by Eric Ginsburg
I’m a believer in the Rule of Two. Three is better.
When one person recommends that I check out a new venue, I generally ignore them. It’s a matter of practicality and time management more than anything — only a few people’s solo endorsement is enough to entice me on its own. So when a friend who works downtown Winston-Salem said I needed to stop by a new coffee shop on Liberty Street, I only wandered over a week later when I realized I was only a few blocks away.
But I couldn’t find it. The block of Liberty south of the new art park and Camel City BBQ Factory is largely forgettable, largely an expanse of urban decay between the energy of Trade Street and the glistening Innovation Quarter — a convenient cut-thru from the Garage towards Business 40 more than anything. I walked up to the faded façade of Artists on Liberty, a storefront that looks as outdated as the internet acronym by the same name.
I tried the door. Locked. Given the time, 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, I figured I must just have the address wrong.
A few days later I found myself sharing a table at one Spring House’s hallmark Valentine’s dinners with several strangers, including two Triad City Beat super fans — a med student and her boyfriend, a High Point University employee who is off to law school in the fall. The conversation quickly turned to favorite restaurants and unknown dives when they learned my line of work, but one of their recommendations stuck with me.
They live above Barista Co-op, the new pocket coffee shop a friend had already recommended. It closes at 2:30 p.m. daily, they explained, and implored me to try again. With the Rule of Two (or Three) met, I assured them I would.
I found Justin Kirkus behind the counter, and you will too if you visit — Barista Co-op is, despite the name, a one-man show. Some will recognize Kirkus from his days at Café Roche, which later became Ardmore Coffee, or more recently as the former general manager at Coffeeology in Greensboro.
The Lexington native graduated at 19 from Boston University, and traveled to Florence, Italy for a job, where he ended up in a barista training program. Upon his stateside return, Kirkus remained in the industry for the better part of the last eight years, including stints in Boston and New York. But in 2009, attracted by the city’s diversity, growth and affordability, Kirkus and his wife moved to Winston-Salem.
The somewhat desolate strip of Liberty is cheap enough that Kirkus could step out on his own but central enough to the action that it made sense, he said. He’s open from 6:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., seven days a week, running the small coffee bar himself.
As indie hits from the likes of Sleigh Bells and RJD2 played in the background, Kirkus explained that though there isn’t a lack of local shops, nobody is really focusing on coffee the way he wants to here. He uses Ritual, a company that sources ethically and focuses on seasonal availability, switching its offerings with considerable frequency, he said. He usually stocks the coffee and espresso bar with four varieties, rotating each week for freshness, and uses a refractometer to determine the ideal heat, grind size and amount of exposure for each coffee. And he exerts more control over the drink with a Kalita Wave dripper — the kind of things coffee nerds might care about, but most consumers probably just care that it’s supposed to make the coffee taste better.
Barista Co-op does sell some food, including toast or a bagel with cream cheese, surprisingly affordable lox, smoked roe or butter. Oh, and vegemite; there’s a sizable local Australian population, enough to justify it as one of the few choices, Kirkus said. There’s oatmeal, too.
The spare shop, which opened about six weeks ago, includes a modest corner desk and two little one-person work stations among more conventional seating such as barstools and two tables.
You could wait until your own Rule of Two is fulfilled before checking it out, but by then, seating might not be as available for a coffee date or morning meeting.
Visit the Barista Cooperative at 521 N. Liberty St. #101 (W-S) or call 336.293.4812.
Editor’s note: Barista Co-op exists next door to the storefront that will soon house a second Crafted: Art of the Taco.