Business as usual

David Rubin

(David Rubin)

Many Lawrentians harbor a home-away-from-home-away-from-home, an off-campus escape for those times when the bubble becomes overwhelming or obnoxious.
For the past six years, the café known as Brewed Awakenings has sheltered a significant percentage of those escapees. But this season, Brewed enters a new phase, for it is set to become the Appleton branch of Aspen Coffee & Tea, a local cafe operation with established locations in Neenah and Menasha.
Before discussing Brewed’s new identity, let us take a look back at its unique history.
“Brewed,” as it is frequently shortened, was founded in 2004 by sisters Veronika and Nora Asplund. At the time, Veronika was an employee at Café Latte, a coffee shop that preceded Brewed at 107 E. College Ave. When the owner of Café Latte announced her desire to sell the business, Veronika and her sister decided to buy it from her.
According to Brewed’s official origin story, the decision was made after much deliberation around the Asplund dinner table. Veronika was only 17 years old and Nora was two years younger, but the sisters were determined to give it a shot. They renamed the café Brewed Awakenings, opened it on April Fool’s Day, 2004, and set about meeting the challenges of running a small business.
For the past six years, Brewed has been a family endeavor. Veronika and Nora’s mother did the bookkeeping. Their father helped with advertising, at least in the early years. The youngest Asplund, Erik, joined his sisters as an employee once he was deemed old enough.
Not everyone is capable of working in such proximity with family members. But for the Asplunds, it has turned out to be a largely positive experience.
Said Nora: “It was really intense at times. We had laughs, we had fights. Mostly, it just brought us closer together.”
Over the years, Brewed has carved out a niche among the handful of cafés on College Avenue. Regulars have come to know and love Brewed’s distinguishing characteristics: Alterra Coffee straight from Milwaukee, homemade Chai lattes, and a colorful array of muffin tops, scones, cakes and bars baked in-store.
Vegan Lawrentians appreciate the comparatively generous selection of dairy-free pastries. And “Meg’s Omega-3 Muffin” is a favorite for those healthy days when Brewed’s Nutella gelato is just not an allowable option.
According to Shanna Kaczynski, the manager in charge of Brewed’s transition to Aspen, those favorites will remain largely unchanged. The menu will stay virtually the same, with one notable exception: Alterra coffees will be replaced by Intelligentsia, an equally famed supplier based in Chicago.
Another small change: In keeping with Intelligentsia’s recommendations, specialty drinks will get slightly stronger, because each drink will have one more shot of espresso than it currently does. Coming soon: two shots of espresso for small drinks, three for mediums, and four for larges. Consider yourself warned.
Other changes will likely be merely aesthetic. Students might notice new seating arrangements, and eventually, a sign announcing the completion of the transition to Aspen Coffee & Tea. Those, however, will be gradual processes, probably not completed until summer and the start of next school year.
It is important to note that Brewed was not bought out by a giant corporation. Reiterated Kaczynski: “We’re still a local business.” In keeping with this philosophy, she plans to maintain the cafe’s presence at the Appleton farmer’s market and continue booking local artists for in-store musical performances.
Veronika and Nora plan to continue working at the cafe they started all those years ago at the dinner table. Veronika will keep on creating Brewed’s specialty gelato, and Nora will still be in charge of the bakery, which is expanding and moving off-site in order to supply all of Aspen’s locations.
Indeed, Brewed has always retained a certain warmth, even as it grew in size and scope. Only a few weeks after coming onboard, Kaczynski noted this peculiarity, which turns so many Brewed customers into regulars: “It feels like a family.”
If you haven’t yet experienced that familial atmosphere, take a trip over to Brewed-Aspen. But if you need further convincing, rest assured: The 15-percent student discount remains, and it is summoning you through the snow.
Fill up that backpack, put on those boots, trek through the arctic and camp out for an afternoon with your work, your friend, your date or your thoughts. You won’t regret it.

(David Rubin)

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