Small Business Spotlight: Banjo CoffeeBilly and Chasidy Atchison opened Banjo Coffee about four years ago along North Avondale Road. The owners served guests outside on March 22 as they experienced a water outage that has since been resolved. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
by Zoe Seiler, contributor
Avondale Estates, GA — About seven years ago, Billy and Chasidy Atchison moved from Los Angeles to Atlanta and thought of opening a food truck or cart. Both were looking for a change in career, so they started experimenting with cold brew.
“It was kind of like the ‘mason jar on the kitchen table’ kind of thing and it just kept iterating that, and Billy was training for an ultra marathon at the time,” Chasidy said.
Cold brew was Billy’s workout fuel. After a few long runs, he began to think cold brew should be the business idea, which then evolved into Banjo Coffee.
Banjo Coffee has two sides to it. One aspect of the business is production, which involves canning and kegging cold brew, as well as distributing it throughout the Southeast for stores like Whole Foods and other local accounts.
While looking for a new production space that was going to function similarly to a brewery with coffee, the pair learned about a cafe in Avondale that was for sale. The space had been a coffee shop for 13 years, but made a quick turnaround into becoming Banjo Coffee.
“So the coffee shop’s about four years old and I’m not sure that we ever knew exactly what was going to be the long term here, but we love it,” Chasidy said. “We love having a headquarters in the community and we actually live about a mile from the shop, so our whole world is here.”
Banjo Coffee launched cold brew in Atlanta before Starbucks had the beverage and before people really knew what it was, Chasidy said. The pair realized that since they were making cold brew they weren’t going to make it through the winter months.
Banjo Coffee now offers a variety of iced and hot coffee and tea drinks and innovative flavors. The cold brew process takes about 18 to 24 hours.
“As the coffee is brewing, it releases a lot more of the roundness of the flavor profile of it while extracting about 70% less acidity,” Billy said. “So it’s really smooth, really flavorful.”
After the coffee is brewed, it is put in a keg and supercharged with nitrogen.
“It produces that really creamy body that gives you even more of a silky smoothness to the drink that really goes along with the low acidity and flavor,” Billy said.
Variations of flavors are offered during the different seasons, like a chai spice with fall season flavors such as cardamom, clove and vanilla bean.
In the spring, Banjo Coffee has a honeysuckle latte which is vanilla and honey in a nitro brew. The shop also gets fresh peaches in the spring and summer and turns them into a peaches and cream latte.
The cold brew and hibiscus tea can also be bought in cans at the coffee shop and other stores. The newest flavor of cold brew has cacao nibs and vanilla bean brewed with the coffee, giving it a rich dark chocolate mocha flavor without adding any sugar.
Before COVID-19 hit, Banjo Coffee had a lunch menu that was more focused on dining in with items like avocado toast. But the Atchisons are working out the lunch menu to provide something more substantial, something similar to comfort food. So they launched their breakfast burrito.
“Recently we launched our gas station biscuits, which if you’ve ever traveled to any gas station in the South you’ve seen that heat lamp with the gas station biscuits and bologna going on,” Billy said.
But Banjo Coffee’s version of the biscuits is like a farm to table version of the dish, Chasidy said.
The biscuits are made in house every morning and Pine Street Market provides fresh meat for the biscuits. Billy and Chasidy hope to bring back their lunch over the summer and bring back sandwiches, salads, healthy grab-and-go options.
The owners also focus on using organic and local products.
“About 80 to 90% just depending on the month is sourced locally from vendors around Atlanta and Georgia and local farmers,” Billy said. “On the coffee side, we partnered with Cafe Campesino, who is Georgia’s only organic fair trade roaster.”
Billy and Chasidy had no experience working in coffee shops before they began operating one and Billy said it has shown.
“But in a way it’s shown that we knew how to be scrappy and be sort of resilient and bounce around and figure out how to land on our feet many times,” Billy said. “That actually helped us last year with COVID because we were so used to pivoting as we developed whatever small business we were developing, that last year was just another year to pivot.”
During a weekend in March 2020, when the state shut down, Chasidy located herself in a room and created their plan to pivot. She created the e-commerce side of the business, as well as delivery and curbside services.
The coffee shop delivers within a five-mile radius of the store. Orders can now be placed online and the orders go directly to the shop’s register.
“Inside, we have all of the precautions,” Chasidy said. “One party at a time [is allowed inside]. Everybody is required to wear masks. We have plexiglass up in front of the register area. There’s no loitering, you have to grab it and go.”
The owners priorities were to make sure that their staff was safe and that they could continue to safely serve the public in the way it needed to be served, Chasidy said.
“It was very important for us to make sure that everyone understood those COVID measures from the very beginning so it’s been a whole year that we haven’t done any dine in,” she said.
Although, Chasid added that it took the staff some time to adapt to not being able to chat with customers as much or hug them.
“The community is great here and it’s been an honor to sometimes be the customers’ only point of contact during the day,” Chasidy said. “You can tell people are working from home and we are honored if we are their one stop for the day.”
Banjo Coffee is located at 38 N. Avondale Road and is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day.