David Simon

"When I set out to start the business, about four years ago, I was determined to offer something that you couldn't find locally."

Each time I do a Brine Project interview, I bring with me a small digital voice recorder, similar to the one I used to use to record my voice lessons in college (I was a classical vocal performance major). I used to press Play and I would instantly hear piano chords, or a deep inhale, or flipping pages of a score. I would sit on a tiny piano bench in a tiny practice room with one tiny window in the door, and listen to my tiny recorder. That recorder was full of breakthrough learning moments and biting curse words of frustration, laughter and tears, noise and sometimes even music-- real music, that flowed with intention and breath and control. Despite all the haphazard, peripheral moments, there was the occasional moment of clarity. When I pressed Play on my new voice recorder recently to transcribe this interview with David Simon, the first sound I heard was the soft tssssss of a bottle of sparkling water being popped open. A sound that's simultaneously celebratory and calming. This sound, meaningless to probably anyone else, reminded me that there is clarity and intention and urgency in this project. It reminded me how grateful I am to be able to spend time with so many makers and thinkers in food and beverage. It reminded me that I get to train and engage my senses, just like in music, but in a slightly different way. Thank you to the first five interviewees who have taken a leap with me on this new endeavor!

On that note, I was honored to sit down with another incredible entrepreneur David Simon, the founder of a mobile coffee business called Black Magic Coffee Company, a few weeks ago: "I only started drinking coffee myself about seven or eight years ago. I haven't been drinking coffee for very long-- was never a 'caffeine person' at all. My wife bought me an espresso machine, and it just sort of took off from there. I quickly became obsessed with it, and experimented, mostly with espresso, ALL the time. I was working in the healthcare industry at the time, and it wasn’t until about four years ago that I left that field to work full time in coffee. During the couple years before that, I spent countless hours reading articles, watching videos, talking to people and experimenting with coffee at home."

"For me, it was more about the culture. I wasn’t so obsessed with how to make it at the time. I was more obsessed with the artistry. I actually started to work weekends at a coffee shop, which was my first real introduction to coffee. It was a bike and coffee shop, and because I've always been a big cyclist, that’s what really attracted me to the place. I went in and applied for a part-time job as a bike mechanic, and when they didn't need another mechanic, I said, sort of jokingly, 'What about a job as a barista?' And the owner said, 'Yeah, ok. We need help.' So I learned everything on the fly. But that’s how I was able to get more formal training, and how I was able to learn about the coffee roasters that we were serving through that cafe."

David kept his certification as a therapist all the while, but felt particularly drawn to coffee. For a while, he tossed around the idea of opening his own café. "I always wanted, and I still do to some extent, to own a café.... I think! I go back and forth… Once you open a café, you’re pretty much married to the place. And that’s not exactly what I want to be doing right now. So I set out to open a mobile business, because there wasn’t anything available like it at the time. Actually, one of the things that really did for me was the fact that when I was working in the healthcare world, I was going to conferences all the time, and I just couldn’t get an espresso, or a good cup of coffee."

"Being a mobile espresso bar, however, you’re faced with everything being mobile. A lot of times that’s weather. When you’re outside you’re dealing with wind, heat, humidity, etc. There’s always something that’s a challenge. It makes me appreciate being inside on occasion— vastly different."

"When I set out to start the business about four years ago, I was determined to offer something that you wouldn’t find locally. I have what’s called a multi-roaster coffee program-- I don't roast myself. At the time, I was the only mobile espresso bar in the country that was multi-roaster. So that bar you see out there? That’s my business."

Through the first coffee/bike shop where David worked, he was able to meet a number of roasters, and make connections. Because of that shop, he decided he wanted run a similar program that offered different coffees from multiple roasters. The four roasters David currently works with are Tandem Coffee Roasters (Maine), Passenger Coffee (Pennsylvania), Case Coffee Roasters (Oregon), and he recently added Novel Coffee Roasters (Texas).

David chose these four roasters through a good amount of trial and error. "What I like most about these coffee roasters is that they’re only roasting what’s in season. When you look at some of the bigger coffee roasters, you’re going to see 10-12 (or more) coffees that they're roasting at any given time. And they can all be good— I don’t doubt that— but I would rather see someone with fewer coffees, with more concentration on those particular coffees. All the coffee roasters I work with now roast maybe four to five coffees at a time. They always have one espresso option and a couple options for drip. In fact, Passenger Coffee roasters even has a cold brew blend that I use. So that really fit with my business model to keep it small."

For David, the same amount of research and care goes into the bottled water he offers, as well as the milk that goes into the espresso drinks. "You won’t find this water anywhere in the Northeast. Topo Chico Mineral Water has been around for 120 years, and I discovered it while visiting family in San Antonio, and thought, 'Wow! This is amazing water!' What sets this water apart from other sparkling waters, is that it’s naturally carbonated. It just comes out of the spring this way; it’s the only water like it. I spent 9-10 months trying to get it here, and I finally got it. For milk, I currently use milk from Thatcher Farm in Milton, Massachusetts. I’ve used many different local milks, but Thatcher is the only one that uses a low-temperature pasteurization. They pasteurize their milk at a lower temperature over a longer period of time, which helps retain the sweetness. Though milk is sometimes overlooked, I think the same emphasis should be put on the milk as the coffee. It does make a big difference as far as the way the drink should taste. Milk is kind of a big deal."

David and I discussed the difference between light, medium and dark roast coffee. Light roast best preserves the flavor of the actual coffee bean, while the heavy roasting of a dark roast more or less covers up the flavor of the bean. As it turns out, light roast often has higher caffeine content than a dark roast! "I tend to stay away from anything dark or 'dark roast.' With a dark roast, you don’t really get a sense of what that coffee tastes like— it’s roasted beyond taste. But the same could be true for extremely light-roasted coffees. You don’t want them to taste too 'green.' There are many schools of thought. For espresso, I tend to go with blends to get the right balance."

"Typically, espresso has, as its backbone, a Central American coffee that gives it a body, and then they may add an Ethiopian to give it a little sweetness, or a Guatemalan coffee… Sometimes they’ll throw in a Kenyan coffee. I personally enjoy Kenyan coffees the most because they’re the fruitiest and the most acidic. I try to find espresso that is suited for espresso on its own, or with milk. And that can be tough to find. Most people are going to order a cappuccino or a latte, and I want to have something that will cut through the milk-- I want them to be able to taste the coffee."

Lastly, I wanted to find out what kind of coffee David drinks at home. What's he doing that I could do to step up my morning coffee routine? "I mostly make Chem-X. It’s probably better that I don’t make espresso at home.... With Chem-X, you add the water over a 4-5 minute period. It’s a bit time-consuming, though the end result is worth it. But you can’t walk away from it; you have to really want that cup of coffee. With this particular method, it’s all about the process of making it."

Coffee Tasting
Using the Chem-X to make drip coffee, David prepared the Condado Peaberry coffee (Brazil) from Tandem Roasters, and it was bursting with aromas of dark chocolate, raspberries, fresh flowers and vanilla:

Black Magic Coffee Company is a mobile espresso business that provides premium coffee catering services for all kinds of occasions including open markets, weddings, private parties and corporate events throughout the Boston area. You can follow along on Instagram @blackmagiccoffeeco to keep up with the latest happenings, or to find David at one of many farmers markets this summer. 

Laurel McConville

"Health food, local food... There was something in there, and I wasn’t sure what it was at that point, but I knew that it was time."

“I grew up very much around flowers— growing, green flowers all the time.” Laurel McConville, founder of Nectar & Green, described some of her childhood memories as the daughter of a flower shop owner in Connecticut last week when we sat down at her quaint shared kitchen in Rockport, Massachusetts. 

“I was there in the sense that I was fascinated in the making and the artistry of [my mom’s] work and flowers, but also, it can’t be understated that I was around a woman who was really fierce and fearless. I was immersed in the shop in a very real way. If I didn’t have somewhere to go, I went to work with my mom. I would water the plants, trim dead leaves, fold cardboard rose boxes, especially for Valentine’s Day— I folded them by the dozens!”

Laurel, named after the flower, and born the same year her mother opened a flower shop, has a quiet gracefulness about her, but it's clear that she possesses this intensely fearless character too, as the founder of a company that has perfected hand-pressed almond milk. Nectar & Green only works with whole, organic ingredients (we counted all the ingredients on the shelf: 8 total). The almond milk is bottled in glass and delivered to clients just hours after pressing. It doesn't get much fresher than that! And not only is Laurel getting a product out there, but she’s also taking into consideration all the environmental implications-- not for marketing, or bragging rights, but simply because it feels right. Laurel never cuts corners, and she’s utilizing her business to do good and make change.

"It was almost implied that my mom expected my sisters and me each to do something equally as bold. I always had this idea that I would have a professional career for a set amount of time, and then I would likely do my own thing. That was always always ALWAYS in the back of my mind. I thought along the lines of, 'When I have my own store, or when I have my own business…' I had grown up around this lovely, romantic story, and I knew that I wanted to do that in some way, but I didn’t how, or when. And I wasn’t really able to articulate it at first. But when I started to feel that tipping point, that moment came very clearly."

So how exactly did this niche, health-focused idea come about? When she was 13 years old, Laurel became a vegetarian. "I suddenly became very opinionated overnight! My mom was SO annoyed by it, but she slowly realized it wasn’t going to change. I ate terribly in the beginning: pasta, bagels, chips and cookies. I was the worst vegetarian in high school. Then in college, it seemed to be: Cheese Everything. I was eating all this junk, and I knew I needed to make some changes. I started eating vegetables, and then I read a book that explained how chemicals are in nearly everything. You have to remember this is 2000, so this was the first time I was reading about hormones and chemicals-- that pesticides aren’t good for us. 'Organic' was not a household word. So I read this book and promptly stopped drinking things like Diet Coke, was on the lookout for chemicals, stopped eating dairy, and suddenly started feeling better."

Her progression gradually went from unhealthy vegetarian, to conscious vegetarian, all the way to raw vegan, and everything in between. "Now I just try to eat healthy. I’m way more balanced. I’ve taken a little bit from each of those experiences, and at the end of the day, I don’t feel like there’s a label that I fit into anymore, and I feel good about that."

In college, Laurel completed a combined Bachelor/Masters program in Education, specifically progressive education. She did a portion of her Masters in London, and fell in love not only with city life, but also with the food culture. And I don't mean fish & chips, or the giant blob of mayonnaise that Laurel said mysteriously seemed to appear on everything, including salads!! What fascinated her was the food shopping culture, where each little bakery, butcher shop, cheese shop, etc. really perfected the products they offered. Having grown up shopping in American grocery stores and supermarkets that attempt to be everything to everyone, Laurel felt inspired by this new perspective.

"I originally moved to Boston because it was somewhat close to home, and sort of European in feel, and just never left. I got a job at one of the only progressive public schools in the city where I taught second and third grade combined. I also led the school in urban gardening projects. We’d plant things, watch them grow over time, take them back to the classroom. My classroom had a kitchen, and we’d turn it into food for the next day. That was sort of the link of health food meets food source. With health food especially, we can look for the best things on the planet, and not think twice about where they come from (for example, goji berries, coconut oil…). We think about these very exotic ingredients when we think of healthy things. So, for me, this was health food meets local food. We don’t have to be shipping things from across the globe to be well. I think now that might seem more obvious, but to me, six or seven years ago, that felt like a novel idea. Local food was just starting to have its moment."

"After I had given seven years to my career in education, I was really proud of my work, but I felt that perfect timing to act on this entrepreneurial desire. Health food, local food, there was something in there, and I wasn’t sure what it was at that point, but I knew that it was time. It was this weird switch. I was thinking about it all the time."

After she moved on from her teaching position, Laurel worked front of house at Joanne Chang's famous Flour Bakery for a little over a year to get a sense of what makes a business that special, and that efficient. She went into it thinking she would be there no more than four months, but fell in love with it. "I hung my hat on the idea that, I’m going to work for Joanne Chang. I knew I wanted a career in food, and I was going to work for the best. It was like my informal culinary school, and I treated it very much like that. I think the people in my life understood that. I was very aware at the time that it was a particular kind of move, but I kept my eye on that ultimate vision."

When Laurel eventually left Flour to start her own business, the whole process didn't go as quickly as she had expected. "In the beginning, when you decide that you’re going to do something like this, the impulse is to incorporate EVERYTHING you love and care about into one idea. I wanted a cafe/restaurant/community space with raw food and fresh juice! I knew that the food I wanted to see, that was already in San Francisco or New York wasn’t in Boston. I wanted to bring something to Boston that wasn’t here yet. Our laser-focus now allows us to be efficient and thoughtful and really perfect what we do. Sometimes we get feedback along the lines of, 'What else are you going to deliver?' But why we wake up and do what we do isn’t about delivery. It’s about bringing a really beautiful product to people. A very specific product."

"My hope is really this idea of purity. Yes, we’re this super-niche, super-focused product; we’re one little thing in peoples' fridge. But if you start thinking about this, and you start asking questions...my hope is that as people see this, a light will go off and they’ll think, where else in my life could I be making another choice? What’s in the stuff I use in the shower? I want to educate people about the lack of regulation in a lot of items on the market, but I don’t want to hammer in scary facts. I want to instill this idea of going back to the basics: where is this stuff coming from? You’re not going to change everything in your house overnight. That’s terribly expensive and scary and overwhelming. It’s all about balance. As a company, we just want people to start thinking and asking those questions."

Lastly, Laurel's biggest piece of entrepreneurial advice was to be really clear on why you're doing what you're doing, as opposed to what you're doing. The what might change, and you have to be ready to change the what, but if you're really clear on your why, that won't matter as much. As an entrepreneur, if what you're doing is not working, but you're driven by your why, you can pivot and be more adaptable. 

Almond Milk Tasting
Laurel and I tasted two of Nectar & Green's six current flavor offerings. First, we tasted Vanilla Bean, made with almonds, purified water, local sea salt, local honey and vanilla bean. The second was Matcha, made with almonds, purified water, Matcha green tea, local sea salt and local honey. For this particular tasting, what came through the most was simply this: almonds. Laurel's idea of purity is very much a reality. I love that her flavor inspirations are deeply rooted in whole, natural ingredients, and that she allows those to shine through without the bells and whistles. This doesn't mean her almond milks aren't each unique and flavorful, complex and nuanced-- they certainly are! But the almonds are the highlight, as they should be. They are, after all, almost entirely responsible for the rich, dense, creamy mouthfeel, and that perfect balance of sweet and savory. 

Nectar & Green's almond milks are 30% almonds, whereas most supermarket brands are only 1%-3% almonds and typically contain a list of gums, fillers and preservatives. You too can get in on this hand-pressed almond milk party by going here. Follow along @nectarandgreen to keep up with the company's latest happenings.

Kristen Rummel

"After that, I started making ice cream at home with a small ice cream maker someone gave us for our wedding. I would make it all the time. And I loved it."

Kristen Rummel and ice cream first met only a few years ago at Oleana. This was real ice cream. Small batch ice cream. Corn ice cream, that night. She remembers thinking, "Wouldn’t it be incredible if you could go to the grocery store, and buy yourself a pint of corn ice cream?! After that, I started making corn ice cream at home with a small ice cream maker someone gave us for our wedding. I would make it all the time. And I loved it." She didn’t realize it at the time, but this seemingly simple dessert sparked the beginning of Honeycomb Creamery

The first time Kristen and I sat down to chat last winter, we got lunch that consisted of absurdly large paper cones full of french fries (yup, nothing else. Just french fries and beer.... because we're adults), and we talked about everything from the struggle of taking the perfect photograph of your own hand holding food (how do you people DO IT?!) to small business dreams to, of course, ice cream! Kristen is highly knowledgeable about all things dessert, and on the day we met up for this interview at Honeycomb Creamery's new prospective location in Cambridge(!!)-- more details on that below-- she was like Mary Poppins, unveiling ice cream sample after ice cream sample from her bag.

Originally from Wilmington, Delaware, Kristen moved to Boston after she graduated college to be with her now-husband, Rory. In college, she studied Language & Literature in Spanish, French and English, then started working at Boston Children’s Hospital to be a medical interpreter in Spanish. It didn’t take Kristen long to realize that this work didn’t feel fulfilling.

“When I first moved to Boston, it was my responsibility to find an apartment for Rory and me (Rory was living in Ireland at the time). So I came up here during my spring break in college, and I was driving around with this realtor for hours, and during one of our conversations, he asked me about my dream job. And I responded, 'Oh, well, I’m studying to be a medical interpreter.' But then he asked, 'No, but what’s your DREAM job?' And I said….'I think it would be so awesome to run my own restaurant or bakery. I really love baking.' That was the first time I said that out loud. To anyone! And without skipping a beat, he replied: 'Oh there’s this place called Clear Flour Bakery, I'll drive you by, and they’re hiring right now.'"

I didn’t clarify with Kristen, but I’m uncertain as to whether or not this realtor had pointy elf ears, or vanished into thin air like the little spirit guide that he was, after their conversation….

Kristen worked at Clear Flour Bakery for nearly three years. For those of you not familiar with it, Clear Flour is a petit boulangerie tucked in a residential side street in Brookline. They focus on making authentic breads from Italy and France using simple ingredients. Clear Flour could be easily overlooked were it not for the lines of people forming outside the door nearly every morning. It was originally founded by Christy Timon about 30 years ago, and is still owned and run by Christy and her husband, Abe Farber. 

“[At Clear Flour] they have all these artisan breads stacked on antique metal shelves, and a beautiful pastry rack, and pretzels hanging in the window. It was really profound being that close and that connected to what was being put out on the shelves. It wasn’t like opening packaging, and microwaving, and plopping it on the shelf… And I thought, this is so amazing! I learned a lot at Clear Flour, but I eventually realized I wanted more of a solid foundation, or rather, to reinforce that I knew what I was doing. It’s one thing to think: 'this tastes good!' It’s another to understand exactly why something tastes good. So I went to The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and completed their certificate program in pastry.”

As part of the program, all the students were tasked with building their own restaurant. Kristen built a bakery + bar concept that had a variety of breads and pastries, cocktails and local beers. Though she was feeling really positive about her concept, Kristen couldn’t help but think that she had no desire to run a huge restaurant with some 50+ employees. Her ideal scenario was something much smaller-- maybe 4-5 employees. She wanted that close family-feel.

After Kristen completed her certificate, she was hired as a Kitchen Manager at Union Square Donuts, where she worked for a little over two years. "I started working at Union Square Donuts because they were a brand new company, and I knew it would be a great opportunity to learn-- and it was! What I also learned from them, and other small businesses where I had worked, was that nobody truly knows what they’re doing. You just have to have the courage and the confidence to say: “I’m doing this." And the summer before Honeycomb Creamery officially began, Kristen went on vacation to Key West, and had time to think and talk about her ideas out loud with family. She remembers thinking, "I’m just gonna do it."

After nearly a year of being in business, Honeycomb Creamery continues to make all their ice cream completely from scratch: they source their cream from Mapleline Farm in Hadley, Massachusetts, pasteurize their own base and are able to customize each ice cream flavor the way that they want (vegan options too!). To put that into perspective, most existing ice cream shops in the country order a pre-made base that is already pasteurized, and then simply poured into an ice cream machine. Because Kristen spends the time to pasteurize and churn everything herself, each batch is unique. 

Honeycomb Creamery specializes in delightfully atypical flavors. Kristen pulls inspiration from her everyday life whether she's wandering the aisles of the grocery store, or taking in ideas from books, articles, etc. Any combo that sounds appealing, Kristen is willing to give it a shot! "I was recently reading an article that said chocolate and blue cheese go well together, but when I tried heating the blue cheese, I think that messed with it, chemically, and it didn't quite turn out as planned. Then at one point, I tried chocolate and mustard seed! The savory ones are fun, but you don't necessarily think, 'I’m going to eat a giant bowl of this ice cream!' They're best in small servings." Kristen is on a mission to inspire people to try new things.

"Whenever I go to farmers markets, I still always bring Brown Sugar Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Toasted Coconut, because people have previous experience with these flavors. I did a Spiced Pumpkin Sage flavor for the fall, and people were interested to try it, but then they would buy a pint of the Brown Sugar Vanilla Bean, even if they didn’t sample that one. I think that New England, as an ice cream-obsessed region, is generally loyal to the standard flavors: Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Coffee... One reason I really wanted to open a shop is so I can set the tone for what to expect when you come in here, versus a market that doesn’t set the stage for unique ice cream. People think, 'Oh, it’s a cute ice cream cart at the farmers market,' so they’re expecting those classic flavors."

And finally, you may be wondering about the name: Honeycomb Creamery. I thought you'd ask! It does not mean that their ice creams are honey-based, or that all of their flavors contain honey. Not at all, in fact! The name was inspired by Kristen's combined love of ice cream and language: ice cream is served in a waffle cone, right? Well, the word waffle, originates from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German wafel, which originates from Proto-Germanic wabila, which translates to honeycomb

Ice Cream Tasting
Second breakfast is a beautiful thing, and even better when it consists entirely of ice cream. Kristen and I sat cross-legged on the floor, and sampled seven of her current flavors, including Grapefruit Rosemary (Vegan), Cardamom Apricot (Vegan), White Chocolate Lavender, Stilton, Salty Honey, Chocolate (Vegan) and my favorite of the day: Blood Orange Chipotle, which was citrusy, slightly smoky and had a subtle spicy kick at the very end. A bit like this:

The next step for the Honeycomb Creamery journey is huge. HUGE! To reach out to the residents and members of the Cambridge Community, Kristen and Rory are hosting an Open House in their prospective location at 1702 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge this Tuesday, April 5th from 6 - 8pm. They'll provide more information about their hearing (tentatively scheduled for April 14th) and their plans for the shop. They will be available to answer questions, respond to concerns, and serve samples of some of their ice creams(!!). Be there if you can!!
In the meantime, you can order Honeycomb Creamery pints to be delivered to your door here, or you can say hello at one of many local farmers markets.
Follow along on Instagram @honeycombcreamery to stay updated on their prospective shop and to find out about new, seasonal flavors!