The Biz: Coffee philosphers

Coffee philosopher

Have a chat with Dripolator owner Jay Weatherly and it's easy to forget you're talking with a successful businessman. Part urban planner, part philosopher, part community organizer, part sustainability advocate — in many ways, he epitomizes a new breed of Asheville entrepreneurs who refuse to let a recession slow them down.

The three baristateers: Dripolator owner Jay Weatherly (far right) mugs for the camera with employees Rick Malone (left) and Scott Satterwhite (middle). Photo by Michael Muller

Weatherly, 34, had always wanted to own his own coffee shop, having worked as a barista in Greensboro before moving to Asheville in 2000. But instead of starting from scratch, he jumped on the opportunity when the Dripolator's Asheville location came up for sale in December 2007. The budding businessman turned to Mountain BizWorks and SCORE for help with developing a business plan. "I started with a strong idea. … No one in town was really doing what I wanted to do," says Weatherly. "And BizWorks helped me refine and re-refine it."

"The Drip," as his customers call it, was originally on Biltmore Avenue, just south of downtown. Weatherly didn't particularly like the spot but bided his time till he could move to his current digs at 190 Broadway. He chose the new spot for several reasons — not the least of them the fact that he lives just a few blocks away.

But Weatherly also saw the up-and-coming neighborhood's potential: "I can see bike lanes, I can see a completed [Reed Creek] greenway going down to the new Health Adventure. … Greenlife is already here, and we're just a few blocks from UNCA," he says.  The Dripolator's been at the new location for going on a year now, and business is booming.

About a third of his customers followed Weatherly to Broadway, but he credits much of his newfound success to his initial vision for the shop, which the move allowed him to realize fully. The funky, well-appointed space features a highly trained barista staff and top-notch customer service: "Nowhere else in town has the same standards that I do," he maintains — and all in an atmosphere that seems as much community center as coffee shop.

Those standards include relying as much as possible on a local supply chain, extending to the local craftspeople and artists who help provide his shop's signature look. "Everything I'm focusing on is supporting the local community," he notes, adding, "That, in and of itself, is the recession-proof model."

But Weatherly seems most proud of the diverse clientele his shop attracts. "I have a range of people from the community that think and believe differently, but they share the same space," he explains. The concept has attracted him since college, when he studied religion and philosophy. Weatherly has also done stints in the Peace Corps and as a wilderness-therapy counselor.

Maestro: Scott Satterwhite, who's been with the Dripolator for more than two years, prepares a delicious coffee drink for a customer.

"I've always been fascinated by the idea of places bringing a community together — both secular and nonsecular — to create social change," he reflects.  "When you have a Presbyterian minister and a drag queen sitting next to one another in what amounts to the same living room, something happens in what I believe is a very profound way. It strengthens, it tightens the idea of what community means."
Open every day, the Dripolator is at 190 Broadway St. in Asheville. For more information, call 398-0209 or visit http://dripasheville.com.

Linking investors and entrepreneurs

Carolina Connect, among the Southeast's most anticipated avenues for bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders, comes to the Renaissance Asheville Hotel Thursday, May 13.

Now in its seventh year, the annual event is presented by AdvantageWest Economic Development Group and the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council. This year's edition will feature the highest number of private investors and industry leaders ever, organizers say, offering entrepreneurs unprecedented opportunity to forge high-level connections.

The program will focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. Kicking off with a networking breakfast (7:30 to 8:30 a.m.) and ending with a 5:30 p.m. reception, the full day of connecting, idea-sharing and professional development will include keynote speakers, breakout sessions and an awards luncheon recognizing innovation and achievement in entrepreneurship across the region.
Registration ($95 through May 7, $125 after that) covers all conference sessions, a continental breakfast, lunch and the closing reception. For more information or to register online, go to http://advantagewest.com.

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3 thoughts on “The Biz: Coffee philosphers

  1. John

    When I moved back to Asheville I found Dripolater in its new location and was there just about every day during the long cold winter. Since I was new in town gave me a feeling of belonging. The coffee is the best, the service super friendly and the music they play tops it all off. A great hangout where laptops mix with real people.

  2. Jake B

    They have a really good espresso now too. Listening to a conversation at a bar recently, I found out the owners of Izzy’s Coffee had spent months perfecting an amazing espresso blend, which made it a very unique and tasteful espresso in Asheville. Turns out Dripolator is now serving the exact same one – from Counter Culture. Seems kinda lame, although I’m not sure who’s fault it is – CounterCulture for selling Izzy’s custom blend to a competitor or Dripolator for having the audacity to sell it yet still claim what they do is “unique”. Or maybe they should just call it Izzy’s Espresso blend at the Drip? I dunno.

  3. jay

    Quick clarification of the coffee served at the Dripolator Coffee Bar and Izzy’s. Counter Culture Coffee roasts and comes up with the blends and profiles for the coffee they sell. Izzy’s does use the same espresso, but it is not a custom espresso blend for them, nor did they create it. It is a blend that is available to all, called ‘Espresso Toscano’. And though it may very well be my favorite, the idea of “perfect” in coffee is about as illusive as calling a book “perfect”. Many great ones, yes. One that outshines the rest, no. Counter Culture actually offers 6+ espressos at the moment and each one is different and delicious. We leave the roasting up to them, they entrust us with brewing it to make your mouth water. Any more questions just come down to the Drip and we will explain it over a ‘near perfect’ espresso. ;) Cheers

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