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Bayou Eats | HeBrews Coffee & Eats

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Eats
Apr 1st, 2024
0 Comments
331 Views

ARTICLE BY VANELIS RIVERA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK

There’s something snug and inviting about a coffee shop. From the whirring rhythm of the espresso machine to the bold, earthy tones of freshly ground coffee, it’s often a place where people can find a jolt of energy and motivation. It may seem like a straightforward operation for any coffee shop owner—a love of coffee, efficient machinery, a few nifty mugs, and the perfect location. However, not all paths to coffee are made the same. While some are paved directly to a brick-and-mortar, others start on wheels!

TJ and Kaycie Weed first met in 2014 at a coffee shop. “Which is not uncommon, right? A lot of people do that,” says TJ, emphasizing that it shouldn’t suggest all coffee dates lead to an inevitable coffee venture, but that is, in fact, a part of their story. One the couple cherishes now more than ever. A year later they were married and moved to West Monroe for a little while before moving to Rayville in 2020 with their two children, Nora and Creighton. There, TJ worked as a school teacher and baseball coach while Kaycie continued her profession as a registered nurse. It would seem their life had very little wiggle room, but on one family outing, walking their kids in the downtown area of Rayville, they began brainstorming about the future. In that hopeful conversation, they imagined a place where the people of Rayville could gather and share in fellowship. “We are both lovers of coffee and knew that was the perfect way to bring people together,” wrote Kaycie in a Facebook post introducing her family and new business to the Rayville community. After all, “…coffee is a people business.”

Initially, the couple began looking for a storefront. They found a downtown location but ran into a significant roadblock. “Banks don’t really want to take a chance on a couple that have never had a business before,” says TJ. Despite the disappointment, the couple weren’t deterred. They fervently believed that God had something better in store for them. Back to the drawing board, they considered their options which pointed them to another common coffee kickstarter—the mobile unit. One of their searches turned up a “precious” 1985 Chevrolet camper located on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas. Not only had it been customized for a food truck but it had roots in Louisiana. “We fell in love with its character and knew this was the answer,” Kaycie further revealed in her post. Within a week, the couple took the approximately four-hour trek to pick up the unit and haul it back. 

It was one thing to purchase and move the intended coffee vessel, but quite another to begin the coffee-making process. While avid coffee fans, Kaycie and TJ, admittedly didn’t know much about the business of coffee. Thankfully, they were led to people who would further forge their path. First, TJ met with Luke Phillips, a former elementary school classmate who owns a coffee shop in Winnsboro. “He was an open book,” says TJ, adding, “He’s a great guy and they do a great job.” Luke helped with some important “ins and outs” of the business including setting up a point-of-sale system and getting in touch with a coffee bean supplier, which ended up being Rhino Coffee based in Shreveport. Through Rhino, the couple was able to buy coffee equipment and receive coffee-making training. By that time, TJ had already quit his job, wanting to fully invest in building his skillset—and that he did. In a short period, he learned the important steps to making “good coffee,” such as noting the density of the grind, compression of the press to the weight, and the brand of coffee itself. “It’s a science. It truly is a science experiment,” he says. He took to it like a natural. And six months later, his business had a name with a logo created by Joanna Weed, the trailer was set up in a lot, and he was ready to brew his first batch of HeBrews coffee. “I’ve never made espresso. I’ve never made a latte. I’d never made iced lattes,” says TJ, referring to opening day. For four hours straight, he was sending out one drink after another. He still questions the quality of those first brews, but many of his first customers have kept returning. 

Currently, the HeBrews coffee menu is an ode to Richland Parish. One of their most popular drinks nods to Rayville’s notoriety with a very important Northeast Louisiana crop, so much so that it has gained the city the title of “white gold capital of the South.” Having come to this discovery, TJ knew it would become a drink name. “That is hands down our best drink and our best-seller,” he says. White Gold latte is a delicate mix of white chocolate mocha and salted caramel. Customers also gravitate toward the Old Oak latte (brown sugar cinnamon and mocha), the Cotton Gin (vanilla and caramel), and the Pelican (brown sugar cinnamon and honey). All drinks can be made iced, hot, or as a frappé. Additionally, all flavors are available sugar-free (excluding seasonal drinks), milk substitutes are offered, and the HeBrews team invites you to try their flavored cold foam. No matter the combination, each brew is made to get you going!

It can be assumed that hardcore coffee consumers can survive on coffee alone, but TJ and Kaycie quickly learned that adding an extra pep to people’s steps would also include offering morning eats and lunch options. To help refine his culinary chops, TJ recruited the help of his father, known within the family for his smoked pulled pork. “He taught me his recipe and how he did everything,” he says, adding that the final challenge would be figuring out how to cook it in the food truck. It was an unequivocal hit. “So we started doing that every Thursday,” along with other homecooked food specials. “We would come up with something that you just couldn’t get in town,” he says, mentioning the Mississippi Potroast Quesadillas, the panini-style sandwiches, and their “special dressing” chicken salad sandwich made with minced seasoned chicken, apple, dried cranberries, celery, and toasted pecans. Expect to see a variety of sweets offered, delightfully flavored, like their cherry pie muffins, raspberry white chocolate cupcakes (made with homemade raspberry purée), and blueberry muffins with lemon buttercream. 

Last year, HeBrews experienced two significant moments of growth. The first was opening another location in Delhi. “We didn’t have it on our radar,” says TJ, but the couple believes that God opens doors for you to walk through. They began the pursuit and officially opened in August of last year. The storefront is quaint and strategically located in Delhi’s historic downtown. Meanwhile, in Rayville, the HeBrews trailer was on the verge of settling into a new location, one with a roof! “We’re parked inside of a building that’s got roll-up doors,” says TJ. It’s a whimsical space, characterized by outdoor string lights, smooth concrete floor, picnic benches, and, of course, the place where all the magic happens, the HeBrews trailer, its bright aqua-green accents adding lively pops of color. Recently, the space is also being used for yoga classes, an apt addition to the already chill vibes.

After two years of constant “back and forth,” both HeBrews locations have found their stride. TJ is particularly grateful for his “grinding employees,” Lonna Hughes, Emma Poland, and Jess Blackard. After all, they are the meeters and greeters, the faces their customers see day in and out. Their joint effort has resulted in a growth of eager coffee lovers, particularly by way of Interstate 20. “We’ve got to meet very interesting people,” says TJ, referring to families making cross-country moves or road trips. The increase in traffic has inspired TJ and Kaycie to build a kitchen adjacent to the food truck to expand their food offerings. Additionally, the couple plans to invest in a coffee cart whereby they can roll their coffee operation to special events such as weddings.

“I think it’s important that our faith in the Lord is mentioned,” says TJ, emphasizing the significance of divine timing regarding the birth of his business. “We would not be here if it was not for him.” There were many uncertain points in building thebusiness, but their resilience, one tied to faith, became the key to their success. He adds, “This type of business is tough and you’ve got to have faith that things are going to shake out and that your hard work, all those good seeds are going to be sewn.” Their motivation is also tied to their children, and by extension, their community. In this way, HeBrews is establishing a legacy. Ultimately, they hope to exemplify the benefits of having an efficient work ethic for their children. And, for their community, they strive to further contribute to its growth and sense of local pride.