‘DRINKING BLACK COFFEE’
Andy Mumma’s business success is powered by community
"I always tell people, coffee found me,” Andy Mumma says. The East Nashville entrepreneur and coffee master sits at a table in the East Side location of his landmark business, Barista Parlor. It’s a Tuesday morning and a small crew of expert baristas brew coffee by the cup for a steady stream of java lovers.
“When I was 18, things kind of came to a head, and I needed a change,” Mumma says. “My older sister was attending college at Belmont, so I decided to come to Nashville. I didn’t pack anything. I had a 1950 Ford coupe that I drove all the way, stealing gas to get here because I had no money. I decided to stay and got a job as a barista. That’s when I started working in coffee, and it’s been the one constant in my life for the last 19 years.”
A native of Chesapeake, Va., Mumma grew up in a Conservative Mennonite family. Like all Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites believe in a strong dedication to pacifism and a life of service. Navigating a middle path between Old Order and Progressive Mennonites, Conservatives embrace a limited amount of modern technology while following a simple lifestyle, primarily separated from most aspects of popular culture.
“I only hung out with the kids I went to school and church with during my grade school years,” Mumma says. “It was actually a great childhood because there was a huge sense of community, but I was always different. When I was 7 or 8 years old, I would draw tattoos on my arms with markers. When I was about 13, I found some blue hair dye and dyed my hair. I was always interested in different stuff and wanted to do something different with my life compared to the rest of the kids.
“When I was 14 years old, I was working at a local dairy farm, washing the delivery trucks and doing odd jobs. One day I was washing the milk truck and turned on the radio. There was a local station with a punk rock show. That was the first time I heard rock & roll — the Sex Pistols, Bad Religion, and Social Distortion. I got a cassette recorder and started secretly taping those songs off the radio.”
That chance encounter with punk rock plunged Mumma headfirst into the deep end of the rock & roll pool. Although his parents had never explicitly banned the Devil’s music in their household, Mumma kept his interest in rock clandestine to avoid disapproval. When his father discovered his son’s new obsession, Mumma got a surprise.
“My dad married into the Mennonite culture, so he knew all about rock & roll from his younger years before he met my mom. He introduced me to Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and more. It made him very happy that I loved it.”
Rock & roll wasn’t the only lasting influence on Mumma. The summers he spent at his maternal grandfather’s dairy farm in Lancaster, Pa., led to another passion. “My uncles were all obsessed with muscle cars,” he says. “The first time I experienced the thrill of being pinned back in my seat was in a ’69 Road Runner, and my mom owned a Dodge Demon when she got married. Restoring and maintaining muscle cars was the one outlet many Mennonites had.”
When Mumma began attending public high school, these dollops of American popular culture were joined by a plethora of worldly temptations. “I went to grade school with the same 10 kids, and then when I started high school, I was one of 4,600 kids,” he says. “I got a guitar and learned to play rock & roll, and I discovered skateboarding. It was a whole new world for me — a crazy whirlwind from the time I was 14. By the time I was 18, I was playing in bands and even doing some touring.”
Along with the healthy aspects of rock and rebellion came darker issues. Conflicts with his family and drug use led to a downward spiral resulting in his bolt to Nashville with only a 1950 Ford and the desire for a different life.
“I know this sounds silly, but I decided to stay in Nashville because everyone I met was so welcoming and so nice,” Mumma says. “When I got the job as barista, I knew nothing about coffee. What really attracted me were schedule flexibility and the social aspects of the job. I still wanted to play music, and working in a coffee bar was a way for me to meet and connect with people.
Mumma soon brought the same passion to brewing coffee that he applied to rock & roll and fast cars. He also found himself in the right place at the right time as the movement that became known as the third wave of coffee began to gather steam.
“It really wasn’t about the coffee when I started,” Mumma says. “It was all about adding flavored syrups or how sweet you could make it. There were trail-blazing roasting companies like Stumptown and Intelligentsia that focused on the quality of the coffee. I got subscriptions to many of these and invited friends over while I played around with (different brewing methods like) chemexes and siphons. That was my first experience with really good, high-end specialty coffee. I had my day-job coffee, and then I would do all my coffee geeking out at home. About seven years into my coffee career, my passions started changing from playing music or making films to the idea of owning my own coffee bar. I tend to obsess over things, so I spent eight years thinking about it and talking to my friends about my ideas before I decided to start Barista Parlor.”
Mumma moved to Phoenix, Ariz., to work for a roasting company with the goal of learning more about the production of high-quality coffee. “I was out there only 10 months because the people weren’t nice,” Mumma says. “All I could think about was being back in Nashville, so I moved back. I hardly had any money and really didn’t know what I was doing, but I decided I was going to will it to happen. I knew I wanted to be in East Nashville, and I knew I wanted to do it my way — using manual brew methods, making it to order by the cup. Part of the beauty of coffee is there is a niche for everyone. I wanted to create a coffee bar that fit my vision of how it should be roasted, brewed, and presented.”
A year-long search for the perfect space and location eventually led him to a former transmission shop, just off Gallatin Avenue, tucked away behind what is now Local Honey, across the alley that runs behind Porter Road Butcher and The Groove. He then began a slow process of renovating the space over the course of several months, as his finances allowed.
“I found a landlord that would work with me on the big things, and I worked something out where I didn’t have to pay rent until I opened,” Mumma says. “I know the landlord thought I was crazy, but I think he thought at least I would improve the space, even if everything else fell through. I had a bunch of talented friends willing to help me, and it took me a year to build out the space. I tried to get an investor, offering 50 percent of the business for $10,000, but I couldn’t attract anyone. Then my mom died in the middle of the construction, and that was really hard, but my dad ended up moving here from Virginia to help me finish the space.”
Opening in May 2012, the Barista Parlor made an immediate splash in Nashville’s coffee and culinary scene. Mumma’s personal vision encompassed sourcing the highest quality sustainable coffee in the world and grinding and brewing each cup to order, using different brewing techniques tailored to bring out the best in each variety of coffee.
As for the ambiance, Mumma preserved the garage space aesthetic by retaining the garage roller doors and an ample amount of open space, adding custom-designed furniture made from reclaimed wood and built by local craftsmen he knew personally. He also worked closely with his friend Bryce McCloud of Isle of Printing to add several nautical-themed design elements, including the distinctive wooden anchor on the outside of the building and what Mumma calls “the world’s largest iPhone enhanced mural,” a 24-foot-long mosaic comprised of 4,400 individual letterpressed squares, each one with a different sea creature, creating a portrait of the Preussen, the famed German steel-hulled five-masted cargo ship that sank in 1910.
Mumma’s collection of vintage motorcycles parked at the front of the building became a popular feature of the decor. “When I opened the Barista Parlor, I started parking my bikes here because I didn’t have a garage,” Mumma says. “People enjoyed looking at them, and it’s attracted other motorcycle enthusiasts. Our goal was to merge art and commerce. I wanted people to think differently about coffee, make it more of an experience instead of just a transaction. So all the art pieces and small things we do are important in creating that experience.”
Commitment to his personal vision and thinking beyond the confines of routine business concerns has been a major factor in Barista Parlor’s success and growth. In September 2014, Mumma opened a second location at the former home of the Golden Sound recording studio in the Gulch, and a third location opened in December 2015 in a former auto body shop in Germantown. A roasting operation was added to the Golden Sound location in July 2016. For each additional location, Mumma remained committed to the brewing techniques and functional layout of the original Barista Parlor, while adding unique design themes — aeronautics for Golden Sound and automotive for Germantown. He’s also continued his commitment to local craftsmen and artists.
“Growing up in a Mennonite community, everything in our house was built by family friends. I never thought about it as a way to represent my heritage. It just made sense to design the furniture and fixtures myself and have local craftsmen make them. If I’m going to spend money on furniture, why wouldn’t I support someone locally and keep that money in the community? The original Barista Parlor was the first big job for a lot of the people I worked with, and now they have successful businesses. Not only has Barista Parlor been a success for me, but it played a part in making other local businesses successful.”
With his coffee kingdom well-established, Mumma is currently expanding into other businesses, partnering with longtime Husk Nashville bar manager Mike Wolf on a new tiki bar, Chopper, located in the same building as the original Barista Parlor. Mumma is also partnering with Moto Moda owner Jimmy Pruitt on a new, expanded location for the East Side motorcycle culture shop that will be located in Riverside Village. In addition, Mumma is hard at work on 4 Speed, a classic and customized car dealership slated to open on Main Street in 2018. For all of his ventures, Mumma credits success to the community of friends and business associates he’s fostered over the last two decades.
“It’s all about finding a really great team,” he says. “I work with amazing people that I trust, but it took me a few years to get to this point. For a long time I wasn’t managing my stress well and taking pride in working 100 hours a week and trying to do everything myself. Now I take pride in having a really amazing team. I am ambitious, but I didn’t set out to create all these different businesses. They just grew organically. I wanted to create a kind of company that I never worked for, one where the employees are super-stoked about working for someone that cares about them. It’s never been about money, it’s always been about using my creativity and the community of people I’m blessed to work with.”