Downtown Phoenix has no shortage of coffee options, but tough competition for caffeine dollars didn't stop James Bryan from opening yet another spot for coffee, espresso, and lunch fare.
A month ago, Bryan opened Oliver's Sophisticated Bean — the name refers to James Oliver Bryan, who goes by his middle name — in the ground floor of the north building of the Roosevelt Point apartments. With a large space, hours that stretch from early morning to midnight every day, and small-batch coffee by H.C. Valentine in Alabama, it's already a welcome addition for downtown residents in search of a quiet, late-night spot.
For Bryan, the business is also a form of healing.
In 2012, he sustained a traumatic brain injury, the result of a serious motorcycle accident that nearly took his life. During the accident, significant damage was done to his frontal lobe. He was put on life support for a week and didn't come out of a coma until more than a month later. He then spent two years in a rehabilitation program, relearning how to speak, eat, and walk. It was at this program he met Oliver's Sophisticated Bean co-owner Ray Lamb.
"Doing this made me feel that I have purpose," Bryan says. "After a brain injury, you lose complete motivation. Every brain-injured person needs to feel purpose."
The two initially bonded over a shared love of backgammon, Bryan says, but their friendship grew. And though Bryan initially planned on going to school after rehabilitation, when Lamb proposed opening a coffee shop, Bryan, a longtime coffee lover, was all for it.
"I wanted coffee so bad while I was in rehab," he says. "To me, coffee is a sense of comfort. I'm giving everyone some comfort."
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The plan to open a coffee shop was only hatched about a year and a half ago, but things have moved quickly, Bryan says. In fact, Oliver's Sophisticated Bean was just approved for a license to sell beer and wine. Bryan hopes to draw students who want a beer or coffee while they study, and the cafe seems great for such an audience. Thanks to lofty ceilings and ample seating, it's hard to imagine Oliver's Sophisticated Bean feeling overcrowded. Plus, the shop's small menu makes great fuel for late-night study sessions.
So far, Bryan says the stop has been a hit. And that's despite the fact that Bryan hasn't had any previous experience running a business or in the culinary world.
"It's really been trial by error," he says. "I guess you can call it on-the-job training."
Bryan says he hopes the cafe attracts customers with the quality of its offerings, rather than the story behind it. Along with its drink options, the coffee shop offers a large, locally sourced menu with sandwiches, burritos, salads, and more. We tried a bacon breakfast burrito — loaded with bacon, eggs, potato, cheese, and a tangy tomatillo salsa, it is one of the better breakfast burritos we've had around town.
"Just because I have a brain injury doesn't mean I'm not sophisticated," he says.