STANLY MAGAZINE: With a European flair and eclectic atmosphere, this Badin coffeehouse has become a destination for many

Published 6:52 pm Monday, May 29, 2023

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Whenever you first enter Badin Coffee, it can be a visually overwhelming experience, as everywhere you look there are vintage collectibles and antiques, including artwork, spa products, furniture and clothing, along with a giant stuffed black bear named Brewster.

But once you have gathered yourself, you will probably spot the welcoming presence of James Wahab at the far end of the space — past all the unique trinkets — standing in a compact mahogany bar, where he spends his time talking to customers and making them coffee.

Customers are greeted by all kinds of antique items before their gaze eventually turns towards the coffee bar.

One of Badin Coffee’s mascots: Brewster the bear.

As affable and knowledgeable as he is about the coffee-making process, the actual star of the show, and what keeps customers coming back, is Bella, the gleaming copper and brass espresso machine made in Italy.

“She’s a workhorse,” Wahab’s wife Jodi said of the machine.

While Bella would appear out of place in most coffeehouses, Badin Coffee is unlike many of its peers. Inspired by the cafes the Wahabs visited in Italy, their business has a distinct European flair — fitting for a town with French roots dating back to its founding in the early 20th century.

“This machine represents, in my opinion, a mid-20th century espresso machine,” Wahab said. “If you were in Italy in the 1950s, this is what you saw on every counter.”

He is aware of only one other business in North Carolina — Fortuna Coffee in Greensboro — that features equipment similar to Bella.

“That’s where we go to get Bella fixed,” he said. “She has become famous and they know who she is.”

In addition to Bella, Wahab also features a unique process of cold brew where chilled water is dripped over coffee grounds and then strained or filtered. This method, which can take up to 14 hours, takes place inside two Yama cold brew towers.

“This is low acidity and still has all the good flavors you would expect out of a good coffee, but it is shelf stable in the refrigerator for two or three weeks,” he said.

Cold coffee is brewed through a unique process involving Yama towers.

Besides its coffee, the store offers soft serve ice cream and smoothies, homemade pastries, Boar’s Head products, including black wax cheddar, Vermont white cheddar, ham, charcuterie packs and their famous seasoned crackers, one of their best-selling items.

“There are a lot of people that come in every week just to get our crackers,” Jodi said.

Before opening Badin Coffee, James and Jodi were known for the Badin Treehouse Company restaurant, in what is now Loafers and Legends, which they operated for several years before closing. Keeping the name alive, the Wahabs have Treehouse Paints, also in a section of the building.

Even though many people are still learning about the business, it has already attracted many dedicated customers.

“The Badin Coffee Shop is a well-kept secret that should not be a secret any longer,” said Roger Dick, president and CEO of Uwharrie Capital Corporation. “Aside from their great coffee, they also offer some of the best pastries. It’s a great place in our community to meet up with friends.”

Wahab understands that his business is colorful and unique and he would have it any other way.

“We are different, but in a good way,” he said.

It all started with Bella 

The foundation for Badin Coffee, at 42 Falls Road, dates back to around 2011, when James and Jodi, who were living in the upstairs portion of the property, had the idea of purchasing an espresso coffee machine. They ended up buying an Elektra Belle Époque, which, according to its website, “is a machine of inimitable class, where beauty blends with functionality and reliability.”

Once it arrived, they unwrapped it like two eager kids on Christmas morning. While they marveled at its beauty, they soon realized that neither actually knew how to work the machine properly.

To rectify the problem, the couple spent two weeks in Portland, Oregon at the American Barista and Coffee School, where they became trained baristas. They learned that espresso-making is an art, based less on technical details and more on instinct, including sight and sound.

“It has to look a certain way,” Wahab said.

It was around this time that the Wahabs began contemplating how best to utilize the Falls Road property. The building had been in Jodi’s family since her father, Jack Benoy, purchased it from artist Roger Thomas about a decade prior.

“Every once in a while we’d come downstairs and the thought was: ‘What can we do to help Badin and utilize the downstairs?’ ” Wahab said.

Over the years, the couple had gradually accumulated many antique items, both from their family and from people in the community. Once they renovated the space for the coffeehouse, including bringing in the mahogany bar, which they purchased several years earlier, the Wahabs merged their fondness for antiques with their passion for coffee.

The Wahab’s trip to Italy, which they took shortly after their training in Oregon, influenced much of the aesthetics, including the look of the bar.

“There is a lot of European influence in the way, in my opinion, this has been designed because of our experiences when we traveled and Badin has a history and we wanted to be able to connect our customers with the history,” Wahab said.

Besides her functionality, Bella’s sleek look, with a small eagle affixed to her top, often attracts new customers.

“She is like a beautiful piece of art sitting on display,” Jodi said.

With her sleek design, Bella helps attract first-time customers.

Working to promote Badin 

As a barista, Wahab hears many stories from people and over time, gets to form connections with his many customers, which he values and appreciates.

“When you’re making a good cup of coffee and they feel comfortable and you’re starting to get some stories out of them, it’s a lot of fun,” Wahab said. “I like being on this side because I can get all of that.”

With word-of-mouth spreading and customers coming from beyond Stanly to check out the business, Wahab sees his business as an opportunity to promote the town. A couple from Norwood, interested in the Badin area, recently came to the shop to learn more about the town. Wahab told them about the 1913 Badin Inn, the town museum and the town newsletter.

“It gives me an opportunity to sell Badin,” he said.

Wahab also enjoys getting to know first-time customers, many of whom are surprised to find such a unique business in a small town like Badin.

“We get a lot of people who come in and they go, ‘I had no idea this was here,’ ” he said.

Since the shop opened in July 2021, it has turned into the de facto meeting place for residents.

“If you want to get the news and all the latest gossip, you come here,” Badin resident Bridget Huckabee said.

Creating a comfortable space where people can come together has always been a key aspect of coffeehouses.

“The coffee shops throughout history have been a place for people to meet and talk and gather,” Wahab said. “That felt like something we could provide for Badin.”

With its European influence, including Bella, Badin Coffee has attracted some international customers, especially those from Europe, who see it as a connection to their homelands.

In addition to Huckabee, who is from England, Wahab recalled a Ukrainian woman who often frequents the shop with her husband. Unlike the many other coffee places she’s visited in America, this one hits differently, as it reminds her of the coffee shops in her native country.

“She comes here because it reminds her of home,” Wahab said.

Badin Coffee is open 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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