It’s the little coffee shop that could. Founded in 1996 in Johnston, Brewed Awakenings has steadily expanded to occupy five locations throughout the state – as well as offer a menu that swelled from just coffee to, well, just about anything that pairs well with coffee (breakfast, lunch, dinner, sweets, the works). Speaking of things that pair well, this past summer, owner David Levesque added a liquor license, beginning with beer and wine and then expanding to include liquor and cocktails. Thirty-year bartending veteran Bob Woodstock helped to mastermind the boozy offerings.
How did you get into coffee, following three decades behind the bar?
Dave asked me to [laughs]. I had a dream to open my own coffee house someday – to get out of the night scene, and into days. I’ve been a coffee enthusiast for a while, and have learned barista skills, I went to NY Coffee Fest a couple of years ago for training. There are actually a lot of similarities between bartenders and baristas. For either one, you have to be precise, take pride in what you do and engage with the customer at the counter.
Let’s talk booze. How did you learn the craft?
I got into bartending when I first moved from Michigan to Rhode Island in 1985, and went to work at TGI Fridays – the one in Warwick. I still live just a block away. It was different back then from what it is now. The mixed drink scene was big there, and I got drawn into the bottle-flipping kinds of bartending competitions through it. I traveled around the world to do them including in Taiwan, Annapolis, Dallas, Boston, you name it.
Did you have a signature drink?
Yeah, the “Walk A Block and Drop,” Named for obvious reasons. It had something like 11 different liquors in it.
What was the vision behind acquiring a liquor license?
It was never about creating a bar per se. We’re a coffee shop. We just wanted to attract more people, and have more options to offer. Our customers are not just coffee drinkers, and they don’t all come in one part of the day. The licensing was surprisingly easy: we went to town meeting and got approved quickly. I think it was clear that we weren’t gunning for a happy hour culture, and that the change would contribute something good to our neighborhoods. With us, you can sit outside and have a nice drink – whether it’s a beer, cocktail or a coffee.
Why put coffee and booze together?
In a general sense, we aimed to create more of a pub or cafe atmosphere – which are places where coffee drinks and alcoholic drinks have been served side-by-side for a long time. And with coffee-based cocktails, actually mixing alcohol and coffee together, it’s a pretty natural pairing, too. Most people are surprised by how well liqueurs and coffee go together, but they do.
How did you put together your alcoholic drinks menu?
We made an “adult” version of some drinks that we already offered, like with the sweet, frozen coffee drinks. Our grownup version of the Cookie Monster, which is kahlua-based, is a huge hit. We also do a set of coffee cocktails, too. As for beer and wine, we curated that based on what we like. Dave and I went to a lot of tastings [laughs].
How are people receiving it all?
Beer and wine took off this past summer – and the hottest thing was the sangria. I make it using a recipe I’ve worked with for years. And we’ve grown from there. People are continually surprised when they learn that we serve alcohol, too. They don’t expect it, and they’re pretty happy about it.
Can I have the sangria recipe?
I can’t share everything.