Beyond the Beans: The Socially Conscious Summit Coffee NoDa

Franchise owner, John Varvaro and wife, Melissa, are committed to providing a living wage for their baristas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Until now, beer has been the name of the game for the Varvaro family.  John Varvaro working as a Marketing Manager for Pabst Blue Ribbon, and his wife, Melissa, is a Trade Quality Manager and Trainer for Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.  But when a friend at Summit Coffee began sending photos to the couple of their new NoDa neighborhood location, things escalated quickly.

“She sent me a message and was like, ‘I just feel like this needs to be yours’,” says the long-time coffee fan, Melissa.  John, who had been looking to make a career change and open a business of his own decided it was the right move.  And it all fell into place.

Now, the Varvaros are two months into their ownership of Summit Coffee’s NoDa location.  Summit Coffee, which began in Davidson, N.C., has now expanded to Charlotte, Asheville, and Chapel Hill.

“I am a coffee fan but my husband, John, will tell you that prior to his training in coffee he had actually never in his life, had a coffee.”  But, for John, the first franchise owner of Summit Coffee, it’s more about community than coffee.

A longtime NoDa resident, John has worked to build communal events that support locals.  In 2015, he and PBR colleague Rob Reilly, brought Art Hole, the popular pop-up art gallery, to NoDa.  And similar art projects are in store for the coffee shop.

“We’re on the cusp announcing something very exciting soon,” and they also plan to add localized art shows, similar to those John hosted at the Art Hole.  “We felt it was vital to who we are to continue that thread and are going to have monthly art shows, starting in the fall.”

Summit Coffee’s community impact goes beyond supporting artists.  The company is committed to providing an inclusive work environment and a living wage for its employees, a tenet that drew the Varvaros to the company.  “We see it all across the country that people who work these jobs can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods where they are.”

Being socially conscious stays top of mind for The Varvaros who also provide insurance benefits and continual training for their staff.  “Ownership wise, you’re going to end up making a little less but that’s on the backs of people’s lives. And I think that’s important not to lose sight of.”

As for the coffee, according to an admittedly bias Melissa, “It’s a great product, the stuff is absolutely phenomenal.”  There is a ‘coffee of the month’ that patrons can try for free on the first day of each month.  Beyond coffee, they carry beer, wine, and an assortment of local pastries including seasonal galettes and scones.  And, of course, avocado toast.  “Because you know what’s a coffee shop without avocado toast.”

Summit Coffee NoDa is open 7 days a week, 7 am to 7 pm and located at 416 E 36th St, Suite 300, Charlotte, NC 28205.