The Pursuit of Coffee: Brent’s Story

My name is Brent Williams and I am the manager at The River Coffee Company. I manage both the cafe and the roastery. My coffee journey started way before I knew that it was going to be my career. I remember my Granddad always drinking coffee in the morning and he would always ask if I wanted a cup. He told me it would put hair on my chest! As a young boy that was always confusing to me. Why would I want to drink something that would make me grow hair? Little did I know that about 15 years later I would be living in a place where drinking coffee is the new trend.

I always heard about Starbucks and all of its frozen iced caramel macchiatos but I was never really into that. I remember my first cup of coffee at a coffee shop in the small town of Cottleville, Missouri, called VB Chocolate Bar (now known as Upshot Coffee). It was an Ethiopian coffee from Onyx. This was the first time in my life coffee actually tasted good. It didn’t need any sugar or cream. Black is how I drank it. For it being my first cup, it was really delicious.

My career in coffee is a little different. I was drinking coffee way before I was making it. I had just left a three year job in the hotel industry to pursue a creative job where I was taking photos and videos for VB’s Chocolate Bar. This is our first full circle moment. The place I drank my first cup was now the place I would work and get some experience taking photos and casually drinking the coffee that they served. This is where my passion for coffee was sparked. After about a year there I decided that photography was really just a hobby and that I wanted to pursue something that I was really passionate about and that is when I decided to make the jump from photography to coffee as a career.

My first coffee job was at Kaldis Coffee in St. Louis. Most of my training and experience came from Kaldis. My fundamentals of what coffee is, where it comes from, how it’s produced and how it is made were all covered in my time at Kaldis. I’m so grateful for the experience I had there and am forever indebted to them for those years! Now that I had a head on my shoulders and could not only tell you what coffee is but could also make it, I decided to make a move into management to gain more experience.

At this point in my coffee career I had about 3 years of coffee experience. I also was getting ready to move to a new town. I had met my wife and was making the leap to move closer to her since we were long distance. That meant finding a new job in coffee in central Illinois where I thought specialty coffee didn’t exist. After some searching, I found a place in Decatur, Illinois. The shop was called the The River Coffee Company. What I didn’t know then walking into this special place in the middle of Illinois, was that I would go through so much to get to where I am now with this company.

I had become somewhat of a coffee snob at this point. You can’t blame me! I love great coffee! I walk in and the first thing I notice is the music. It’s “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury. I’m taken aback for a moment. The place looks killer. The owner has dreads, a full arm tattoo sleeve and is wearing Birkenstocks in the middle of winter. My first thought: I could work here.

I spark up a conversation with the owner, Aaron Moma and instantly know that I am at the right place! My go-to order at any new coffee shop is a double shot of espresso and a cappuccino. Just like the place and the people working behind the counter, the coffee was up to par! After that conversation, I knew that some time in the near future I would be working there. Not as a manager, not as some special coffee dude that came in to save the coffee world but just as a person with a passion, looking for a job in specialty coffee.

I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned about my experience working in this great industry is the virtue of humility. I wouldn’t be in the place I am today without the practice of being humble. After a few conversations and moving up to Illinois, I finally started working for The River and my career there had started. After working for a few months, one of the most tragic things happened. The River had burnt completely to the ground, leaving me jobless.

Looking back now, I can appreciate how the fire allowed me to grow in areas of my coffee career. I started looking for other jobs and decided to work for a small coffee shop in Auburn, Illinois. Redbud is where I learned how to roast coffee. I was there just over six months and, similar to my time at Kaldis, Redbud was where I learned the fundamentals of roasting. Unfortunately my time there was short and I went on to roast at Upshot Coffee for a few short months. Another full circle moment! This is the place I took photos for just 3 years earlier. Upshot was another opportunity that allowed me to further my craft in roasting. After my time at Upshot, Aaron Moma and his wife were planning to reopen The River Coffee Company and that is where I am today! This past year and a half has been a crazy time for everyone. What I’ve learned about all this is that you never know where you are going to end up and where your passions will lead you.

I started working at VB’s Chocolate bar, left to go to Kaldis, moved to Illinois to work for The River, The River burnt to the ground, I started working for Redbud where I learned how to roast, I moved back to Missouri to roast for Upshot Coffee and finally The River Coffee Company reopened on December 4th of 2019. Little did we know that this pandemic would hit us in March of 2020. After all of that, I’ve learned there is nothing in this world that is promised to us, nothing in this world that is for sure, other than what God has planned for our lives. He is the one writing this story and will continue to do so.

Coffee is my passion. Coffee allows me to connect with people and to create new things! I don’t know of anything else I would rather be doing, nor of any people I would rather be doing it with.