David Buehrer was at the forefront of Houston’s coffee scene when he started Greenway Coffee with partner Ecky Prabanto in 2008, bringing top-quality artisanal coffee to the city when very few people were doing so. He then opened Blacksmith in 2013 along with the Clumsy Butcher Group, redefining what a coffee shop could be by offering not only great coffee but also an interesting menu of breakfast and lunch items.
Buehrer is now almost ready to open his third store, Morningstar, at 4721 North Main in the Heights. Slated to open in early May, Morningstar will follow a similar model to Blacksmith with an added element: donuts. We talked to Buehrer about his new coffeehouse, his favorite Houston restaurants and how coffee culture has changed in Houston.
Tell me about Morningstar. What can people expect?
Basically, at Blacksmith, our goal was the peak of quality with coffee and tea served alongside breakfast and lunch that had a similar mentality. We brew and make coffee fresh, even with the flavored stuff like caramel or mochas, we make the caramel in-house and we make our own ganache in-house for the mocha. We wanted to take that mentality to the food program. So at Blacksmith, we make our own biscuits, we have our own granola recipe, we have all these things that we do that we make ourselves. Morningstar is going to be the sister store and we’re going to do donuts with the same mentality as how we make food and coffee and tea.
I worked for a donut shop for many years growing up. I’m fully trained in the process and technique of making donuts and we’re going to apply that wholesome approach to the culinary field to our donuts. We’re going to use unbromated, unbleached wheat; we’re going to use ingredients that we believe in, are proud of, and are well sourced to make a product that is ... I don’t want to call it healthy or nutritious, but I want to call it wholesome. You know it’s like a donut that you’re not going to feel terrified eating. That’s kind of the idea: to use really good ingredients to make a really good product with a classic technique.
How has Houston’s coffee culture evolved since you started Greenway?
It’s funny because back then there were only three people doing it, which were our store in Greenway Plaza, and Max Gonzalez who owns Catalina [Coffee]. As far as retail stores, that was it. [Gonzalez] had another barista called Sean Marshall, who ended up opening Southside Espresso, and he was very involved in the community. But that was it. Now there are 15 places that I would say are a part of an active community. I think that there’s a lot more coming and there’s a lot more awareness. Really, really tasty coffee is now very accessible whereas before we were definitely a destination and Catalina was a destination, and now there are a lot of places that you can go to get really good coffee, which is exciting.
What makes Houston’s coffee scene unique?
I think that something that Houston has done really well with coffee is the café. And what I mean by café is a place where you can really outstanding coffee and also breakfast and lunch. There are places like Tout Suite, Tiny Boxwoods, and Honeymoon [Café]. That same café concept is also repeated at Blacksmith and Morningstar, which is a great place to get breakfast, lunch, coffee, and tea. If Houston has done something, it’s that. We have this really great café concept where specialty products are coming together. A lot of cities have good coffee bars and espresso bars and maybe coffee shops even, but I don’t know if they have a lot of good cafés. Houston has a really unique take on that.
What are your favorite Houston restaurants to take visitors to?
I have a routine. Pho Binh By Night is number one. In fact, sometimes I take friends who are just laying over for a few hours. I will go pick them up at the airport, take them to Pho Binh by Night and then drop them back off at the airport. Himalaya is another one. Every time I take a visitor there, they’re always blown away by it. If I have a friend visiting on the weekend, I take them to La Azteca, which is on Broadway close to Highway 3. It’s only open Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and it’s the best menudo I’ve ever had in my life. It’s straight-up, mind-blowing menudo. I also really like Thien Thanh Banh Cuon, it’s like Vietnamese country food and it’s insanely good. Another mind-blowing, knock-your-socks-off culinary destination in Houston. Houston may be the only city in the country where you can get those four things. Mala Sichuan is another one. It’s so good. I like to eat if you couldn’t tell, and these are my number one, heavy hitters. I guarantee you there’s not a place like those places in any other city.
What about for coffee?
I think there’s an easy way to get a really great cross-section of coffee in Houston by visiting Honeymoon to try Boomtown Coffee, then visiting Catalina to try Amaya Coffee Roasters, and then Southside Espresso to try Fusion Beans, and then visiting Blacksmith to try Greenway Coffee. If you wanted to get a cross-section of what Houston coffee tastes like, that’s what I would do.
Are you working on any other projects?
I’m working with a developer to take the old Maxwell House headquarters, which was built in 1927, and come up with a food court concept for the first floor of that building that would honor the history and also be very Houston at the same time. It’s still in development and it’s going to be way out there in the future.