Spouses Dave and Susan Ward founded Buddy Brew in 2009, and Sarah and Raphael Perrier, also husband and wife, founded Kahwa Coffee in 2006. Though the couples don't really consider each other competition, they often come face-to-face for wholesale accounts and retail customers, with everyone wanting to know the same thing:
Who serves the best cup of coffee in Tampa Bay?
Dave and Susan Ward have always loved coffee.
When the Tampa couple would visit San Francisco, they'd talk about how much they loved the coffee experience, and wished there was more of it back in the other Bay area.
Deciding “fresh roasted coffee is where it's at,” the Wards decided to source their own beans and roast them at home. They started to roast coffee out of their garage in 2002. They'd give the coffee away as gifts and serve it at dinner parties. They named the brew after their dog, Buddy. The coffee was so good, guests told them they should think about selling it.
Seven years later, Dave Ward, a senior associate and loan officer at CBRE/Melody, with worries over his job, considered the career-switch possibility. He launched a website and sales started to come in. The couple also sold coffee from their home, to friends and family, who would buy a few bags from a crate left on the front porch with a small money pouch.
“Then people we didn't know started showing up to the house,” says Dave Ward, “and we realized we probably needed to do something.”
Buddy Brew has since become a coffee gazelle. The couple has three retail locations, 150 wholesale accounts and the BBC Brew Truck — a coffee shop on wheels. The firm has tripled space for both the retail and wholesale outfits in the last year, including two new Tampa locations and contracts to sell at more than 20 Whole Foods stores in Florida.
The Wards declined to share exact revenue figures, though they say sales have tripled almost every year since they launched the business.
Buddy Brew has one more thing percolating: buzz. The brand has been written up multiple times, and coffee lovers love to talk about it. The company also won third place from Coffee Fest for America's Best Espresso.
But the Wards aren't complacent.
“Buddy Brew humbles us every day,” Dave Ward says. “The last thing we want is to believe in the hype; it's easy to sit down and rest in that.”
The goal with Buddy Brew is to get to 65% wholesale and 35% retail, but the mix is currently skewed to the retail side, Dave Ward says. It wasn't part of the plan to be in retail, it just happened.
“There's pent-up demand” in Tampa, Dave Ward says. “People are ready for a good cup of coffee.”
Even though their second location in Tampa was built just down the street from the first, “our locations are far enough apart that we're not cannibalizing ourselves,” Dave Ward says. The additional location just drives more business.
The Wards don't see much competition for specialty coffee in the area. The other small providers that exist just help educate people about how great coffee can be, and “everybody wins,” Dave Ward says. The company most recently opened a location in downtown Sarasota, where it took over the cafe associated with Louie's Modern, a popular Palm Avenue restaurant.
Because the Wards put such an emphasis on being local, Sarasota can at times feel like a distance, they admit. That only adds to their biggest challenge: delegation.
The Wards realize they need to force themselves to move from operators to owners, but it's not an easy transition. Moving some administrative tasks will help Dave Ward get back to his passion for roasting coffee. “If you don't hold on tight, the flame will go out,” he says. “Eventually, you find other people to do that other stuff.”
Buddy Brew Top Accounts
Straz Center for the Performing Arts
The Blind Tiger Cafe in Ybor
Edison Food Lab: Features Buddy Brew coffee brewed through a vacuum pot — making it look like a science experiment over dessert
PlayGrounds: Buddy Brew is featured at the indoor bounce house's espresso bar
Various fine dining restaurants in Tampa, including Piquant, Rooster & the Till, and The Refinery
Read our story on Kahwa Coffee, "Kahwa Craze."