The origin story of every coffee company is complex with twists and turns. K Brew's journey is no exception.
The infamous hut that Pierce and Michael transported from Kentucky on a rented trailer; K Brew's original concept. -2013
Back in 2008, Pierce and Michael LaMacchia, two brothers who grew up in Knoxville, were on a family road trip through California, Oregon and Washington, when they started visiting small drive-thru coffee huts all along the West Coast. "When we saw these small, efficient huts staffed by one or two baristas, we loved the concept, and dreamed of bringing it back to Knoxville," Pierce said. "Maybe it was truly a great idea, or maybe it was all of the lattes we were drinking, but our whole family got very excited about it," added Michael.
Like many dreams of opening a business, when the family returned home, the conversations didn't materialize into plans, and life kept happening. In the years that followed, Pierce graduated college at the University of Tennessee, and continued his work in hospitality, which began at his first job at Tennessee Smokies Ballpark concessions at the age of 13, and continued through many restaurants, both local and corporate. Michael continued his education at the University of Tennessee and had several side hustles. However, the dream of opening a coffee hut was not destined to be forgotten.
Pierce prepares coffee at K Brew's first store. -2014
In early 2013, nearly five years after the West Coast road trip, Pierce and Michael were both ready for a change, and revived the dream of opening their own coffee hut in Knoxville. "We rented a Uhaul truck and trailer, drove up to Kentucky and bought a small used building that was previously used to sell snow cones," Pierce described the scene. "It took the whole town and a commercial tow truck to get the building on our trailer, but after strapping it down securely, we headed back to Knoxville, excited, nervous, and without any clue what we were doing."
As they retrofitted the building to support preparing coffee, they also began pitching the idea to local businesses to place the coffee hut in their parking lot, with no success. "We had pitched about 7 businesses, and I think it was becoming clear that, to them, we were a couple of 'young kids' who wanted to serve scalding hot beverages on someone's property - the liability was simply too high, and the concept was too foreign," Michael explained.
K Brew's first store on the corner of Glenwood and Broadway. It was tiny and always packed full of customers! -2015
On the way home from the 7th pitch, Pierce's eye caught a small brick building on the corner of Glenwood and Broadway, in the heart of Knoxville's Historic 4th and Gill neighborhood, with a For Rent sign in the cracked window. "From the moment I saw it, I felt an emotional draw, and I knew that if there was one building that would make me forego the original concept in favor of a traditional coffee shop, that building was it," Pierce said. Within a week, a lease had been signed, the hut concept rejected, and the brothers now had a much bigger project on their plate - a real sitdown coffee shop. Looking back, it was that decision that truly set the K Brew movement in motion.
On October 19, 2013, a few months after signing the lease, Pierce and Michael opened the first K Brew, in the 450 square feet of 1328 North Broadway. With a tiny coffee bar and 10 seats (if you counted the two makeshift tables outside), K Brew was crowded and "too busy" from day one.
K Brew's second location at 1138 N. Broadway. -2019
K Brew opened with a very limited menu, only serving coffee, espresso and biscotti, and focusing on quality over quantity. It was a beautiful time for the young company, and fondly remembered. "Pierce and I were running the business and also making coffee behind the bar, working 100-hour weeks, learning everything all at once. We lived in a tiny apartment together, and barely had any time alone. I think we only tried to kill each other a couple times, though. That's a miracle," Michael said. "It's not exactly something I ever want to do again, but it was still a very special time and I like looking back on those days."
An old photo of the original use of K Brew's second location in Historic North Knoxville, prior to renovation. - Approximately 1936
Pierce, Michael, and their five employees carried the company through its initial struggles and hardships from 2013-2015, built a loyal following, and began experiencing small, promising successes. And then one day a local real estate developer, David Dewhirst, walked into the shop.
David Dewhirst, a prominent developer specializing in historic properties, saw K Brew's cramped space, with wall-to-wall customers, and had a perfect solution. He introduced Pierce and Michael to a larger space that he owned a few blocks up the road. Originally a Texaco station built in the early 1900's, David was about to perform a complete renovation of the property, transforming it into a hip, local hub - and nearly four times K Brew's original space. Pierce and Michael were immediately hooked. In early 2016, K Brew moved into its new home at 1138 N. Broadway. The community response was overwhelming. "I think that's the first time Michael and I really felt like a real business. Any fear of losing our original customers was quickly calmed by an incredible turnout from our Knoxville friends," Pierce said.
Pierce gets ready for second store to open at West Hills. - 2018
After a few years and more success, it was time for K Brew's second store, but this time with a twist. K Brew had always focused on coffee and espresso - food was admittedly an afterthought. But from early 2014, the brothers wanted to bring New York-style bagels to Knoxville to compliment their incredible coffee lineup, believing that it would be the perfect additional product to please their customers. "For us, bagels are a deeply emotional food. They fed the men and women who built the major cities across the United States, as their thick, hard crust kept the bread fresh longer for the workers who packed their lunch in the early morning," Michael said. "We simply loved that symbol of the spirit of construction, creation, and building. We wanted to honor that in every bagel we served." Pierce and Michael traveled to New York City in 2016 to experience the best bagels in the country, and became even more inspired to make them back home.
Eventually, the brothers found a perfect building for their second coffee shop and bagel bakery in the West Hills neighborhood of Knoxville, and opened its doors in early 2019. The location quickly became a major hub for the surrounding community, and a great quick stop for travelers, being located right off the interstate. The bagels are baked fresh daily and delivered to the other stores every morning. K Brew’s amazing cream cheese flavors are all prepared in its kitchen.
Michael and Pierce celebrate West Hills opening with a bagel cake. - 2019
2019 proved to be a busy year for the company. Not only did it open its second location and bagel bakery, but it partnered with a new Hilton hotel in the the heart of Downtown Knoxville for its third location. This was no ordinary hotel, however. "Michael and I became obsessed with the project that Hilton/Kana Hotel Group was building in Downtown Knoxville. The old building was an eye-sore right in the heart of our city, and the group was transforming it into a modern, chic hotel, creating a connection point between the prominent Gay Street and Market Square areas. From the first time we saw the plans, we wanted to be a part of that transformation," Pierce said. Their third location proved to be another home run, enabling the company to serve coffee and bagels to the many residents, workers, and hotel guests in Downtown Knoxville.
As K Brew continued to grow through 2019, serving tens of thousands of coffees, espressos and bagels, another long-held dream was beginning to emerge on the horizon. Since its inception, K Brew had partnered with coffee roasters all over the country to procure their coffee beans, but now it was time to roast its own coffee. "We loved working with all of our roasters, especially our long-time partner, Good Folks Coffee, but we wanted to have the freedom, flexibility, and scale of roasting our own coffee, and we deeply desired to take pride in roasting it in our home town of Knoxville," Michael explained. In mid-2020, amidst a pandemic and unknown future, K Brew built and launched its own coffee roastery, and began to proudly roast all coffee served in its stores.
Pierce serves K Brew's first official Downtown customer. -2019
Now, with 3 stores, a bakery, a coffee roastery, and nearly 50 team members, Pierce and Michael in many ways are running a different company than the one they started in 2013, but with the same soul. "We couldn't have imagined where we are today, just seven years ago," Pierce said. "It's been an amazing blessing and honor to serve so many wonderful people in our city. I owe our success to our amazing customers, and every single one of our baristas and managers throughout the years - we truly couldn't have done it without them. Whether we're fueling the members of our community for a meeting, a busy day, caring for their kids, late-night studying, a trip to the Smokies, or just hanging out, we see every coffee, espresso, and bagel we serve as truly fueling our city, Knoxville." K Brew continues to lay plans for a bright future, as the brothers continue in their mission to be Knoxville's Coffee Company.
Everett opening the sample roaster upon arrival. -2020
Setting up the full size roaster. -2020