By Lauren Wong
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4415 South Rural Rd, Suite 10, Tempe

As I’ve shared before, I work remotely. So, in need of a change of scenery, I set out on a mission to find some unique coffee shops in the Greater Phoenix Area. That’s how this series came about. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be featuring a handful of locally owned shops that have their own special twist on your traditional cafe. 

This first coffee shop’s aesthetic is loosely tied to the story of the Wizard of Oz. Co-Owner/Co-Founders Gabe Hagen and Jesse Shank opened their shop at the end of October 2021, celebrating their Grand Opening January 26 – 28th 2022. The main focus here is community.

A Q & A from the owners

Q: How would you describe your cafe? 

A: The first word that comes to mind is community. We hope you feel welcomed and at home when you walk into our cafe. We pride ourselves on creating a space that is LGBTQ+ and sober-community friendly. In fact, ‘community’ is essential to us.

We don’t consider our aesthetic a theme, but the name Brick Road Coffee is loosely tied to the story of Wizard of Oz. In the classic book, Dorothy sets out on a journey of self-discovery only to realize that all one needs to find themself is self-realization and acceptance. We have made it our mission to accept everyone as they are, no matter where they are on their journey. 

The physical space is just as inviting and diverse as the community we serve. Complete with a custom mural by Paige Reesor, a local Tempe artist, depicting how one’s community can truly support them on their journey to self-discovery, it’s hard not to feel welcome. Another mural in the hallway leading to the gender-neutral restrooms was custom made by Corrie Mattie, or the LA Hope Dealer as she’s known in Los Angeles. The phrase “Cross my Heart and Hope to Fly” painted against a bright yellow wall with the signature flying monkey is just one of the many subtle nods to the film that inspired the name Brick Road Coffee. We have curated an LGBTQ+ lending library stocked full of books by queer authors and featuring queer characters in the lounge seating area, along with a projection screen where Golden Girls streams from open to close. It’s hard not to miss our bright red espresso machine known as Ruby for, you guessed it, the infamous ruby slippers that transport Dorothy “home.”

Q: What gave you the idea and passion for starting this cafe?

A: After moving out of small Midwestern towns and meeting in Southern California, we realized just how much coffee shops are the centers of the communities they serve. They are a gathering place to exchange ideas, come together in common endeavors, and build networks and relationships. We left California to pursue careers in finance in Arizona, but once the pandemic hit in early 2020, we were motivated to do something that made a difference. We hope that the community born at Brick Road Coffee will help elevate their neighbors and make a small, yet meaningful, impact on their lives. 

Believe it or not, Brick Road Coffee wasn’t intended, at the outset, to be the loud and proud beacon of queerness that it is. Sure, we always intended to be authentic, to be ourselves, and to be community-oriented, but we weren’t sure how much we could afford to lean into being queer. We had to pay the bills, and this is Arizona, after all. We weren’t hiding, but our nods to queerness were subtle references and hidden hints: Friends of Dorothy, rainbow doves, our lending library. When we got the opportunity to participate in the Queermas toy drive for LGBTQ+ youth run by our friends at one n ten, it was an excuse to put up our first big rainbow at the shop, in the form of the gayest Christmas tree you’ll ever care to see. 

And that’s when a family member first articulated the looming question: “Are you worried that you’ll lose customers?” There was the unspoken but implicit addendum, “for expressing yourselves?” And it clicked. No. No, we weren’t. Our experience in the community was telling us the opposite, and it was time that we recognized that. 

Our customers were telling us that they loved authenticity. That they needed a space that dared to be different. We looked at each other and knew we both agreed – we were going to put ourselves out there, and Brick Road was going to be whatever our community needed it to be. That decision has paid off in so many ways in terms of customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, and our own mental health.

Q: What do you hope your guests walk away feeling after visiting your cafe? 

A: The most important thing we wish our guests to feel while visiting and after is that this is their space, where they are free to be authentically themselves and are never judged. We want everyone who visits us to feel at home, whether it is their first time or they are our neighbors and regular customers.

Looking forward, they hope to continue to provide the community with a safe space, full of resources and good coffee. In terms of their long term goals, they’d like to try to take this community center concept, and spread that to other communities. They explain that their model isn’t franchisable since their “Secret Sauce” is community, values, and people over profit. 

Brick Road Coffee truly was such an inviting shop. I went in to meet Gabe and stayed a few hours working on my laptop, and getting to know him and the workers. The art is exquisitely unique, and brightens up the whole atmosphere. 

Though they do focus a lot on the LGBTQ+ community, you don’t have to be a part of that group to come in. I was greeted with open arms (and a delicious Lavender Matcha) the second I walked in.

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For information on their upcoming events, visit their website.