Where coffee is concerned, Louisville has a serious presence – in certain areas. In the last few years, however, one relative newcomer has taken its place and extended into areas heretofore unexplored.
Matthew Huested and Brian Miller, the minds behind Sunergos Coffee, led the java diaspora – first, by opening in 2006 on Preston Street in then-inexpensive Germantown, then, six years later adding a location on Woodlawn Avenue in the Beechmont neighborhood. In July of this year, the pair opened a third location downtown on Fifth Street.
“The Preston Street location was not a good location from measurable statistics, but it’s been a wonderful location for us,” says Huested. “Same with Woodlawn. We like the idea of being in a neighborhood that peaked 20 or 30 years ago but is coming around again.” The vast immigrant population drives the South End’s renaissance, and the Beechmont Sunergos’ immediate neighbors include such internationally diverse businesses as a Vietnamese restaurant and a halal meat market.
The cafe has its own global twist; the name Sunergos (which, Huested says, may be pronounced any way you wish) is a Greek word meaning “to work together,” and the logo, designed by Miller, is a fanciful line-art depiction of a turtle, elephant and rabbit hanging out harmoniously. “It has all these spirals and a totem quality to it,” Huested says, citing both Asian Indian and Native American elements. “It has great universal appeal.”
And then there’s the coffee. “It’s been our philosophy as baristas and crafts people that if somebody has the desire to excel and they have the right tools, they’ll always advance in their work,” says Huested. To this end, the Preston and Woodlawn locations roast their own beans, and the new downtown location uses a Slayer brand espresso machine that, Huested says, “allows us control over all perimeters of a bunch of particulars: the mass, the dose, the group head temperature, pre-infusion times, infusion times, post-infusion times, the mass of the final shot ... ” In other words? “When something is automated, it takes away control. What we’re doing on Fifth Street is representing and presenting espresso in a fashion that is exceptional.”
Huested and Miller also focus on starting with an exceptional product, sourcing “Q-market” (quality grade, as opposed to “C-market,” or commercial grade) beans – and that’s good news for smaller producers, too. “The reality is, when you deal with really high-quality coffees, one of the side effects is economic and social responsibility,” Huested says.
Huested believes that Sunergos’ success is representative of the city’s under-the-radar coffee culture. “Ten years ago, if you looked at what Louisville baristas were doing relative to the nation, for the size of our city it was ... pretty interesting. Now, Louisville is at a quality level – maybe not a publicity level – that is at the top of the nation.” In fact, in the international competition of the 2012 Chicago Coffee Fest, Louisville baristas represented four spots out of 60. The winner? A Sunergos-trained independent barista. (In 2011, Sunergos’ Kenny Smith took second place.)
“We’re coffee-centric,” Huested says. “It’s the unmoving center of what we do.”
Sunergos Coffee is located in Germantown at 2122 S. Preston St., in Beechmont at 306 W. Woodlawn Ave., and downtown at 231 S. Fifth St. Hours vary by location; visit www.sunergoscoffee.com for more information.