Though it’s been a cooler summer than we expected, farm-and-city people like us can’t help but be enthralled with all things beachy. To that end, we met up with our friends and coffee brewing partners at Cafe Volan, a surf-inspired coffee bar in Asbury Park, NJ. We chatted with co-owner Paul Cali about the wonderful world of coffee paired with an ocean view.
Tell us about Cafe Volan? Where’d the name come from? How long have you been open? What’s the vibe?
The name isn’t anything as glamorous as it might appear. Doug [Parent, co-owner] and I both love to surf and that was a big influence in becoming our own bosses. Volan is a type of fiberglass typically used on heavy long boards, which we both really enjoy riding. Living at the beach and incorporating surfing into your business can be very very hokey, so we figured a subtle name that people outside of the surf community might not even understand was a good way to do that and not be obvious.
We have now been open for 3 years and one week! Time flies when you’re having fun!!!!
I think the vibe at Volan is totally relaxed and easygoing. It’s a comfortable place where you can get some work done or hang out with friends, or hang out alone and never feel out of place. We have a really fantastic local community that likes to meet up, whether or not it is intentional.
When did you first get interested in coffee? What made you start to take it seriously?
I’d say I got into coffee the way many people did…at 1am in a diner talking about books and music and girls (the lack thereof back then) with friends. We’re pretty famous for our diners in New Jersey, subsequently diners are famous for poor quality coffee. But back then it was the greatest thing…
About 12 years ago my brother and I took over a coffee shop that was closing and turned it into this total 1960’s Greenwich Village flashback…a dark room, late nights with poetry and art and music. It was amazing but our grasp of coffee was lacking. But thats when i started to take it seriously. After that had run its course I managed a small cafe in a town called Red Bank. I took that time to pay more attention to what I was doing and what I was serving. I was having fun and the better I was able to make the coffee taste, the happier my customers were. I think that’s what really made me start taking it seriously.
What was most important to you when planning for it/building it out?
Location! Location was key. We really were anxious and excited to get a cafe going but we weren’t going to settle just anywhere. Being in downtown Asbury Park was number one on the list. From there we wanted to be slightly off the beaten path. At the time we were building out, our street, Bangs Ave., was super quiet and overlooked. To me that was perfect. The locals would hear about us and search us out. The summer out-of-towners would ask a local where to get some coffee and they would be directed to us…hopefully…which seems to have been the case in the past few years. So it worked out great.
What are you most proud of about your shop now? as its grown?
Honestly I’m so proud of everything but especially the community that it has sprouted. I think one of the moments I really felt proud and noticed how big an impact on the community we had made was after Hurricane Sandy. Power had been out for a week and once it came back on, I felt compelled to open and see if anyone needed a place to get some power and just somewhere to get away from the craziness… What I ended up providing was a place for people to meet up and figure out where to go help. At first I felt like I should just close the doors and go help as well, until I realized that Cafe Volan was being used as a central meeting point. Seeing that my friends and neighbors knew that they could come to Volan and find other people to go help really made me feel good about the atmosphere we have developed.
What’s going on in Asbury Park these days? Springsteen still big?
There’s a ton of great stuff going on in Asbury every day. There are amazing stores and restaurants opening all the time. Our new(ish) neighbors at Glide Surf Co. and Red Moon Life & Home and Pascal & Sabine (as well as dear old friends at Sweet Joey’s) have added a lot of excitement to Bangs Ave. and our beach front is always entertaining. I think Springsteen is probably bigger outside of the borders of Asbury Park. Though most people here sure do appreciate him. I mean heck I have his lyrics tattooed on me…TWICE! but you’ll never hear him playing in the cafe. I just can’t be that guy…its too expected.
Do you really surf to work everyday?
Its like Weezer sings… “you take your car to work, I’ll take my board… and when you’re out of fuel, i’m still afloat.”
How did you first hear about Irving Farm?
Irving Farm was a coffee I only knew about visually at first. I’d seen the bags and logos over the years but I was otherwise unfamiliar. I attended the MANE conference in Rhode Island a few years back and went to have some lunch before things kicked off. A handful of coffee people were out to get some tacos and I somehow ended up at a table of strangers including the ever impressive Teresa von Fuchs. We seemed to hit it off quite well and by the end of the weekend I not only loved Irving Farm for its coffee but for its personnel as well. Getting to work with and hang with Teresa and Tam and everyone else I’ve met from Irving Farm really epitomizes the best part of this industry…the people.
What’s your favorite IFCR coffee and how did you make it?
What would you say the are the benefits of working with different roasters?
We like to incorporate different coffee roasters into our lineup all the time! It allows us to expose our customers to a number of new brands they might not otherwise come across and we get to help support so many of the great people trying to add their touch to this industry.
What’s on the coffee horizon for you and Cafe Volan?
Cafe Volan has done a pretty great job at a slow steady growth. Our approach has ensured that all decisions really work. We will get to the horizon, whatever it may be, slowly.
Anything else you want to add?
Shoes are for kooks.
Visit Cafe Volan just off the beaten path at 510 Bangs Ave, Asbury Park, NJ 07712.