Q+A with three Richmond beverage industry pros


Hear from Ms. Bee herself + two other local beverage pros. | Photo by RICtoday

To round out Drink Up Week, we asked three beverage industry pros the same seven questions to get expert insight on Richmonds drink scene.

First, meet the makers.

☕️ Alan Smith is a co-owner at Afterglow Coffee Cooperative, a worker-owned coffee roaster based in Scott’s Addition. He had a decade of experience at Lamplighter before helping open Afterglow in October 2021.

🧃 Brandi Battle-Brown founded Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar in Northside after falling in love with juice in the summer of 2018. She says her motto is: If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?

🍹 Brett Nobile started Ninja Kombucha in 2015. Now, fermentation fans can find them in stores around VA in addition to sampling all the current offerings out of the Northside taproom.

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Alan has been in the coffee business for decades. | Headshot by Jake Cunningham, @couragecophoto. Graphic by RICtoday

How long have you been in the [coffee/juice/kombucha] business?

Alan: Since I was in high school and got my first barista job, so about 20 years now.

Brandi: Three years.

Brett: I started the business 7 years ago in 2015.

What appealed to you about your industry?

Alan: I’ve always loved coffee and it was a fun job to have through school, but I eventually began to see coffee as a career in itself, not just a side job to get me somewhere else. [...] The people I worked with and met through the cafes became my community and those spaces were absolutely vital to my self discovery journey as a younger person.

Brandi: Just a healthy way of eating — that was my main concern.

Brett: I thought there was a real opportunity to have a positive impact on the community and help people live healthier lives.

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Brandi has expanded Ms. Bee’s to two locations. | Headshot courtesy Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar. Graphic by RICtoday

What is your favorite aspect of your job?

Alan: Probably the curatorial and creative aspects — I love getting to sample a wide range of coffees before selecting which ones we will bring in to roast [...] I am just looking to have a new experience with coffee, to find something that surprises me, and there is so much out there to taste and so many new experiments [...] that I am never disappointed.

Brandi: Introducing a healthier lifestyle to the community that tastes great. I was one of the first minorities to open up a juice bar in the Richmond area, and a lot of times people don’t want to eat healthy because they think it doesn’t taste as well. I put a little twist, a little soul into all my juices and smoothies so it’s enjoyable for all walks of life — the kids love it, older people, younger people.

Brett: The best part of the job is experimenting with new flavors and trying different brewing techniques.

What’s something that has surprised you about your work or business?

Alan: How much it has changed since I got into it, especially since COVID. When I started in coffee, I wasn’t aware of any non-chain or specialty coffee shops in my area. The explosion of the “third wave” and beyond / the rise of specialty coffee has been meteoric!

Brandi: I actually started selling juice out of the trunk of my car, before I opened my brick and mortar. I was able to obtain a second location within maybe only a year and half of having my first location. […] The success itself was surprising to me, and the support that I received from the community.

Brett: I was surprised by the wide range of health issues people have reported drinking kombucha has helped them with.

Describe your industry in three words.

Alan: Caffeinated, creative, exciting.

Brandi: Love, live, juice.

Brett: Living Sparkling Tea.

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Brett and the Ninja team traveled to CA for an international conference. | Headshot by Jamie Douglas. Graphic by RICtoday

What is your favorite beverage to make?

Alan: If we are talking about more traditional espresso drinks, then I most often make myself a cortado or just an espresso. But we have a seasonal special that is a fruit infused coffee soda that has been my recent favorite! We take blackberries and oranges and macerate them with sugar and add concentrated cold brew to that, then soda water and garnish with a maraschino cherry and orange peel.

Brandi: It would be the Grand Rising. It’s a really refreshing drink. It has strawberries, carrots, orange, apple, and turmeric.

Brett: Dry Hopped Lemon Ginger Kombucha. We won a Kombucha Kup award for this flavor and I think it’s one of the best blends we make. It’s really unique. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s a great beer substitute.

You’re taking out-of-town friends for a drink at a Richmond establishment. Where are you going?

Alan: I live in the East End so my favorites are out that way — Alewife or Metzger are definitely my most visited.

Brandi: My favorite restaurant to get a drink would be Lillie Pearl. I’m there every week!

Brett: If we’re going out for drinks we’re heading to the Ninja Kombucha Taproom (126 W. Brookland Park Blvd.) of course!

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