After 10 years in the coffee game, Nervous Dog Coffee has a story to tell.
Nervous Dog Coffee celebrated 10 years in the Akron community this fall. For a decade they’ve been roasting, brewing and serving coffee to commuters, college students, caffeine fanatics, musicians, newlyweds and any other type of Akronite you can think of.
We recently interviewed Jayme Bryson, the marketing manager for Nervous Dog Coffee. The answers were so thorough and amazing, we’re posting them nearly verbatim. (They’re just edited for length.) So grab a cup of coffee (from Nervous Dog, obviously) and learn about the local company’s past, present and future.
Congrats on Nervous Dog’s 10-year anniversary! Can you tell us where the idea for a coffee shop came from?
Michael, the owner and creator of Nervous Dog Coffee, lived a block down the road from a small, indie coffee shop. He used to stop in on his commute to Cleveland, or the airport, or anywhere else but the Akron outside his front door. The commute kept evolving into daydreams about becoming an entrepreneur, getting to know the people in his town and becoming more involved… and coffee had always been a passion. (He’s kind of a dork like that.)
His neighborhood shop seemed to be struggling; the latest proprietor had the passion, but it came with a full-time engineering job. Someone once said that “an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff, and builds the airplane on the way down.”
Michael’s third child was on the way, he was attending grad school and working full time, and the economy was about to tank. He didn’t know how to run a coffee bar — and will claim he still doesn’t. He analyzed it, the numbers didn’t work, and he figured, “Hey, this could be fun!” So he pinched his nose, closed his eyes, and jumped. And here we are!
Why did Michael name it Nervous Dog?
There was a (long-defunct) record label called “Nervous Dog Records” that he was familiar with in undergrad. The image always made him giggle. The name also reminded him of the many local pubs and sole proprietorships he had visited on a grad school study in Ireland: townie-type local haunts with worn, eclectic furniture, customers who all knew each other and the staff and the owner. They were all neighbors.
[The local shop was] a home away from home, a place to meet and shed the day, and a great equalizer. It had the ‘penny university’ feel. The intimate, welcoming community environment, but with coffee. Michael worked out a deal within a month of his return and wished his former colleagues the best.
Buried in the Nervous Dog Coffee logo is the wee nervous pup named Coco. It’s our respectful tip of our cap to the original owners, who — by the way — remain loyal patrons. The logo and “Come, Sit, Stay” tagline won multiple ADDYs. A brand was born, and it continues to develop.
What sets Nervous Dog apart from other coffee shops and cafes in the area?
I don’t know that this sets us apart — there are many other terrific local coffee shops, and we encourage you to experience them — but there really is a talented, committed local presence and we’re thrilled about that.
Our own success is driven by our friendly, genuinely interested, entrepreneurial staff; a very diverse group of loyal, interesting and engaged customers; and our genuine openness to enabling both empowered staff AND patrons to help us continue to evolve. Our business strategy is simple flexibility and the desire to not only hear but also LISTEN — and then exceed.
We don’t spare standards to react to constant changes in costs. Through the best and worst economies since our inception, we have doggedly maintained the same high standards for consistency and quality products. There is an important and sometimes blurred distinction between fads pushed by the industry to consumers versus trends in customer preference. We put new products, technologies and flavor combinations front and center to give people the chance to have a blast exploring. We listen to what people love, versus pushing for the best margin. This keeps us healthy and active in the long term.
Like cooking a good meal, we celebrate quality coffee as the primary ingredient and build from there. Brewing a great cup of coffee requires, well… great coffee. We don’t mask that. And we don’t forget about our more traditional roots: craftsmanship, the desire to see happy faces, and always using the highest quality ingredients we can find.
Having worked at Nervous Dog Coffee for over two years, I have learned that our mission is to deepen our great relationship with our community. We live here, too. We accomplish this by welcoming new visitors, encouraging them to ask questions about our products, getting to know these amazing people personally and engaging as much as we can. My heart is full when I participate in events in the community and work side-by-side with customers I have gotten to know through Nervous Dog.
We regard other independent shops and businesses as colleagues, not competitors. We build relationships with local suppliers that become more like business partners. And we prioritize involvement in local schools, charities and businesses.
Nervous Dog seems to have a genuine focus on the community. Why is that important as a coffee shop?
This is important to us as a group of PEOPLE; these people just happen to collectively be a coffee shop. People are drawn to coffee shops for a variety of reasons, and we’ve made every effort to meet the needs of our loyal patrons. We’ve had families celebrating birthdays, friends planning surprise parties, local businesses hosting staff meetings, student recitals, musicians debuting their first single, and book signings where the book was authored right here at our tables. We’ve even seen some marriage proposals and hosted a surprise wedding ceremony!
These moments have been the most rewarding. We recognize the role Nervous Dog has played in many of our customers’ lives and the ones they have played in ours. We are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such milestone moments.
As a small local business, we pride ourselves in our ability to embark on new endeavors. Next month we are hosting a game night in which gamers can come in and try games that are still being developed. We have a drink celebrating a great show coming to E.J. Thomas, and our coffee can be found at the local community theater, in a beer at a local brew pub and in delicious pastry creations from local bakers. Many of our customers share our yearning for community involvement, so we do our best to provide them either a space for it or simply coffee to fuel them during their community events.
What drink is a local favorite?
Our Nervous Dog House Blend coffee is an all-around crowd pleaser. Emily, our esteemed general manager, credits this cup of joe as the first one she ever drank black and actually liked. It is our proprietary blend, developed with a secret team of experts in a dark room, over many sleepless nights. Just kidding — we swallowed every cupping. It is rich and robust, medium to medium-dark, and FULL of flavor, with a smooth finish and no bitterness.
Our Chihuahuas have developed quite a reputation on the line-up of must-haves. It’s 8 ounces, with two shots of espresso, steamed milk, and all natural ingredients and spices. The Original, our most popular, consists of Ghirardelli dark chocolate, fresh clove and cayenne. Truly, a small dog with a BIG bite.
For the “blended coffee” connoisseur in all of us, we’ve created the Dog Frapp: our espresso blend, milk, ice and just about any flavor combination you can imagine blended together. This frozen favorite delicately balances the sweetness you crave with a real, bold coffee taste for a truly unique experience. My personal favorite is the Raspberry Vanilla Dog Frapp: white chocolate, vanilla, almond and raspberry. Try it with soy milk; it’s DELISH!
Is there something a customer must try when they go to Nervous Dog for the first time?
We encourage customers who are interested in profiling the subtleties of each of coffee origin and who love to try new processes of brewing coffee to DEFINITELY experience our single cup Trifecta process. It’s a fully programmable, automated single cup brewing system, similar to an Aeropress, only with profiles we’ve created to bring forward the nuances of each type of bean we select.
We have tweaked and adjusted every aspect of each origin’s brew cycle and store those different profiles to perfectly match the bean with which we’re working. With something like a manual pour-over, all coffees begin with the same baseline. But coffee is a crop. They’re different, and we like to celebrate that! With our Trifectas, every origin and every roast can be brewed in a way that is custom tailored to emphasize the character of that coffee. One of our greatest joys is watching a “layperson” suddenly discover their new ability to experience the subtleties.
Our fresh and tasty pastries are always worth trying, too! The pastries we serve are all from local bakeries in Ohio. 2 Girls Bakery and Café in Stow provides us with our delicious Lemon Blueberry and Cranberry Orange with White Chocolate Chip Scones, as well as many of our seasonal treats, like the fan-favorite Pumpkin Cookies. Other local bakeries we work with include Pallotta’s, West Side Bakery and Rose Cottage Bakery, with a handful more to come. Stay tuned!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Michael grew up in the east suburbs of Cleveland. In December, we are thrilled to be opening our third location a few miles from his childhood home in Beachwood! It will still be home to friends and family and still be a commitment to not only Northeast Ohio, but to each and every distinct, local community we serve.
And finally, THANK YOU. Akron is providing us as much as we’re providing the city. This is our passion. Our coffee cup runneth over with community support, the number of relationships we continue to forge and deepen, and a product we couldn’t be more proud to offer. We’re living the dream. Thank you for making this all possible.
The next time you’re in the mood for a delicious cup of joe or craving a frozen blended beverage, drop into Nervous Dog. (And don’t forget the scone!) Nervous Dog’s two current locations are on Market Street in Akron’s Wallhaven neighborhood and on Steels Corners in Stow. Find their addresses and hours on their website.
All photos courtesy of William Levack