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Brewed Awakenings: “We’re so not corporate”

There’s no other place in town where you can sit in an old, leather auditorium seat while listening to Regina Spektor and enjoying a delicious cup of brew.

Brewed Awakenings is the eclectic coffee shop across from Coe College that is rated Cedar Rapids’ best coffee and boasts a community atmosphere.

Leta Keane, a Coe College student and employee at Brewed Awakenings says, “It’s a perfect environment – squashy couches, warm lamps, good music, good drinks and food – in which to get some studying and socializing done.”

“Our early slogan was, ‘We’re so not corporate,’” says Richard Marsceau, the father of the family who owns Brewed Awakenings. “We had a chance to pay for a designer to come in and we realized that would be a very corporate feel, and a lot of money, and so we all just put our heads together and said, ‘so what do you want to do?’”

The family got decorative inspiration from visiting other coffee shops, especially ones on the West Coast. After one adventure to California for a coffee buyer’s conference, the group saw a shop with lofts. The Marsceaus liked the idea and imitated it by raising a section of Brewed Awakenings.

Much of the furniture of the shop was found at consignment stores and with new additions each year, the coffee shop slowly morphed into its current design.

We want to champion local artists,” explains Marsceau when asked about the decorations at Brewed Awakenings.  Most of the wall art are from employees at the shop.  Other hand crafted items by artists, including aprons, jewelry and homemade cards,  are on display and for sale as well.

Marsceau says his wife Nancy and his son Josh were the ones “with a good eye,” who made most of the final decisions in the layout of the cafe.

Josh is also accredited with the Marsceau’s success with coffee. Josh pursued coffee conferences, taste testing, and tried new roasts and found the current roast for Brewed Awakenings. Josh selected PT’s Coffee, which was recently named Roaster of the Year in Roast Magazine.

How did this cafe get it’s clever name? Brewed Awakenings is actually the name of a pub in Western Europe. Deb Witt took the name of the pub and started up her own coffee shop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and ran the coffee shop as hobby.

But the corner of 1st Ave and 13th Street SE has not always been a coffee shop. The Corridor Business Journal reports the shop had been a variety of businesses, ranging from “a Domino’s Pizza shop, a Harley Davidson dealership and a drug store with a soda fountain counter in the 1950s.”

The Marsceaus came across Brewed Awakenings in Fall of 2003 and finalized the purchase from Witt in January of 2004.  “We saw the potential,” says Marsceau, “andwe wanted to build it for a sense of openness for students and faculty.”

It has a sense of camaraderie, too,” says Keane, when asked why students, staff and faculty are drawn to the cafe. “There are nooks in which you can have a private conversation, and larger spaces for larger discussions. The fact that the lunches, baked goods, and drinks are all fantastic, in addition to the art and merchandise by local artists that’s for sale around the shop, also doesn’t hurt.”

Richard Marsceau and his wife Nancy were first inspired to own a business while traveling in Italy and visiting coffee shops. Recalls Marsceau, “we just loved that aspect of neighborhood.”

Richard and Nancy Marsceau also travelled to Breckenridge, Colorado and was once again attracted to the community nature of coffee shops.

The Marsceau family created “neighborhood” with their coffee shop.  Brewed Awakenings draws in people from all walks of life. The shop is populated with retirees, high school and college students, mothers and fathers with children, professors, business people and local community members.

The popular shop became even more crowded after the summer flood of 2008 took out its downtown competitors.  Safe from the flood waters, Brewed Awakenings remained open.

“We saw a good quarter,” says Marsceau when asked about how the recession affected the coffee shop, “the comfort business is still good… still staying steady because people can spend a buck fifty on coffee.”

The good quarter was due to the increase of traffic and Marsceau expects a slight decrease in sales as the recession deepens and more coffee shops downtown reopen. Brewed Awakenings started a Happy Hour from 3-6pm in response to the recession, offering favorite drinks and shots and low prices.

Brewed Awakenings is open Monday through Friday at 6:30am and Saturday at 8:30am. It is closed Sundays. Lunch is served every day from 11pm-2pm; Marsceau says his wife Nancy has influenced the kitchen, demanding only fresh, homemade dishes are served to the customers.

“I actually do love working at Brewed,” says Keane, “there are few days when I don’t look forward to my shifts.  It’s rare that you find a work environment in which the employees genuinely enjoy each others’ company and are passionate about what they do.

The Marsceau family continues to foster good conversation and community. Many of the retirees at the coffee shop know Marsceau by name and feel free to talk to him.

Also, the local college students frequent the shop for student organization meetings, like German Club, and a few professors have loved the coffee shop enough that they’ve held small classes there.

Brewed Awakenings also hosts a Conversation Cafe on Thursday evenings, where community members gather to discuss issues ranging from politics to local farming and religion to world economics.

“Our goals from the very beginning, was basically our motto – Great coffee, good conversation [and] community,” said Marsceau.


    • Hidama

      It was published at the end of April in the Coe Cosmos, my alma mater’s newspaper. I thought of it just now to quick tweak it and make it a blog post :)

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