Archive for December, 2012

Coffee Klatch – 8th and Roast changes Nashville’s coffee aesthetic

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The bar at 8th and Roast, Nashville

The bar at 8th and Roast

When it comes to coffee in Nashville, it’s seemed for awhile now that those of us on the west side of the river pulled the short straw. Oh, there are some notable locales, but nobody who’s really blown us out of the water – at least with the quality of the coffee itself. (When you get down to Franklin, the choices seem to be largely limited to chains, chains and more chains – and that gets old).

This is relevant because we drink a whole lot of coffee, large, expansive city that we are. We hang out in lots of coffee shops. I interview people in coffee shops, to the point that a couple feel like extended offices to me.

But even the best coffee places around aren’t necessary the places with mind-blowing coffee.  Oh, there’s some good coffee, to be sure, and on the East side places like Barista Parlour have made their signature brewing methods a genuine draw – and for good reason. But in terms of locally owned roasters providing better than fair-trade coffee in a place designated a true coffee bar – not a restaurant that serves coffee and 27 other specialty drinks – there hasn’t been much on this side of the world.

When Roast Coffee closed in Crieve Hall earlier this year, that looked to be the end of anything for me on the long drive up Franklin Road into the city – might as well be Starbucks or, heaven forfend, McDonalds. Thank heaven for Roast owner Brad Wood and his regular booth at the Franklin Farmers’ Market, so I could at least continue to buy while the shop was closed.

Now, just a few short weeks ago, Roast has reappeared on the scene – this time as 8th and Roast, a splendid little shop just across from Zanies Comedy Club on 8th Avenue South, just before you get to downtown (yes, plenty of parking in the lot behind the building!).

Lesa Wood, Brad’s wife, is back at it, roasting their beans in the back, while the baristas get your really, really good coffee – whether you want it brewed by them or to brew it yourself at their counter – quickly and efficiently.

The space is not what you’d expect. There’s an attractive wall of raw brick, set with vintage-looking lights of cord from the last known manufacturer of cloth cord in the U.S.  “The light sockets are from original molds of 1930s era sockets, but updated to UL standards,” Lesa tells me. The tables are made of reclaimed bowling alley floor – made here, sold to China, then resold to a Nashville bowling alley. When it closed, Roast was there to make use of the intricate wood.

Outside the shop

The location itself is pretty special, though you might not have guessed: Once upon a time, round about the Prohibition era, this neighborhood was the last trolley stop outside downtown as you headed toward Franklin. (How times have changed!) Since Lesa has more than a little affection for the 1920s as an era, leaving the walls bare and a sense of the original feel of the space seemed ideal.

The owner had let the building sit vacant for more than two years, looking for the right tenant, and when the Woods and Roast appeared, it provided an opportunity to undo decades of “renovations” and restore the place to some of its original glory – from getting rid of the old drywall to cleaning up the beautiful tin ceilings that had been painted a rather ghastly white. Windows were uncovered and found pieces became furniture as atmosphere was born.

“As we went along through the construction, we started to put together things that we had found around town,” Lesa tells me.  “Brad saw the bowling alley lane and that made an immediate impact on the decision to build large community tables rather than typical four tops, which also ties into our community coffee concept.  As luck has it, the lanes had a great history to go with them.

“The counter that we have from the Union Bus Station [home of the great Civil Rights sit in back in the ‘60s] is just incredible. We thought it was great to have such a historical piece of Nashville that everyone would have assumed lost – tied deeply to the story of the first Civil Rights sit-in happening on the same counter.  But really that is part of the story.  Think of the nameless and countless men and women that had gone to war in WWII through Vietnam that had a final meal with friends or family right at that counter.  We fell really luck just to have that kind of history to work next to every day.”

The coffee bar, made from the original Union Bus Station counter that saw Civil Rights era sit-ins.

As you look around, a host of details have a finer meaning –much of the wood you see is Tennessee walnut, the bathroom doors, even, are reclaimed. It’s all about history, wherever you look – and instead of looking scattered, it all just fits.

As I mentioned earlier, you can just order your coffee at the counter (you can be in and out in 5 minutes if you want to, but if you don’t have to, stay, relax, enjoy the wifi and people watching) and have it handed to you. Or, you can brew your own. I asked Lesa to take me through the steps, over at the former bus cafeteria counter:

“We have the bar set up so you can have any level of participation that you would like,” she says. “Pick one of two coffee in preset grinders: ‘A’ for 12 ounces and ‘B’ for 16 ounces. Then put the coffee in the Kalita Dripper. Fill your kettle from our dedicated water tower. Use about an ounce of water to wet the grounds and watch them bloom (swell and saturate) with water for 30 seconds, then pour the rest of water needed for your size cup over the course of about a minute or so. Enjoy your cup of coffee (our helpful coffee elves take care of all the clean up).” All pretty simple and straight-forward, but don’t be afraid to ask for help the first time.

Worth noting is their iced coffee, because they bottle it, and it’s getting to be a big deal – in spring, you can find it in local Whole Foods and other appealing locales, and it’s starting to spread outside Nashville as well.  It’s the off season for iced beverages at the moment, so currently it’s just at Roast, but they’re are already making plans for warmer weather, Whole Foods and farmers’ markets. “We were beginning to ship to Memphis last fall, and we’re hoping to expand the partnership with Whole Foods to offer our coffee in the states surrounding  us,” Lesa says.

Meanwhile, if you need something to nosh on, it’s there. Needless to say, Roast is about coffee (more on that in a moment), but sometimes, you just need the baked goods. The sources, likewise, are as high-end and impeccable as the coffee itself: East Nashville’s Café Fundamental delivers pastries and quiches made daily. Claire Meneely of Dozen (one of my all-time favorites) brings savory scones, muffins, and some sweet treats and Wild Muffin provides vegan and gluten free muffins and treats.

And then, of course, the whole deal is you come for the coffee. Brad and Lesa make no secret of the fact that they source the best coffees for themselves – they don’t use a middleman, they don’t blindly trust that the supplier is fair trade or better. And the big deal for them is that they ensure that not only we, the consumers, know about where the coffee comes from, but that the sellers know about us, and where it’s going to. And that, boys and girls, is a big deal.

Brad and Lesa Wood

“Brad and I both come from farming families and we know the dedication needed to run a successful farm, be it a few acres or a large estate,” Lesa tells me. “Traditionally coffee farmers have sold their coffee to larger mills and everything was homogenized together. With the emergence of the specialty coffee market, they have so many more options. Knowing the consumer they are trying to reach can affect how they cultivate their coffee and ultimately the financial compensation they receive. Also having someone like us is committed to buying their crop can give them more freedom to plant more trees and try different varietals of coffee beans.”

You won’t find 417 coffee varieties on the menu daily. Look for two to four (unless you want to buy beans to grind and drink at home). And that’s a good thing.

“I’m actually a single origin girl – in non-coffee geek talk, that means I like to showcase a single farm’s coffee,” says Lesa.  “We have two selections on the pour bar and two more that we brew. We rotate coffees at least weekly. We keep a larger selection of whole beans bagged and ready to take home. The one blend that I do is our French Occupation – a blend of three Central/South American coffees that we did on the spur of the moment to fulfill requests for a darker roast. It’s since become one of signature items. Who knew?”

I ask Lesa what she wants you to know before you come in the door?  “We are really all about the coffee,” she says definitively. “We are always striving to improve quality and service- but we are not coffee snobs – though that seems to have become part of the ‘coffee shop’ experience. If you want your coffee with two ounces of creams and six sugars, please make it the way you enjoy it. I just want to make the sure the coffee underneath is good enough to stand alone, and we’re not adding all those things to make my coffee drinkable.”

I drove home with a big cup of French Occupation to make me really happy on a recent cold day, right before Christmas. Ron and I had been to shoot the shop, after working on a cookbook for most of the day. It was delicious. Chain coffee, I’m done with you … or at least, I’m done with you when I’m not in Franklin on a non-farmers’ market day.

8th and Roast, 2108A 8th Ave South, Nashville, (615) 730-8074. Find it online here.

Lesa’s Favorites:

Nashville neighborhood: 8th Avenue (Woodland/Waverly) is quickly winning my heart, even though I love my Crieve Hall home.

Dinner: Café Fundamental, especially when Chef Jamie brings me out some of those mussels in butter. I’ll roast coffee for him any day.

Lunch: SloCo gourmet on the go or delivery even, completely appreciate that aesthetic.

Soft drink: Coke with real sugar, aahh

Jeans brand: Shamefully none, but must go visit a new neighbor and see if I can change that.

Signature scent: Fairly sure I always smell like coffee, which actually gets me flirted with a lot.

Gadget: Love, love my GPS after I finally learned to use it. Also developing fondness for the Square wallet app we use at the shop.

Cocktail: I’m a beer girl, loving the new brew from Cool Springs Brewery, that clever boy Derrick used my coffee in one of his brews, so of course, I’m hooked.

Reading: I’m actually reading something just published by my very dear friends Kara and Jeff Oliver about their mission work in Malawi – Our Journey, Called to Malawi.

Listening: Loving the Civil Wars at present. I grew up a lot in Kentucky and the sound resonates.

Favorite shoes: Frye boots if they’re a style that’s U.S.-made. They can make you look like a bad ass even when you want to hide under the bed.

Color Me Beautiful – Sarah Bellos and Southern Hues

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I’ve been friends with the magnificent Sarah and Ali Bellos for about four years, ever since I first interviewed them for Nashville Lifestyles about their efforts to promote artisan dye products here in Middle Tennessee. Time has passed since then, and they’ve turned a passion for plant-based natural dyestuffs – the indigo, madder, and weld of colonial America and beyond –  into a going concern.

Their collaboration continues, but now the sisters have embraced different aspects of the business. Alesandra continues her work with Artisan Natural Dyeworks, also based here in Nashville. Sarah, meanwhile, took a slightly divergent path, and now she’s created  Southern Hues – making use of locally grown organic dyes to not only produce gorgeous scarves and shawls, but to encourage a worldview that leads us away from the overwhelming use of harsh chemicals polluting our environment.

She’s more than put her money where her mouth is, buying a farm in the historic Bells Bend community and raising the dye crops herself – along with encouraging other young farmers, especially women, to join her in the endeavor.

In spite of the busy holiday season, Sarah took time to talk with me about what her commitment to natural dyes means to all of us, why it’s important on a larger scale, how it impacts our agricultural community at large, and the potential it offers for the fashion industry.

 It’s been awhile since we talked business. Can you tell me a bit about the shifts you’ve made in the past year or so, and the goals you’ve created for yourself with Southern Hues? I’m so lucky to be able to have a dream job working at the intersection of fashion, farming, and business.  At the end of last year, I took stock of what my life goals were and how I could build a business that could help me create the change I wanted to see in the world. While growing natural colorants has always been a part of my past businesses, I wanted to create a business model that would work on a larger scale, with a more measurable impact on local farmers.

Earlier this year, through mutual friends, I met two ladies, Sara Dailey and Meg Davis, both knowledgeable and experienced in the fashion industry.  Having them on my team allows me to use my strengths to continue to build the natural colorant supply chain and still make sure we a beautiful product that people love to wear.

Ecodyeit from Artisan Natural Dyeworks

Artisan Natural Dyeworks

At the end of the day, having an incredible product that people don’t have to think twice about buying is the best way we can support our mission of bring sustainable, farmer grown color to the broader public. I still get to work regularly with my sister Ali at Artisan Natural Dyeworks to dye our products right here in Nashville.

 

 

 

Can natural dyes really be used the same way we use the chemical ones?  I read a story recently about growing concern over the chemical dye industry – someone was specifically referencing the “plastic, chemical” smell that she noticed in cheap clothing from some big box outlets – clearly that underlines why we need to be concerned – but can we make it viable, in your opinion? This is such a great question! The skin is the largest organ on your body, so what you wear is actually absorbed into your body over time until the chemicals are fully leeched out of the fabric.

Most dyes are synthetically derived from non-renewable resources like petroleum or oil derivatives and come from China.

The global textile industry uses approximately 1.3 million tons of dyes, pigments and dye precursors, valued at around $23 billion each year. With more than 3,600 industrial dyes, the textile dyeing and finishing industry is a leading cause of industrial wastewater pollution, with effluents including toxic and heavy metals effluent.

To save costs, pollution-intensive industries such as dye manufacturing have relocated to emerging economies that prioritize economic development over environmental regulations.  So, we end up with cheaper – and potentially more toxic – chemicals dyeing our clothing when they are made overseas, because those manufacturers do not have to live up to the same standards as in the U.S.

Chemicals that are banned in the U.S. and Europe are sold to U.S. consumers through our clothing and other textiles.

Replacing the toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and dyeing auxiliaries commonplace in the textile dye industry is possible through natural colorants.  These plant- and earth-based dyes come from renewable sources, and many can be grown in the Southeastern U.S.  So besides reducing the use of polluting chemical dyes that can also be harmful for the consumer, natural colorants support farm and forest communities here, improving our economy while being healthier for the consumer.

But, are natural colorants scalable to the level we’d need to make them a viable source? Previously, using natural colorants, a designer would have to seek out a craft-based business like Artisan Natural Dyeworks to hand-dye their piece goods or garments.

Dyehouses like this are few and far between, since it not so easy to find capability for chemistry, a love of craft, and a willingness for a sometimes intense amount of manual labor.  Hiring a custom dyehouse is feasible for brands with a compelling artisan story behind them, but the reality is most of the clothing sold in the U.S. is not made by craftspeople.

So, to really change the textile industry and make it less dependent on chemical dyes, I begun to focus on developing colorant extracts that can be used in commercial textile dye equipment.  This is no easy feat so our company has had to invest in research and development that allows us to create specific methods for analyzing and compensating for plant pigment variations in the extraction process.

This allows us to improve product consistency across raw material source conditions, whether farm or woodlot, so a textile manufacturer can be confident they can get a consistent color across dyelots when they use natural colorants.  We are especially excited about our indigo research allowing a U.S. dye to once again color American-made denim.  We are thrilled to be at the forefront of the sustainability transition in the fashion industry.

What are the principal plants you’re growing, and can you tell us a little about what needs to be done to process them? Our farmer-grown colors are focused on eight main plants, providing the majority of the materials that we need to create our natural colorants.  We grow indigo (blue), madder (red), osage orange (golden yellow), weld (bright yellow), marigold (orange yellow), goldenrod (yellow), sumac (grey), and black walnut (brown).

Osage orange

Each processing method is different depending on the color we want. Some plants, like indigo, must be processed immediately upon harvest. So, we have two-300 gallon tanks we bring out to the farms to do a fresh leaf extraction resulting in a storable indigo product.

For osage orange, also known as bow-dock, we typically store the logs from downed wood at our farm. When we need more extract we chip these logs and boil the chips into concentrated dye liquor. We are always on the look-out for osage trees a homeowner or arborist may be cutting down, many of our plants your readers may pass every day growing right along the highway.

Time of year, quality of the soil, amount of sunlight the plant receives, temperature and length of time of the extraction … there are so many variables that go into how much pigment a plant actually contains. Our goal is to bring enough standardization into the process to allow us to offer a consistent, and thus scalable, product, without losing the bit of alchemy that is inherent in such a beautiful process as coaxing color from plants.

You’re committed to sustainable agriculture. Most of us are familiar with the idea from our CSAs and farmers’ markets, in terms strictly related to foods. Tell me something about how we can be more sustainable with relation to our clothing and textiles? Being sustainable in your everyday life is easier than most think.

True sustainability is not about going out and buying new, greener things to replace your old. It’s about a shift in your consumption habits, to realize that saving, repurposing, and responsible consumerism can help make sure the next few generations have the same opportunities we have.

When it does come time to buy new things, it’s important for us to support the America businesses that produce their goods here. When you consider every material that their manufactures use and the ripple effect that domestic purchasing can have along a supply chain, it adds up to a lot of jobs.

Important labels I look for when choosing products are: Made in the USA;  made with organic fibers; sweatshop free or fair trade; and FSC certified (for wood products).

The modal fiber used in our wraps, for example, is PEDC certified, a sustainable forest certification process. Modal fabric is great for bed sheets because it is so silky and soft. The U.S. milled cotton we have sourced for our Spring line is 100% certified organic cotton.

Once your readers know what to look for they will find lots of great sustainable options without having to sacrifice functionality or quality. I like to go to greenpages.org when I am looking for something I can’t find locally.

I’ve been out to the farm space you were using in Bells Bend a couple of summers ago. Are you still working there? Bells Bend, and the entire corridor from Bells Bend Park up to Beaman Park in Northwest Nashville, is one of the gems of the area.

The community out there has preserved what is an incredibly diverse landscape that is just perfect for the quality farming we need to be Nashville’s breadbasket and to support a healthy and active wider community.

I recently bought my own small farm in White’s Creek in Northern Davidson County, after farming in Bells Bend the past four years. I was so lucky to be able to hone my farming skills on other people’s land, but there is nothing better than checking on crops in your own backyard.  I am now involved in helping make sure opportunities to get into agriculture exist for other young farmers.

Southern Hues states a commitment to helping both women and local farmers – that’s a big deal right now, especially as there seems to be a growing problem in our region with regard to big agriculture pushing out local farmers any way they can. How does what you’re doing specifically make a difference for local farmers who want to be able to live on what they make from their farms? Southern Hues’ tagline is “farmer grown color.”  We believe natural colorants are a more sustainable industrial crop for small and medium size farmers in the South.  We launched Southern Hues to show that natural colorants are beautiful and viable in textiles.

Just as in the local food economy, it takes more than just the farmer growing the crop, it takes an entire infrastructure – from processing to end products to markets and finally the retail consumer having a wide option of products with which support the farmer.

We support a diversified and sustainable agriculture system and believe people who want to farm should be able to make a living wage – because having more farms is great for our country.  Agriculture done right protects groundwater, ecosystem habitat, sequesters carbon in the form of soil organic matter, keeps land around cities in “open space” that reduces flooding and keeps temperatures cooler.

Yet most farmers in America don’t make a living wage. Most farmers, even those with farms making over $250,000, still have a spouse that makes most of the household income from an off-farm job. Unless you inherit farmland there are extreme barriers for young people to getting into farming. But since the average age of an American farmer is 57, we truly need to think about ways as a society we can train and support the next generation of American farmers.

In addition to providing jobs and increasing food security, there are more economic incentives for promoting local farms. The local multiplier effect, for example, shows that money spent locally is more likely to get recirculated locally, helping increase our regions tax base and supporting your neighbors as well.

We have chosen to especially focus our sourcing on beginning and women farmers, because those groups often have the least access to land, capital, and resources which make it possible to earn a living on the farm.

We want to support small farmers who are doing it right, who are taking a chance to farm even when they are not rewarded in the marketplace, because that is what they are called to do.  Our hope is that more designers will join our mission to provide naturally dyed garments and that our customers love our products as much as we do, in addition to the story behind them.

Natural dye plants have great potential as an alternative industrial crop to improve crop diversity, wildlife and beneficial insect habitats, and to minimize fertilizer and pesticide use on farms.  The beauty and colors these plants produce can translate into increase revenue for the farmer, and therefore more money flowing back into rural economies.

We are all hungry for beautiful and useful products that connect us to a purpose and to planet. By supporting Southern Hues, our customers know they are supporting a supply chain that provides women and beginning farmers with a living wage for growing crops that make their farms more sustainable while improving the ecological and economic resilience of our landscape.

Let’s talk about the fashion aspect. I know you’re working with several big name regional designers, including Alabama Chanin and Jeff Garner of Prophetik. What are you doing for them specifically, and are there other design projects you want us to know about? During my time working with Artisan Natural Dyeworks, one of the most incredible parts was getting to see the amazing couture and ready to wear garments produced after we dyed the fabric for the designers. I am really inspired and love the handicraft of the entire Alabama Chanin line, including the way founder Natalie Chanin has published her patterns to allow more people access to their designs. Ali has been doing dyework for an emerging brand out of Cincinnati, Brush Factory. I absolutely love their Villager bags, which are hand dyed with natural dyes and sewn in Cincy!

What do you do to make sustainably dyed garments appeal to a wider fashion-conscious public? “Communication and Style.”  That’s our goal.  Spreading the word about our products allows us to highlight that great brands can be fashionable and sustainable.  When a customer orders a wrap they are not only receiving a great addition to a wardrobe, but supporting our network of farmers, artisans and an entire community behind the products.  It’s a grassroots effort that takes time to spread, but we are excited to share what we have. Our customers are supporting not only our small business, but a local farmer, a domestic manufacturer, a natural dye artisan, and beyond.  It’s a unique and giving cycle that we are thrilled to be a part of.

The “Wanda” scarf

Your scarves and wraps are truly beautiful. What do you want readers to know about them before they order? (Besides the obvious “makes a perfect gift for the holiday season?) Natural dyes have a vibrancy that is truly distinct from synthetic dyes. Natural dyes are rarely ever one single color but rather a synergy of several different colorants found together in the same plant.

The madder root dye, for example, contains not only red but also oranges, purples and brown.  This is just unduplicatable with synthetic dyes, which contain usually a single coloring molecule, for example the synthetic form of alizarin –a red dye. This complex composition of a variety of colorants gives natural dyes their unparallel beauty. The colors are nuanced and rich in a way that the singularity of a synthetic cannot approximate.

Besides the colors, we are excited about the versatility of our scarves and wraps.  Our products are elegant yet easy.  They can be classic or funky depending on how you style it.  Our scarves and wraps can all be worn in so many different ways and for a variety of occasions making them a beautiful wardrobe addition.

Can you talk us through the dye process for one of your scarves, so people understand just what goes into the piece they’re purchasing? Prior to the dyeing step we clean the fabric in a process called “scouring” to open the fibers to be most receptive to the dyes. The dyeing step depends on the type of dye.

Vat dyes, for example the natural dye indigo, must be in a reduced state to bind with the fabric. We create a natural fermentation vat which allows us to dye the blue of indigo without chemical reducing agents common in the denim dyeing industry.

Many natural dyes are mordant dyes.  Mordants are an auxiliary compound comprised of chemicals, tannins or metallic salts that increases adherence of dye to fabric. They are used to fix a dye to the fibers, improve the take up quality of the fabric and help improve color and light fastness, and perhaps modify color.

Dyes like marigold or madder typically require a mordant to achieve brighter and lightfast colors. Most natural dyers use mordants such as Alum, a metallic salt, iron, or tannic acid, typically derived from plant sources such as oak galls, sumac, or myrobalan.  The heavy metal ions which can be highly toxic such as chromium and tin or even copper are not used by any of the natural dyers I know. However, they are used in industrial synthetic dyeing and do urgently need to be replaced with a non-toxic option.

The “Tammy” in indigo

From your own line, what do you wear most? The Tammy in Indigo Shibori. I love it just with jeans and a tee, it is so soft and silky I don’t ever want to take it off.  Shibori is a Japanese method of dyeing cloth with a pattern by binding it prior to dyeing. Each one is just a little bit different and people are always asking about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah’s Favorites

Nashville neighborhood: Whites Creek and Bells Bend

Dinner: City House

Lunch: SloCo, I am obsessed with this concept!

Cocktail: Gin martini, extra dirty

On Your Kindle: The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz

TiVOing: Talk of the Nation? I guess I’m now officially one of those people that just hear about TV shows from NPR.

Listening to: Hurray for the Riff Raff, an amazing band from New Orleans. But I have been playing a lot of my favorite Christmas tune – Jim Croce’s “It Doesn’t Have to be that Way”

Jeans: Imogene + Willie Slim

Want for Christmas: A .308 rifle

Dessert: Chocolate covered espresso beans

Signature scent:  Acqua di Parma lavanda tonica … but they discontinued it so now I have to covet my last bottle.

Cooking:  Always! Herbs and veggies from my garden, lots of legumes, meat from Porter Road Butcher and cheese from the Bloomy Rind

Current passion: Turning my four acre plot of land into a sustainable homestead. My real goal doing it at my own farm is to create new markets for sustainable agricultural products.  I  want to expand the U.S. market for environmentally friendly dyes while creating new and diversified sources of income for U.S. farm and forestry communities.  The overall goal and passion behind that specific goal is to sustain the land and the people making a living from it through innovative industrial solutions and products.

 

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