Three cafés making a difference in Birmingham
With the relaxing hum of voices and the rich aroma of roasted brews in the air, coffee shops have become a preferred way to enjoy one’s favorite caffeinated beverage. Menus are filled with endless combinations of coffee-based drinks with the umber liquid combined with cream, sugar or trendy plant-based milks. In the Birmingham metro area alone, there are dozens of local coffee shops.
However, consumers are increasingly expecting more from businesses than just delivering a quality product, with corporate sustainability and corporate social responsibility becoming pressing issues. Several coffee shops in Birmingham are positively impacting their communities by creating places for people to gather and pouring into causes close to their hearts.
Baba Java Coffee is a café and roaster located in Hoover, Alabama. Originally founded as a coffee roaster in 2018, couple Wendi and Nathan Parvin expanded Baba Java to a café in March 2019. Both the owners and staff members greeted regulars by name as conversations ebbed and flowed in the Middle Eastern-inspired café. Baba is an affectionate Arabic term for “father” while Java is an informal English word for coffee.
By trade, Wendi Parvin is a nurse and Nathan Parvin is an optometrist who currently practices in rural Alabama. They spent around five years overseas working in community development and mobile medical clinics. Their son Joshua gave them the idea to start a coffee roastery after an overseas internship in Oman with Brad Haynes, Baba Java’s vice president of operations, who exposed him to the coffee industry.
“We were only going to roast coffee and do subscription, online, wholesale … but we live on this side of town and we recognized that there weren’t any good coffee shops,” Wendi Parvin said. “We definitely see the café as a community builder.”
She further discussed how COVID-19 revealed the impact of Baba Java on their customers. “I think [COVID-19] made us know how important the café was to the community,’’ Wendi Parvin said. “And a lot of times [regular people] would come because they still wanted to see the faces of the people who worked here. They wanted to still have that community.”
Baba Java’s mission of excellence from “Farm to Cup” has pushed the organization to form direct partnerships with farmers and mills overseas. “The more middlemen you have between you and the farmers, the less money they get,” Reuben Parsons said, roastmaster for Baba Java.
Quality and quantity were other important factors in deciding to use smaller coffee buyers. “We used a bigger coffee importer initially … but then the coffees weren’t consistent from them as far as taste and quality,” Haynes stated. He further explained that smaller coffee buyers allowed them to buy smaller amounts which ensured products remained fresh.
“We want to make excellent coffee, but also educate the customer on not just what a specific drink type is but helping them understand what happens on the farm side to when it gets in their cup,” he said.
Currently, Baba Java has three direct partnerships: Rayyan Mill in Yemen, Yunnan Coffee Traders in China and a farm in Honduras owned by Brenda Ramirez. Baba Java hopes to one day have all of its coffee sourced from direct partnerships.
Baba Java’s goal for this year is to continue to build its subscription base and expand its mobile coffee truck’s operation to five or six days a week.
Address: 4730 Chace Circle, Suite 124 Hoover, AL 35244
Hours: Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. – 6 p.m., Saturday: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday, Closed* *Open for private events on Sundays. Website: https://www.babajavacoffee.com
Filter Coffee Parlor
Five Points South, Alabama
Opened in January 2019 in Five Points South by James Little and Jill Marlar, a husband-and-wife-duo, Filter Coffee Parlor has become a regular spot for downtown residents, businesspeople, University of Alabama at Birmingham hospital staff and UAB students. The coffee parlor is a spacious two-level building with plenty of socially distanced tables.
Little, who originally worked at REV Birmingham, a non-profit economic development agency, has over two decades of experience with coffee and coffee shops. The opening of Filter took several years in the making to become reality with a focus on community.
“It’s not about the space or the products we are serving, it is about creating an environment where any and all are welcome,” Little said.
The connections and relationships of people you would not usually meet are his favorite part of the coffee shop. “In Five Points, a town within the city [of Birmingham], a coffee shop should be the heartbeat of the city,” he stated. “You feel like you’re in an area where the student to the CEO of a company is in line or at a table.”
Little selects the coffee featured in his parlor and establishes partnerships with local bakeries and local vendors. “Filter is a coffee mercantile that features coffee across the South, you can taste without the travel,” Little said. Filter uses Prevail Union, a coffee roaster from Montgomery, Alabama and Amavida Coffee Roasters, based in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
“We focus on being local and sustainable,” he stated. “We think more locally by utilizing ingredients … at the shop to working with local bakeries and local vendors.” Beside using local ingredients, Filter also uses sustainable coffee cups and lids.
Marlar focuses on the community events side of the coffee parlor by handpicking which artists will
be displayed within Filter and by planning events for children and adults, often featuring local artists and musicians. However, due to COVID-19, most events were canceled, transformed into virtual events or held in a limited capacity. One day in the future, hopefully, in-person events can resume.
While supporting local businesses and artists, Filter also ensures they are giving back to the local community by partnering with Food For Our Journey, a Birmingham nonprofit organization that provides food for the hungry through mobile “Food Truck” distribution.
“They have so generously been partnering with us for many months, donating coffee, hot chocolate with all the creams, sugars, cups, stir-sticks, etc. and have even included breakfast muffins and cinnamon rolls,” Kelly Greene stated, founder and executive director of Food For Our Journey. “They have also been donating hot soup and soup cups to us weekly during the winter months!”
Filter’s goal for this year is to continue to remain flexible in the upcoming months. “We are recreating and innovating as failure is not an option,” Little said.
Address: 1927 11th Ave South Birmingham, AL 35205 Hours: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. – 4 p.m., Saturday through Sunday, 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Gatos and Beans
Gatos and Beans is a cat café located in Avondale, Alabama. The cat café is the first of its kind in the state. It was opened in July 2019 by Kelli Steward and her husband Stephen Steward after placing second in REV Birmingham’s “Big Pitch,” a competition similar to Shark Tank.
The cat café is separated into a coffee shop in the front and a separate cat room the back where the adoptable cats reside. “It was a used tire store,” Kelli Steward said. “It’s come a long way, but it sang to me so to speak as far as the space that was available.”
Guests of all ages seem to enjoy interacting with cats in the cat room while the staff points out the distinct personalities of the feline residents. The room is a cat’s paradise with a copious number of toys, cosy alcoves for napping and climbable perches for privacy.
For guests who would rather appreciate cats from afar, they can enjoy a cup of coffee while watching the cats through the large viewing windows. Cat yoga classes are also offered.
Steward, who worked at Alford Avenue Veterinary Hospital for 23 years and still works there part-time, said that starting a cat café was unexpected.
“I didn’t mull it over for like three years or anything like that,” Steward said. “It just happened. And that is fantastic. I am not that mull-over-for-three-years person.”
While she understood the animal side of the business, her colleague’s husband, Mark Blumenthal, trained her in brewing coffee. Blumenthal, a professional barista and fellow cat lover, worked at Crestwood Coffee Company before coming to Gatos and Beans. The cat café uses coffee and espresso from Red Bike Coffee.
“It’s a delicious indie roaster here in Irondale right up the street,” Blumenthal said.
The main draw to Gatos and Beans is the calming atmosphere. “I think people come here, in general, is even if you have your own cats, the experience inside the cat room lends it to be relaxing,” Steward stated. “It’s fun; it’s peaceful.”
The cats also benefit from the human interaction as the socialization helps them get adopted. The furry guests are all from Kitty Kat Haven & Rescue, a non-profit
in Hoover. As of late March 2021, 133 cats have been adopted.
Kelli Steward’s favorite part of her job is finding homes for the cats, which helps her stay motivated. “It’s more important to my heart where I feel like I am really, really contributing and giving back to the cat community and the people community, the cat people community,” Steward said.
Address: 4348 3rd Court South, Birmingham, AL 35222 Hours: Sunday, 12 p.m. – 6 p.m., Monday, 4 p.m. – 7 p.m., (Cat Yoga 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.),
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Website: https://gatosandbeans.comAddress: 4348 3rd Court South, Birmingham, AL 35222