Interview by Tonia Trotter
Photos by Ambre Amari
With a passion for sustainability and plenty of caffeine running through their veins, Michael and Nathan Pocus of Domestique Coffee want to offer Birmingham easy access to high quality coffee. Slowly but surely, the brothers behind the brand are building a company for the future with a focus on action, community, cultural experience, quality, and environmental responsibility. From the headquarters and roasting facility that they built themselves on Sixth Avenue South to your neighborhood cafe and grocery store, Domestique is changing the way we start our day one cup at a time.
Nathan: Our mom was always very eco-conscious, and she planted that seed of inspiration and responsibility. Growing up, I was really involved with the Auntie Litter campaign and was part of the Pollution Patrol. We’d do Earth Day parades and things like that, so sustainability was part of our vocabulary early on.
After college, we were both pursuing our own creative ventures. I was developing brands and creating video content for other companies, and Michael was working at a coffee shop and focused on music and his band (In Snow). But, I kept feeling a lingering question of, “What positive action can I do?”
I had begun to feel burnt out creatively. I was investing so much of myself into other people’s businesses and was sacrificing art for money. It felt important to create and cultivate something that belonged to us. We wanted a career that would be our baby.
Michael and I went to Haiti to film an environmental documentary called Pedal Earth. We had such a profound experience while we were there and fell in love with the culture, landscape, and people. We were able to SEE the people of Haiti and how that didn’t match the global narrative we were seeing about Haiti in the news.
You are both from Birmingham. Why has it been important to you to build a global brand in your hometown?
Nathan: We were both really into BMX and the bike and skate scene that was happening in the nineties. There was this moment where we felt like we had the run of the city and a strong theme of “creating your own way” that helped shape who we are and definitely how we have operated as a business. Birmingham offers an incredible platform for people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and do the work themselves. We are entirely self-funded and community-supported, and although we are still learning and growing, that feels like a real accomplishment.
Michael: We had already been thinking about creating a coffee truck and were the first in Alabama to jump on the nitro cold-brew movement in 2015. We wanted to offer Birminghamians world class coffee. That involves direct trade, sourcing, roasting, and brewing. We have learned so much about the different varietals, soil conditions, and fermenting processes that not only enhance the beans’ flavor but extend shelf life, which leads to better pricing for our consumers.
We are a millennial business, and we think of ourselves as global citizens. Our consumers share that philosophy and want to have a cultural experience, and we hope to celebrate and educate others about the history, science, and people behind the coffee.
Nathan: There is something beautiful and artful about the entire process, and we want to approach coffee like wine. No harvest is exactly the same. It’s living. It evolves just like everything else.
How do you hope Domestique will evolve moving forward?
Michael: We already use electric roasting methods which are more environmentally friendly than traditional gas roasting, but we’d love to move toward using solar energy.
Nathan: We also really want to focus on the experience element of brick and mortar spaces. We have Domestique Satellite at Saturn in Avondale and a new space, Panache, opening in Southside this year. We are committed to this idea of “conscious capitalism”. We want to grow a business that also grows our community and creates a city we want to live in, because we do live here.