Just a few weeks before Aimee Biggerstaff and Jack Fleming left their lives in the Pacific Northwest to drive cross country to Richmond and open their own coffee roastery, the new business still had no name. Sipping sherry while deep in discussion, an offhand mention of feeling “reclusive” struck a chord. In the four years since the birth of Recluse Coffee Bar and Roastery, the tucked-away café and wholesaler in a Scott’s Addition alley has gone from cult favorite coffee to booming bean sales.
“The name Recluse felt natural to us because I’m an introvert and it related to us as people,” explains Biggerstaff. “Coffee culture in America tends to be this get-up-and-go, supposed to motivate you kind of thing that is intense and perky. But my favorite moments in coffee are when you’re alone next to the roaster, out in the woods, or when it’s quiet.”
With 18 years of experience in the industry, the couple behind Recluse knew they had to leave Olympia, Washington if they wanted to make it in the coffee world. Five years before they made the move, Fleming was already talking about returning to Richmond to open his own roastery, so when the chance presented itself, it felt right. “It was exciting to get out of a highly coffee-saturated part of the country and move to a place that at the time had a small coffee scene,” adds Fleming.
Their back-alley business as a wholesale roaster was gaining momentum until the pandemic hit the brakes, decimating their once long list of bean orders. The pair had to quickly pivot to a more direct-to-consumer sales model and settled on a weekends-only pop-up café. After nearly two years of spending weekdays roasting coffee beans and weekends whipping up cappuccinos, last month Biggerstaff and Fleming finally took a break to reimagine their business.
Starting in March, Recluse’s coffee bar will only be open the first weekend of each month. The decision wasn’t an easy one for the duo to make: “We love all of the customers who come here, so we didn’t want to completely get rid of that, but it needs to be sustainable for us also,” says Biggerstaff. “We will still consistently have the coffee bar, but outside of that we want to do irregular and spontaneous pop-ups by collaborating with awesome food-makers around town.”
The monthly pop-ups are going to be bigger than before. Beyond the extended hours Biggerstaff and Fleming plan to have a produce stand from Mechanicsville-based Shine Farms as well as a rotating array of partners providing breakfast and brunch foods. While the focus will be on offering spots to local folks who don’t yet have a brick-and-mortar, more established Richmond favorites like Fan-favorite TBT El Gallo may also make appearances. The beloved cardamom buns from Pizza Bones aren’t going anywhere either.
Limiting Recluse’s opening hours will also allow the couple behind the coffee to double down on what they do best: Selecting and roasting the finest beans from across the world. “From the beginning, our main focus has been on having direct relationships with the farmers as much as possible,” explains Fleming, adding that to help these relationships be sustainable they want to provide their farmers the security that every year “we will increase the amount we buy from them. Coffee sourcing is complicated most of the time, so for us it’s about doing it the right way. Not only so we can have consistently higher quality coffee, but also take better care of the farmers.”
With a big new roaster at their disposal, expect the couple behind Recluse to start churning out more beans than ever. The pair’s favorite coffee right now is a Kenya-grown variety from the Long Miles Coffee Project, bursting with bright, juicy flavor notes that remind them of grapefruits, limes, and melons. “It’s sweet and everything we look for in an African,” adds Biggerstaff, noting it shines best as a pour-over or batch brew.
Currently Recluse is also offering a Colombian variety from that country’s high-elevation southwest. Its list of flavor notes sounds like the intriguing ingredients for an exotic dessert: cumquat, orange, brown sugar, and sweet plantain. Those looking for a taste of Central America should go for their El Salvadoran. “Great for cortados and cappuccinos, it’s a naturally processed coffee so it comes with hefty, juicy notes — like a fruit bomb of dark chocolate, strawberry, and brandy that comes through milk well,” Biggerstaf swoons.
Whether you’re a fan of Recluse’s elegant espresso, their summer coffee slushies, or the simple batch brews that fuel the couple’s days, the duo behind the beans couldn’t be more appreciative of the support.
“Even with 18 years experience in the industry, coming into a city as the new kid on the block and having folks take a chance on you is scary,” Biggerstaff says. “We had cafes and shops in the city that committed to us in a way that really helped our growth. There have been moments where people recognize us and tell us they love their coffee, and we appreciate it so much.”