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Weekend edition June 23, 2023 | Tom Ballard

K Brew conquers Knoxville with coffee, bagels, and hammock chairs

With four locations throughout the city, K Brew is one of Knoxville's largest local coffee chains.

Pierce LaMacchia describes Michael, his younger brother, as “the real hero” behind the success of K Brew, a Knoxville-based coffee chain.

Why does he say that? Pierce, who was the middle child in the family, had already graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) with a B.S. in Public Relations and a minor in Business Administration. Michael, his younger brother, was still in college when Pierce decided that he wanted to quit his job with a local public relations agency to launch K Brew.

“I could not sleep at night,” Pierce said. “I was breaking out in cold sweats. I had a deep need to open my own business. I called Michael and said, ‘If you’ll drop out of college and join me, we can do it.’” He did, and they did.

Launched a decade ago with the original business model being a mobile coffee hut – literally – K Brew now has four storefront locations and was ranked 9th out of 40 businesses in the inaugural “Rocky Top Business Awards” that recognized UTK’s fastest-growing, alumni-owned or alumni-led businesses. PYA, the power behind, helped create the program and also tabulated the results.

The K Brew story is chronicled on its website as the idea first germinated during a family road trip along the West Coast that included stops at small drive-thru coffee huts. Five years later, the brothers decided to go for it, rented a U-Haul truck and trailer, drove to Kentucky, and purchased a small building that was previously used to sell snow cones. After returning the hut to Knoxville, they started retrofitting the building while also pitching the idea to local businesses to place the coffee hut in their parking lot.

With no takers, they decided to pivot after spying a 450-square-foot storefront for rent on Broadway in the heart of the 4th and Gill neighborhood. They signed a lease, did much of the renovations themselves except for electrical, and opened the first location on October 19, 2013.

Business at that location grew steadily, and the brothers knew they needed more space. Fortunately, legendary downtown developer David Dewhirst provided it with a nearby former Texaco gas station that he was planning to renovate. K Brew left its original location in early 2016 and moved up the street, nearly quadrupling its space.

“We stabilized there but knew we needed food,” Pierce says. The brothers had a passion for New York-style bagels that would complement the coffee and espresso K Brew provided. That led to the second store just west of West Town Mall. It opened in early 2019, and the bagels are made there and delivered to the chain’s other stores every morning.

By the end of 2019, K Brew had opened a third store, partnering with Alpesh Patel and the Kana Hotel Group for a downtown location in the Embassy Suites Hotel. The dawn of a new decade portended great things until mid-March 2020.

“We closed everything for six weeks, then fully reopened,” Pierce says. “It was a different but good year. We were making record revenue by late 2020.”

It was also in mid-2020 that K Brew opened its own coffee roasting business that not only supports its restaurants but has a number of wholesale accounts. The fourth location, which includes the chain’s first drive-through, opened on Ebenezer Road in January 2022.

As Pierce looks to the future, he describes K Brew as “being the community hub for Knoxville that also provides the ideal guest experience.”

Are there expansion plans? “We don’t want to saturate Knoxville but might be looking at fast-growing Hardin Valley,” he says, adding that the company is also considering Florida and Texas.

Pierce says there is an upper limit on how many different products a K Brew store will offer. “More than five is probably too many,” he believes.

Today, K Brew has 90 employees that are hired through what he calls an open-handed approach. “We know that for most of our team, this is not going to be their long-term career,” Pierce says. “We view it as a launching pad for young people. We tell them that we want this to be a great job for however long you work here.”

There’s a featured drink incentive for Baristas that he says is intended to make them feel rewarded. For any drink they create that is served, the Barista gets five percent of the sales as an incentive.

K Brew is planning a homecoming event in October to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

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