Aamil Sarfani soaks up the burnished light at Radio Coffee & Beer, a popular hangout on Manchaca Road.
“They nailed the feel,” says the owner of Apanas Coffee & Beer, which opened two locations in Austin during 2016. “It’s not too quiet. They offer both beer and coffee, similar to what we do. At 5 p.m., they turn the Wi-Fi off. The work day is over; time to hang out. We are too scared to do that.”
He points to the lightly scuffed floors.
“No, I just love this place,” Sarfani says. “This is one of the reasons we did wood floors, too.”
San-Antonio-born-and-bred Sarfani, 24, grew up in an entrepreneurial Indian-American family before attending business school at Emory University in Atlanta.
In 2014, he signed up for a class that looked interesting: Social Enterprise in Nicaragua.
“We learned how businesses can do more than just profit from their revenue stream,” Sarfani says. “And the school already had partners down there.”
For the class, he stayed at El Peten coffee farm on Lake Apanas, the namesake of his two Austin outlets.
“Every morning, I went down to the lake and took pictures,” he says. “I came back with really fond memories. And the owner of that farm made connections for me with other sources in Nicaragua.”
Sarfani learned that by sidestepping third parties through the direct-trade model, he, as a retailer, could both increase the farmer’s share of the revenue and improve the transparency and traceability of the beans’ origins and movements, something that not all “fair trade” coffee shops can do.
“I came back from the trip the year before senior year and expected to eventually start a business, but I didn’t expect to do so right out of college,” he says. “I had all the resources in hand. Talked to professors, created a business plan. I was ready to do something that means more than making a quick buck.”
Sarfani now imports two single-origin beans.
“One is natural processed, Los Piños, picked off the tree and left in the cherry to increase its sweetness,” he says. “It’s a hard process to master, what with errors, low yield. If you do it right, the coffee comes out fantastic. The other is washed El Peten. We also have a drip coffee that’s a blend of beans from farms in the Los Robos community, and the money goes back to the town’s clinic.”
That echoes the efforts of Austin’s Farahani family, which funds Nicaraguan health care through its nonprofit Fara Coffees.
Sarfani grew up “behind the register” from age 12 at his father’s gas stations and fast-food restaurants. So it made sense to pitch his dad as an investor.
He opened his first coffee shop in January on Rock Rose in the Domain Northside. It is a midsized spot, 1,800 square feet. There isn’t much competition in the giant retail district for this wide-open, comfortable spot, which, not surprisingly, is already attracting regulars.
In the fall, he opened the second Apanas in a 2,500-square-foot former sports medicine space on South Congress, where there is indeed heavy-hitting competition from Jo’s Coffee, Toms Roasting Co. and Mañana Coffee & Juice.
“We have felt that,” Sarfani says. “I consult with my Dad. He stays out of my way, tells me what I could be doing but lets me makes mistakes.”
Apanas also offers 20 types of draft beer, selected with the same Sarfani philosophy: “High quality in everything.”
“We are lucky enough to sell handmade products,” Sarfani says. “Our beer buyer is a home brewer, too, so very knowledgeable.”
Food is not a focus at Apanas, but one can pick up Quack’s bakery items, Tyson’s Tacos and Fricanos Deli sandwiches.
Sarfani did hang some modestly sized TV screens in Apanas, unusual for a coffee shop, but he insists they will never become a focal point, except perhaps during parties on game nights.
Besides Radio, Sarfani reveals some of his other preferred Austin coffee shops:
Dominican Joe: “I like what they are doing on the back end, supporting a Dominican Republic community.”
Seventh Flag: “Great community, good vibe, trying to create a sense of welcome, home.”
Houndstooth: “A reputation for serving the best coffee in town, but sometimes you get the wrong barista.”
To the bat cave!
Austin Bat Cave, the nonprofit that matches established writers with creative young learners, has hired Sasha Marie Vliet to replace Katie Angermeier Haab as its director.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Vliet was a founding member of a group of writers, musicians and thinkers called Church of Maps. She has lived in Mexico and Central America and taught public school in Boston and Austin before earning an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Texas in American Studies. Her research paid particular attention to youth culture, teen expression and identity formation.
Vliet — who seems extraordinarily well-matched to the job — lives in South Austin with her son, who plays drums and runs a dog care business.
Founded in 2007, Austin Bat Cave, which operated on $150,000 in revenue in 2015, serves more than 1,700 young creative minds in Central Texas.