Co-founder of Ébrìk explains why the coffee shop left campus

Ebrik Coffee Room closes its doors in the first quarter of the COVID-19 shut down. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

The Beginning of “Ébrìk” (ih-breek)

Ébrìk Coffee Room opened its downtown location in 2014 under the slogan “Comfort. Community. Culture.” Ébrìk abided by this motto and intended to make quality and specialty coffee available to the Georgia State community, including all people regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.

Ébrìk co-founder Abbas Barzegar envisioned the shop as having a strong involvement in the downtown community.

“We were the first independent and specialty coffee shop downtown,” Barzegar said. “We opened at a time when the specialty coffee community told me, ‘Nobody’s going to buy specialty coffee at Georgia State,’ and it was a low-key slight at the Georgia State and downtown community.”

Barzegar detailed his goal to dismantle the consumer’s bias against high-quality coffee.

“Most specialty coffee operates in a very gentrified and very elite space, and we always wanted to make coffee available to what we think Atlanta represents, which is a very broad and diverse community,” Barzegar said. “And we did that. We did it before anyone else.”

The Middle

Ébrìk stayed true to its goal of being an inclusive space that served its surrounding community. Poets, artists, students and faculty all felt like they belonged at Ébrìk. Georgia State organizations and local creatives hosted art galleries and poetry open-mic nights at Ébrìk. 

Emmy-nominated poet Jon Goode performed at Ébrìk’s poetry nights, as well as student poetry organizations such as the Ignite Collective of Agnes Scott College. 

Local visual artists showcased their art at exhibits hosted at Ébrìk. Barista and curator Samiyah Malik curated two galleries at Ébrìk, featuring artists of all backgrounds. 

“Not only was Ébrìk a coffee shop, [but] it was also an inclusive space that opened its doors to everyone,” Malik said.

As Ébrìk’s success as a specialty coffee shop began to shine through the doubts, landlords and proprietors in the area noticed the financial gains coffee could bring to downtown Atlanta.

“Within two years, we saw this influx of coffee shops opening every few months, and it really cannibalized our market and it really hurts us,” Barzegar said. “Our own landlords opened up other coffee and espresso bars within our own building and buildings next to us.”

To a consumer, competing businesses are standard practice, but Barzegar describes this as “commercial gentrification.” 

According to Barzegar, this happens when developers scope out a financially viable community and bring in well-known chains. Those big businesses eventually force smaller shops out, as they do not have access to the same resources to stay open.

Big chains like Starbucks and Kung Fu Tea opened on campus and forced the founders of Ébrìk to evaluate how to navigate the changing market. 

“I was sitting there, towards the end [of Ébrìk] thinking, ‘Am I gonna turn this into a food cafe? Do I start selling breakfast and lunch?” Barzegar said. “There were all kinds of things. How can we keep up?”

Barzegar stressed the importance of consumers’ awareness of where they are spending their money. He believes local businesses need to stay open because they serve the community in a way large corporations cannot.

“You really have to be conscious about what you’re doing with your dollars,” he said. “The ‘support local business’ stuff is not a trend or a fad. It’s the livelihood of our communities.”

The End

Ébrìk closed the doors to its downtown and Decatur locations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Most customers believed that the pandemic drove Ébrìk from Georgia State’s campus, but Barzegar explained that the store had been on the verge of closing for the last two years. 

Ébrìk’s downtown location was a two-story shop, which the owners of Ébrìk leased to accommodate the events held there.

Following the increasing market competition, Ébrìk’s decreased sales and increasing rent put them in a poor financial situation. The COVID-19 pandemic solidified Ébrìk’s closure.

“Our sales decreased, and our rent almost tripled,” Barzegar said. “So, people didn’t notice, but Ébrìk had been on the ropes for a while, and I’d been paying out of pocket for two years trying to keep the place afloat.”

Barzegar had always been aware of Ébrìk’s importance to local artists and students who went to the coffee room frequently, whether it be to catch up with friends or have a cup of coffee while doing homework.

“To Georgia State students: we’re sorry, and we wish we could be open and be a part of the community,” he said.

The Next Step

Ébrìk’s only physical store is located in Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum, open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“[Ébrìk] is part of the museum, so it’s a much more symbiotic relationship with the university. If they’re open, then we’re open,” Barzegar said.

Barzegar has put most of his efforts into Ébrìk’s online store where customers can make one-time purchases of bags of coffee or “subscribe” to Ébrìk to have coffee of their choice delivered regularly.

Ébrìk continues to host community events with a spin that adheres to COVID-19 precautions.

“We are trying to make sure our internet footprint still feels like the shop,” Barzegar said. “We’re doing virtual art exhibits where you buy a ticket, get a sample coffee and participate in the event.”

Barzegar wants to return to Georgia State soon and hopes Ébrìk will return to open arms.

“Our plan has always been to regroup through 2020,” he said. “We would like to find a place on Georgia State’s campus so we can remain a part of that community.”

Ébrìk redefined high-quality coffee. For Ébrìk and its community, this isn’t just about where the beans are from or how expensive the coffee press machine is.

High-quality is about the space of inclusivity and community Ébrìk cultivated in a short time and its lasting impact on loyal customers.