Words by Christian Mott
“We’ve been together seven years, and we’ve always talked about a coffee and tea shop from day one.”
Darryl and Jennifer sit across the table from me in what is now a dream come to life: their coffee shop Fabled Brew. Darryl has already made me a Cortado with macadamia nut milk, and we lounge in the dining room, sipping coffee in their favored antique Scottish chairs. Two wooden columns with half-walls separate us from the espresso bar and kitchen area; a bookshelf fits snugly against the inside wall, an electric fireplace opposite and in the corners are two living-room sets—a couch and two chairs around a coffee table, complete with side table and lamp.
A man walks by and nudges me. He says, “This is a great place.”
I’d driven further out into the country from Fairhope than I’d been before (although admittedly, that isn’t saying much). I was torn between checking my map and taking in the Southern Gothic sights as I passed them by, the bony orchards, the sprawling oaks, fields of grazing black cattle and other winsome landscapes. There amidst such rural grandeur I found what I was looking for. But what’s so subtly special about Fabled Brew isn’t so much the shop itself, or its distinct location—it’s the story behind it, and the people who sat down with me to tell it.
“We started talking about not so much what we wanted to do with the shop, but what we wanted to do with our lives,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t want to just open a business. I went into teaching for very idealistic reasons. I now know that’s the wrong reason to ever go into anything. Nonetheless, I wanted to bring a little bit of that spark to a new venture. I thought, you know, I’m all about peace and love, and that’s how I teach. I’m always trying to broaden people’s minds. It’s a big world we live in, and there are a lot of different people, a lot of different cultures, and a lot of different stories, and that’s what I love. I really wanted it to be the story of coffee. I want it to be an understanding of the contribution that Africans made, that Arabic people made, from beginning to end. So that’s what I got to first, the story of coffee. From that idea I got to the name Fabled Brew.”
Jennifer has been in education for about twenty years. She’s a Fulbright Scholar. She’s taught both English and History; taught third grade, all levels of high school, and at both the community college and university levels; taught in the U.S. and overseas; taught kids who couldn’t read above a kindergarten level, and those who have gone on to Ivy League schools. Although she says it’s been her calling to be a historian and a teacher, and she will always love it, it’s time to move forward. “In my mind, there’s nothing new that I can get out of the teaching experience, so it’s time to do something else.”
She tells me about being a single mother during the years before Darryl, about raising her daughter and taking risks most people aren’t willing to take. She tells me how our culture says, you get your degree, you stay in that field, you retire—it says doing the same thing for forty years makes you a success.
“It puts a lot of pressure on people to think that’s what they have to do. But when you think, okay, maybe changing careers actually makes you happier in the long run, I think that gives you some freedom to play a little bit in life. There is an experience that you haven’t had yet that is going to open your eyes to a path. And until you have that experience, you can’t know that path.”
Jennifer leaves us at the table to help a regular who’s just walked in the door. Their voices carry on in the background as Darryl picks up where she left off.
Darryl grew up in Louisiana around a table with family and friends, drinking coffee at all hours of the day and night. His family has owned a restaurant, but he chose the path of oil. He says “it’s always been there” to work with food, despite his best efforts to put it off as long as he
could. The ritual of making coffee is in his blood; it’s his home, his roots. He’s even developed his own unique espresso blend. “I’ve always had that desire, that want to open up a coffee shop, like everybody does at some point in their life.”
Yet not everybody does, and not everybody has a vision. When they decided to get into the coffee business, Darryl said they knew exactly what the core of it would be—organic syrup, if possible, and organic milk, which they get from a farm in Milton, Florida. They ended up finding an organic syrup manufacturer in Oregon at a trade show. He was a struggling chemist who had been in coffee for a long time, but when he got into syrup he couldn’t sell. “So we worked on a deal together: we’ll label it Fabled Brew, and we’ll be his marketing part.”
Their non-dairy milk alternative, in an attempt to be unique from almond or soy, is a macadamia nut milk they get from an Australian supplier who has only been in the country a little over a year. Fabled Brew is one of the only few places east of the Mississippi who use their milk.
hey agreed not to do bagels or muffins, or any of your typical cafe-style foods, yet anything they do bake is homemade with organic products. They invented something they call an oublie, which is essentially a stuffed roll of bread (and yet, so much more). Oublies are based on the medieval version of the waffle, which was made with bread dough, and come either savory or sweet.
Darryl considers himself the marketing and business side of things, and says Jennifer handles “the core." He’s seen her teaching methods, he says, and because of the amount of detail she puts into everything she would rule the world in business. “I knew if I could get her into business, we would succeed.”
Two employees arrive on shift, and Jennifer returns to the table. “Darryl said to me, before this started, ‘You’re so smart, so hardworking, so talented. I don’t understand why somebody like you wouldn’t believe you could be successful in anything that you do.’ And those are not words I would use to describe myself, but every time I get stressed and overwhelmed, that has played like a tape on a loop in my head.”
Jennifer’s love of coffee stems from the earliest days of her childhood in Michigan, when her parents would drop her off at her grandparent’s bodyshop for the day. She would sit on the floor in the middle of the shop where everybody could keep an eye on her. The workers would pass her all day long, heading to and from the coffee pot, and bring her cups of coffee-milk.
“What it boils down to is I love coffee. Coffee fills all sorts of psychological and emotional needs for me. You put me at a table or in a chair with a book and a cup of coffee, and I’m happy, pure, no matter what else is going on. If this is where I’d have to be fourteen hours a day, a coffee shop sounds like the right place. I love coffee. Coffee makes me happy. That’s as complicated as it gets.”
Fabled Brew’s tagline is A Story in Every Cup. To tell the story of coffee, Jennifer came up with five signature drinks. “I wanted them to reflect a big part of the story of coffee, so that through the drinks you could get the whole background.” Five frames hang on the wall, displaying these drinks and what aspects of coffee’s history they symbolize: Devil’s Brew (which was almost the name for the shop), Arabian Wine, Seven Seas, New World Cup, and Petticoat Punch. They also have a Black Door Menu for hush-hush menu items, but we won’t talk about those, although I hear tell one has a deliciously secret ingredient few can guess.
“It couldn’t be Fabled Brew without history, because that’s what makes it Fabled Brew,” Jennifer said. “And that’s what makes me who I am.”
She has merged her passions to ensure that every cup has a story, every recipe is deliberate, and every thought is intentional. “I don’t want to just play it safe until I retire. I got tired of not waking up being thrilled about my day. So, that’s a big part of what brought me here, but I do still love the history.”
She says she has great faith in the shop. In less than a year, it’s already well-loved by its regular customers, and she sees that as a responsibility. “We’ve created a place for these folks, and we need to make sure it continues to be here for them. From the way it’s been embraced by some really, really lovely people, I just think this is a good thing. This is a good place. This will take care of me, and we will take care of each other.”
The shop becomes too busy for the employees to handle on their own, and this time Darryl leaves us to assist them. I take the opportunity to see the place, take a couple of pictures and return to the table to find Jennifer in near bliss.
he grins at the bustle. “It’s been fun to be totally outside of our comfort zone.”
Quietly, she tells me about her love of teaching, about the joy she used to feel at walking into a classroom, picking up a piece of chalk, and beginning a lesson. Even as harrowing as the first day of school may be, much like the first day opening a brand new coffee shop, she didn’t think she would ever feel that way again—but with Fabled Brew, she does. “To come in here on a quiet morning and feel that way, I just wouldn’t want to do without it. When I get tired, and I get worn down, and a little overwhelmed, I always know I wouldn’t want to go back to life before Fabled Brew. It’s just that easy.”
The crowd is soon appeased, and Darryl leaves his employees to work, a little reluctant to pull himself away from the bar. “A lot of people say, ‘You picked a bad location,’ but I’m glad we’re not Downtown.”
What some people call “out of the way,” Darryl and Jennifer call the perfect location— and I tend to agree with them. Your third place shouldn’t be set conveniently in the center of your life, easily accessible on your way from first to second or back again. In fact, it should be “out of the way,” an escape reached only by travel, existing for no other purpose than to clear your mind, watch over you for the duration of your stay and give you the strength to carry on.
That is the spirit Fabled Brew embodies—mythical in its own way, legendary in its own right— and that’s what it has become for many, including Darryl and Jennifer and myself. Fabled Brew inspires us to take the drive out a little further than we might normally go, to take risks, to put down our map and look at the scenery before it passes us by—for we might just find something we didn’t know we were looking for. After all, it’s always been those brave few who live outside the norm, who think outside the box and take the roads less traveled by, always those wild minds who chase dreams and passions and stories, who end up making history.