If it wasn’t clear from their Tampa-based caffeine empire, Buddy Brew Coffee co-owners Dave and Susan Ward really love their java. “Susan and I are 100 percent coffee freaks,” Dave says. The couple began roasting coffee on a small roaster in their South Tampa garage back in 2002, giving the finished product away as gifts and serving it at dinner parties.
After their fresh-roasted coffee became a hit among friends and family, the Wards were encouraged to launch Buddy Brew Coffee — named for their golden retriever, Buddy — as a wholesale business, opening their commercial roastery-turned-cafe on Kennedy Boulevard in 2010.
“All of a sudden, people were coming into the shop and enjoying coffee, and we were enjoying being with them and sharing our story,” Susan says. “Tampa was ready, and we were in the right place at the right time.”
Dave Ward says the foodie movement that exploded in Tampa around the same time helped propel Buddy Brew, widely considered to be the city’s first specialty coffee roastery. In keeping with its “brew good, do good” slogan, the company only sources beans that score at least 80 points on Coffee Review’s 100-point scale, which means the beans have been deemed to be free of defects like breakage, insects and fungus. Each new bean variety requires a roughly 12-hour roasting and tasting process to create its own flavor, or profile.
“It’s a very scientific method that we follow to ensure that we’re creating a roast profile that makes this bean as awesome as it possibly can be,” Dave says.
On the “do good” side, the Wards have imparted a culture of giving on their employees, encouraging their team to always act with an others-first mentality. “We feel it’s our responsibility to not only serve our customers a great cup of coffee, but also share a smile and a kind word,” Susan says. “We know it’s the little things that are really the big things in life. [We are] super passionate about treating our employees in a way that makes them feel cared about and taken care of, so in turn they can pass that along to our customers.”
As the decade has progressed, Buddy Brew has found itself on an upward cycle. In 2012, the Wards accepted Blake Casper’s invitation to set up shop in his soon-to-open Oxford Exchange and had the chance to run a coffee bar at Google’s media center for the Tampa-hosted Republican National Convention — fueling a subsequent expansion of the Kennedy shop in 2014; the opening of new locations in Sarasota, Hyde Park and Tampa International Airport between 2015 and 2017; wholesale opportunities at local restaurants, Whole Foods and Publix locations; and the creation of a full roastery and warehouse just outside downtown.
Buddy Brew has a number of big developments coming down the pipeline — a new shop in Downtown Tampa, new products, and increased distribution throughout the Southeast among them — but the Wards are keeping Tampa front and center. “We’re proud of this community and what’s happened here,” Dave says. “We’re shouting it. We couldn’t be more grateful for what Tampa has given us.”