together as late night bakers for Stick Boy Bread Company in Boone, when they slowly started educating themselves on the various types of coffees and flavors.
“We had learned a lot about West Coast coffee and the lighter roast profiles and pour overs, so we were doing a lot of that on the bread shift while we were working,” said Bollman, co-owner of Hatchet Coffee.
“The more we got into it, we realized we wanted something like that in Boone and we didn’t really see that kind of coffee—the coffee we were enjoying.”
The duo bought a small roaster and started roasting for Stick Boy, where they got a positive response from the community. From there, they started producing drip coffee and selling their beans.
“One step at a time, we started in my basement, moved to a warehouse facility, and from there got the invitation to move [to Center 45], and if people enjoy what we’re doing, then we’ll grow and remodel the rest of the space.”
The shop specializes in pour overs, which is a method of drip-brew where the barista manually pours the water over the coffee grinds that goes straight into the cup. The results? A fresh, individual cup of coffee that allows for personalized flavor.
The pour over method operates at a much slower pace than traditional drip coffee or espresso machines that most people are used to, however that’s what the guys at Hatchet Coffee love most about the method.
“It’s very accessible, and our biggest thing is that we want it very fresh, and we want to draw people into the process of drinking specially coffee,” Bollman said.
Pour overs are not the coffee enthusiasts’ only way of sharing their passion and engaging with the community to facilitating conversation.
Another special niche of Hatchet’s is their love for the outdoors and their way of incorporating it into their coffee.
“Aside not having the coffee that we were so excited about and wanted to produce, we felt like there wasn’t a space where the outdoor community could call their own in terms of a cafe or food or beverage,” Bollman said.
“Really I imaged this spot that would specifically serve the outdoor community in addition to the Boone community, but I feel like most people are in Boone because they love the outdoors.”
Mountain Grounds Coffee & Tea Co.
— BANNER ELK —
Alongside a much-traveled highway in Banner Elk is a coffee shop that lives up to its name, boasting an evident mountain town charm.
Not only does Mountain Grounds provide walk-ins with a much-needed dose of caffeine, tea and pastries; it also has established a strong foothold in the Banner Elk community.
The shop’s owner and operator, Gina Phenneger, adheres to a selling and marketing model distant from the traditional, “norm” small businesses usually follow.
Instead of investing her money in advertising, she donates money and goods to local impact organizations like High Country United Way.
This fall, Phenneger donated gift cards to a silent auction held by Banner Elk Elementary School.
“I’d rather have my money go towards a good cause and get my name out that way than just put my money into advertising that somebody might not ever see,” she says.
Additionally, Phenneger often provides catering to businesses whenever they have meetings. This involves serving them coffee, pastries and anything that goes with that, like sugar, butter or cream cheese.
Aside from that, she says the shop always manages to bring in both first-time visitors that turn into regulars, many of which routinely use the shop as a venue for gatherings. There’s even a group of women who sit together and knit every Tuesday.
Word of mouth is a big magnet for new customers.
“It’s a great hangout spot,” Phenneger says. “Customers will tell their friends to come to the shop and then one person tells another, and it’s a domino effect.”
Another appeal to customers is a playpen in the back corner of the shop. It gives parents an opportunity to sit down and relax with food and/or coffee beverages while their children play nearby.
Though she is visibly proud of her accomplishments as owner of Mountain Ground, Phenneger humbly says she doesn’t boast about the shop much.
“That’s up to my customers to do,” she says. “I just want to make sure I do my job and let them make it what they want it to be.”
This way of thinking allows room for Phenneger to listen to any fresh ideas customers might have, so she can help tailor the shop to their needs and wants.
Part of that is opening up the shop’s walls to local creatives who’d like to display and sell their works of art, music and writing to customers.
Phenneger’s overall goals for the shop revolve around a simple, yet noble purpose — making the Mountain Grounds experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible for customers. She sums it up by saying:
Camp Coffee Roasters
— BLOWING ROCK —
Tucked away in the corner at Blowing Rock’s downtown entrance to Main Street is Camp Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop embracing outdoor life, a happy staff, exceptional customer service and encouraging folks to “come as you are.”
Camp Coffee Roasters originated from “Jay Camp,” owner Jason Campbell’s nickname in the army. “Camp Coffee” is short for Campbell Family Coffee Roasters, after the owner Jason Campbell and his wife Amanda.
“As bizarre as it sounds, my primary motivator from the beginning has been connected to the fact that I was in the military,” Campbell said. “I was in a line unit with a guy that was obsessed with speciality coffee, and I had never heard anything about it; I had never been exposed to that.”
After Campbell returned from his first tour, he moved to Boone where his friend connected him with Jimmy of Jimmy’s Java (a coffee shop that was located on King Street but is currently out of business). Jimmy served in the army as well, and Campbell soon fell in love with the coffee culture.
“After my first tour in 2004 that was super crazy and super long, I knew I wanted to get into coffee.” Campbell also seeked out Don Cox, the owner and “bald guy” behind Bald Guy Brew in Boone. Cox took Campbell under his wing, where he did a six month apprenticeship with him.
Then Campbell got deployed again in 2008, and spent another year in Iraq.
“Being on tour again, I knew ‘when I get home I want to do something different,’” Campbell said. I want to be in coffee but I want to open my own cafe, and I knew that that was going to happen. I had no doubt about it.”
Campbell came back as a man on a mission, and just 20 days later he was working out the logistics of opening a cafe in the newly available space above Footsloggers in Blowing Rock.
Campbell worked there for over five years under the name Bald Guy Brew as their second location, but he knew he wanted to roast more than anything.
“We sold [Bald Guy’s] beans for about five years, and when the roaster space became open, it all happened very serendipitously,” Campbell said.
Since they began roasting their own beans, they changed the name, rebranded, and have been working through the kinks and challenges of their first year as Camp Coffee. “The community has been super supportive and it’s been very well received,” Campbell added.
Aside from Campbell loving the ability to roast his own beans, he could not be more passionate about his staff and the environment they strive to create at Camp Coffee.