A Roundtable With Indianapolis’ Coffee Leaders

From left to right: Scott Soltys-Curry; BJ Davis; Jeff Litsey; Steve Hall; Hugo Cano; Gyalene Torres; Jes Nijjer; Justin Jones; Neal Warner

Indy’s coffee leaders are constantly praised for their commitment to community—and they need it to withstand the pandemic’s devastating impact on the commuters, freelancers, and restaurant workers who keep them in business.

Scott Soltys-Curry, founder of the Indianapolis Coffee Guide: I know COVID-19 has had a lot of negative impacts, but as a consumer, it has been interesting to see the good things born out of everyone’s creativity, like new products.

BJ Davis, co-owner of Bee Coffee Roasters: We started bottling cold brew because we couldn’t serve early on during the farmers’ market season. So, we bottled it for people to take home. That was very popular. I know Calvin Fletcher’s did that, too.

Jeff Litsey, co-owner of Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee Company: Yeah, we followed your lead on that.

Steve Hall, co-founder of Tinker Coffee Company: The shift from cafe to home coffee has created a lot of opportunities. So, like Zoom calls with groups of people, ways to brew coffee better at home

Hugo Cano, owner of Amberson Coffee & Grocer: The environment we’re in is pushing us all to adapt and survive. There’s no one person who’s doing things right. It’s always learning from everyone else.

Gyalene Torres, manager of Foundation Coffee Company: I want to mention the way Hugo approached the reusable cups [serving drinks in carryout glass jars]. My husband literally lives for it. Never seen him so excited.

Jes Nijjer, top Indianapolis coffee photographer: That will encourage a lot of other shops to come up with something similar.

Soltys-Curry: It really all does come back to the coffee community’s focus on the actual people. When I tell people about coffee here, I describe it as the truest expression of community I’ve ever seen.

Litsey: I’ve traveled to most states in the country, and I feel like in Indianapolis there is a pervasive amount of excellence.

Justin Jones, co-founder of Bovaconti Coffee and Georgia Street Grind: We used to be able to do all this fun stuff together like Latte Art Throwdowns and meetups, and now we can’t. We’re so focused on just keeping the lights on.

Soltys-Curry: Circumstances would be worse if we didn’t have so many cafés. There were only 20 or 24 three years ago, and now my list is at 46. That has caused the footprint of the community to grow enough to be more sustainable.

Neal Warner, co-owner of Small Victories Hospitality (Provider and Coat Check Coffee): What’s interesting to me is I’ve only seen our revenues grow since all these places have opened. I like to think that we’re about where craft beer was 15 years ago, when it was 3 percent of market share. And what is it now? Fifteen or something.

Hall: I’ve always been in the camp of whenever more people come on the scene, it’s not a matter of them taking a piece of the pie. It’s a matter of the pie getting bigger. 

Cano: Tinker has done an amazing job, and people are way open now. I can offer experimental fermentation coffees for a premium price, and people will try it.

Torres: Something I am excited about within the community is the accessibility. The people that you give jobs to, that you give leadership roles to … I’m very excited to see how it keeps growing.

Warner: The more roasteries and shops that open up, that becomes a real possibility, especially if we can focus on providing living-wage jobs. That’s something high-level I’m excited about—if we’re standing here in 10 years and we have all managed to stay in coffee, it has been a sustainable life for everyone.

Jones: I’ve never come across another city that rivals anything we are doing here. Nobody’s complacent. Everybody’s constantly asking, “How do I get more direct to farm? How do I get more unique coffees?” That’s been really cool to be a part of.