Brothers McCracken test coffee program with Wydown pop-up on U Street

July 23, 2013

With its copious space, not to mention ample selection of fresh-roasted single-origin coffees, the Wydown on U Street doesn't exactly look like a pop-up. The shop exudes that lo-tech, thrift-store-T-shirt vibe of a specialty bean business that plans to pull espresso drinks for years to come.

Alex McCracken, a French lit major turned coffee maven. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Alex McCracken, a French lit major turned coffee maven. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Alex McCracken, who co-owns the Wydown with his brother, Chad, says the sort of permanent look has more to do with the siblings' inability to stop with half-measures, which suggests good things about their future as coffee peddlers in Washington.

"We rented this machine to rip up the floor," says Alex. "We were going to do just the front part, just the first 20 feet. Have a little cart, truly a pop-up. We thought, 'While we've rented the machine, let’s do the whole floor.' Now, I don't know what happened."

Appearances aside, the Wydown is merely occupying space in the old Aroma Bakery and Market spot until the Louis at 14th is completed near the corner of 14th and U streets NW. Alex says he and his brother could move into their new digs as early as December.

• Related: What's the best coffee shop in the D.C. area?

Alex and Chad McCracken grew up in St. Louis but moved to the District in 2010 when they decided to go into the coffee business for themselves. It was a matter of simple economics. When Alex was working for Kaldi's Coffee in St. Louis, he would travel to different cities as part of barista competitions. One such stopover was the old, infamous Murky Coffee in Arlington, where Northside Social now sits.

Alex recalls being impressed with the sales that Nick Cho used to generate at Murky, even without food beyond pastries. He compared Murky's business volume to the sales at the mom-and-pop shops back in St. Louis, which often struggled to pay the bills, and he came to a simple conclusion.

"I’m sure in Business 101, you would learn this, but I have a French lit degree so I didn't learn that in school. It’s, like, big cities. Density," Alex says. "Long story short: We started looking for a denser city to move to and wound up in D.C."

At present, the Wydown sells pastries made by Sophie Camp, as well as drinks made with beans from Kaldi's, PT's and Intelligentsia Coffee. They also sell fresh whole beans from the same roasters. Alex says he has considered adding beans from local roasters, such as Swing's and Vigilante, but for now wants to remain loyal to his current roasters while also keeping his inventory manageable.

"For us, I still want to be a good customer" to Wydown's roasters, Alex says. "We’re still figuring out our model. How often are we going to switch? Are we going to offer one coffee each from six different roasters? Then I’m a little bit less of a good customer to that roaster, at least in one sense. We’re still figuring that out. We might consider serving [local] coffee at some point. It’s hard to say.”

Oh, yes, the name. The Wydown takes its name from a famous boulevard in St. Louis, Alex says.

“It was kind of like no one knows the name," he continues. "I didn't really want a pun. This way, when you think of the Wydown, your only image ... is whatever happens here, which we’re trying to make great.”

The Wydown, 1320 U St. NW, 202-506-2756. Hours: 7 to 11 a.m. Mondays; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.
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