‘Press’ing the boundaries

Janell Barker serves a patron on First Friday Janell Barker serves a patron on First Friday
Brett Barker works the espresso machine Brett Barker works the espresso machine

Changing Dayton’s conceptions about coffee, one cup at a time

By Lara Donnelly

Brett Barker works the espresso machine

Brett and Janell Barker are coffee people. Brett has worked as a barista at Pacchia in Dayton and Gimme! Coffee in Brooklyn and opened a Gimme! Coffee franchise location in Ithaca, New York. The couple recently returned from a tour of “coffee cities” Chicago, Portland and Seattle, where they sampled various specialty brews and espresso beverages.

Now, the Barkers are opening their own specialty coffee shop in the Oregon District, at 257 Wayne Avenue.  Press will serve espresso and brewed coffee from a rotating roster of high-quality roasters, including Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, Gimme! Coffee and MadCap Coffee – and high-quality tea and baked goods, made fresh daily by local businesses, such as Bombshell Bakery.

“We are providing the best coffee that we feel you can get in this area,” says Brett Barker. “The equipment is pretty close to the top of the line. It’s a clean space and you recognize the people making your coffee.”

Barker says he wants Press to bring an infusion of coffee culture to the Dayton area. “I just think there’s a need for it,” he says. “I have a great love for Dayton and we want to bring the specialty business [here], where I think it’s lacking.”

Barker also hopes Press will encourage people think about what they consume. “I want to get people to think about what they put into their bodies,” he says. His goal is for his customers to understand where their coffee came from and how it was prepared. Coffee at Press will be brewed mostly using a French press, to preserve the oils and flavors in the beans. Barker also plans to implement unique techniques such as single-cup or pour-over methods, as well as brewing in Chemex drip pots.

The bar at Press is low and long, and customers can see over it to watch baristas preparing their drink. “I think people prefer consuming something that they can see where it came from,” says Barker, referring not only to the coffee shop itself, but to his philosophy of educating customers about the coffee they drink. “We want to teach our customers how to taste and recognize the coffee they drink, as well as the steps we take in searching and preparing each and every coffee we bring into the store. This includes acknowledging every hand that helps ― from the farmers who prepare the land, to those who pick the beans, from the roasters, to the barista.”

Barker eventually wants to truly show his customers where their coffee comes from: he and Janell have plans to roast their own coffee beans in the future and offer them to both retail and wholesale customers.

Janell Barker serves a patron on First Friday

But Press won’t just be serving artisan coffee: it will be hosting local artists in monthly gallery shows. On the inaugural art show and grand opening on January’s First Friday, nine different artists’ work was displayed on the freshly whitewashed walls.

Barker hopes that the art shows will be lucrative for the artists and the owners of the shop. “We’re not taking a commission from the artists. It’s mutually beneficial: the art brings people to the coffee and people who come for coffee see the art.”

People were certainly appreciating both coffee and art on First Friday. The espresso machine kept up a constant hiss and patrons pressed together under huge canvases painted with abstract squiggles and grinning devils. Other pieces ranged from a skateboard painted with a leering purple zombie to leaves and fabric pressed between panes of shimmering glass. Barker says that some of the artists on display have had their work in the Cannery, C2 and other Oregon District galleries, but that his goal is to give up-and-coming artists the exposure they need for success.

Janell Barker, who is a graphic artist as well as a coffee aficionado, is planning to set up a silkscreen press in the basement of Press and run a small screen-printing shop.

The idea of a coffee shop/art gallery/screen printer may seem a little eclectic, but the Barkers have certainly made it work. The art on the walls is beautiful and well-lit and the coffee counter truly looks like something that belongs in a gallery – the equipment is futuristic and shiny, and there are high-tech coffee-making gadgets inserted into the counter.

Press is certainly a place to get a good cup of coffee, but if the Barkers get their wish, it will be far more than that. “I want to start a coffee shop that will hopefully evolve into a coffee community,” says Barker. From the crowd that filled Press on First Friday, it looks like the Barkers are well on their way.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lara Donnelly at contactus@daytoncitypaper.com.

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