Nathanael Johnson isn’t afraid of hard work.
At 30, he’s opened six coffee establishments in Acadiana, including Café Mosaic Coffee House, in Eunice; Java Square, in Opelousas; and Campus Grounds, on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus.
Come Monday, he’ll open his largest venture to date — a coffee shop and micro coffee-roasting establishment in downtown Lafayette called Rêve Coffee Roasters.
Visitors will be able to purchase coffees and specialty drinks, enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner options, participate in coffee-related events and bring home a bag of Rêve coffee, roasted on the spot.
It’s all part of a larger plan, Johnson said.
He started with Café Mosaic nine years ago, then opened other coffee shops either for himself or for others.
After joining the Specialty Coffee Association of America and becoming a certified barista, Johnson felt the next step would be to open a micro coffee-roaster.
“I realized if I was going to be in the industry, I was going to be in it entirely,” Johnson said. “It was a no-brainer.”
Johnson and his business partner, Christopher Pickle, started Rêve, roasting and selling coffee within Bibi’s Patisserie on Pinhook Road, but the duo decided to open their own space after business took off, Johnson said.
There also were limitations to having two business visions — Bibi’s operates a gluten-free, vegan, diabetic-friendly bakery — in one place, he added.
“It’s hard to nurture both of them (businesses),” he said. “We wanted to do what we wanted to do — no limitations.”
Bibi’s has since rebranded itself as Mortar & Pestle and continues its vegan, gluten-free options.
Rêve Coffee Roasters is at 220-A Jefferson St. in the space recently occupied by Astro Market.
The setup involves a wholesale roasting operation in the back with a retail front, “like a microbrewery with coffee,” Johnson explained.
The open space in front also will be available for special events, such as Free Pour Fridays, where customers will be served a coffee with a discussion of its origins and roasting style, or tasting classes to introduce customers to different coffees.
In addition, Rêve hopes to host coffee-related events and competitions as a way to bring together coffee baristas and coffee shop owners, said Mark Whitney, Rêve’s general manager.
Whitney has visited other cities that host similar events such as “coffee crawls,” operated much like bar crawls, where participants visit several coffee shops in a day, sampling various coffees.
“We want to bring that to Lafayette,” Whitney said. “We have a lot of great coffee shops. Whether they use us as a roaster or not, we want to bring everyone together. It’s meant to cultivate the coffee culture, give them (baristas and owners) a place to nerd out. We’re just a bunch of coffee nerds.”
Rêve purchases its coffee through a green coffee broker in New York but also directly through two Latin American farmers, suppliers who approached them because of their connection to Lafayette.
One El Salvadorian farmer attended Southern University in Baton Rouge and has two children at UL-Lafayette, Johnson explained, so he was delighted to sell his crops to Rêve.
“That was such a cool experience, to have someone like that walk in,” he said.
Owners and employees were busy last week readying the coffee shop to open on time. Even Johnson’s father, Joey Johnson, who owns Christian Woodworks in Eunice, was helping out, building bookshelves.
“This leap is massive,” Nathanael Johnson said, visibly tired from working long days. “It is definitely a different ballgame from retail.”
“We have no one to blame it on,” Whitney said with a laugh, adding that a coffee shop owner can blame the coffee roaster for a bad cup of coffee. “We’re doing everything now. We have to be great.”
Both were anxious to get the party started and open the doors.
“I’m ready to be at that point where I can look around and say, ‘Look at what we’ve done,’ ” Johnson said.
* This story was edited after publication to correct the word used to describe people who make coffee.