Vigilante Coffee has lived a nomadic existence for the past two-and-a-half years. Founder Chris Vigilante produced hundreds of pounds of coffee for shops and restaurants across the Washington, roasting six pounds of beans at a time in the basement of a Trinidad rowhouse, while selling his coffee at pop-up cafes, flea markets and farmers markets.
Beginning Saturday, Vigilante will officially have its own home: The Vigilante Coffee Co. Roastery and Cafe, set in the rear of a one-time Ford Model-T dealership in the Hyattsville Arts District.
"A regular customer called me a year ago and told me he found a beautiful place [for a cafe] in Hyattsville," said Vigilante, who turned down the offer, admitting that "I don't think I knew where Hyattsville was."
A run-in with the D.C. Fire Department last year changed his mind: Someone in Trinidad saw smoke coming from the basement of the home where Vigilante had his roaster and called 911. A team of firefighters arrived, broke down the front door and rushed into the basement, where they found Vigilante tending to his roaster. "Right then and there," he laughs, "I decided that it's time to move into a real space."
He took up the offer of the space in Hyattsville after falling in love with the community of businesses springing up there. "It's got this small-town feel in such close proximity to D.C." The bare, airy space, with its sparse white walls and industrial vibe, is more designed for roasting beans than killing an afternoon lingering on your laptop.
From the coffee bar, which is decorated with skateboards showing the stages of coffee production, customers can watch raw beans go into the roaster before being weighed and packaged for sale, or ground and turned into a pour-over coffee or a cup of Flat White. "A lot of people don't get it," Vigilante says of the setup. "They've never seen raw coffee. I wanted to put on a show."
Pounds of single-original coffee cost between $14.50 and $17; a cup of espresso starts at $2.50, and a pour-over is $2,75.
The shop sells croissants from Frenchie's and treats supplied by Hyattsville's Shortcake Bakery to go with cappuccinos and cold-brewed drinks, but "This place is all about the coffee," Vigilante says. There's no Wi-Fi, no board games. Instead of small tables where someone could camp out and work for a few hours, there will be a pair of long metal communal tables. A few reclaimed wooden benches will offer a couple more seats, both inside and out. The total capacity will be somewhere between 25 and 35.
Vigilante had originally planned to handle the bulk of roasting at Maketto, the hip food-and-retail market that Toki Underground's Erik Bruner-Yang and Durkl's Will Sharp are bringing to H Street NE, but Vigilante says that "wholesale [operations] grew so rapidly that it justified its own space."
The seven-pound roaster will still go to Maketto, where it will be used to roast single-origin Asian beans, probably from Cambodia and Vietnam. But Vigilante's focus will be in Hyattsville, thanks to a new 26-pound roaster that's on its way. "We'll go from 20 pounds of coffee an hour to 100 pounds of coffee an hour," Vigilante boasts. "It's the economy of scale."
Once everything is up and running, Vigilante plans to offer a special "Coffee College" for wholesale customers and people interested in launching their own business. The curriculum will cover "everything from how to roast coffee to customer service," Vigilante says. "All the painful lessons I had to go through -- I want to teach people how to avoid them."
For customers looking for a less intense experience, Vigilante and his team will lead small single-origin coffee cuppings on Saturdays. "We cup two or three times a week anyway" for staff education, Vigilante says. "Might as well let everyone get in on it."
Vigilante Coffee, 4327 Gallatin St., Hyattsville (Entrance around the rear on Church Street). www.vigilantecoffee.com. Open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday.