Gabe Hagen and Jesse Shank in front of Brick Road Coffee in Tempe
Cinnamon roll and honey vanilla lattes, croissant-crusted pizza, hand-squeezed lemonade and pomegranate green tea are all on the menu at Brick Road Coffee, a new java joint in Tempe. Customers can expect great food and drinks, but also an inviting community hub.
Partners Gabe Hagen and Jesse Shank opened the shop in Fairlanes Village Center in January. Hagen says their vision was to create a space that feels like home. “I wanted to create a place that accepts people,” he says. “Wherever they’re at in their journey, they will be accepted and validated.”
Growing up in Iowa, Hagen found solace in a Starbucks he worked at as a teenager. The space provided a community to him and helped him come out, and now he wants to use Brick Road Coffee to allow other people to find their safe spaces.
Like Dorothy famously said in The Wizard of Oz, “There is no place like home.” Growing up, The Wizard of Oz was one of Hagen’s favorite movies, but Brick Road’s namesake has a deeper meaning. “It’s just that self-realization journey and that self-acceptance journey,” Hagen says. “We used to ask people if they were gay by asking, ‘Are you a friend of Dorothy?’ and there’s the flying monkey reference. I felt like I was the flying monkey, so it’s almost reclaiming that.”
Brick Road Coffee is decorated with murals painted by Tempe artist Paige Reesor and Los Angeles-based artist Corrie Mattie. “Art speaks to what the community is about,” Shank says. At Brick Road Coffee, it is important that both the LGBTQ+ and Tempe communities are represented, he says. Reesor’s mural is a nod to The Wizard of Oz, incorporating mostly gray elements and a big burst of color at the end to mirror the movie. Mattie’s is near the gender-neutral bathrooms, and it incorporates the colors of the transgender flag. “(Art) was a great way to make sure that we were supporting both communities that really mattered to us,” Hagen says.
Opening a coffee shop had long been a distant dream for the couple. It was something they thought would come to fruition once they reached retirement, but the pandemic changed their plans. Both Shank and Hagen have backgrounds in finance, but when Hagen realized his job wasn’t the right fit, he pivoted. “Working from home during the pandemic, it was really tough,” Hagen says. “I got to the point where it was like, ‘I need change.’ Then we saw the place right behind us go up for sale, and that’s when I said, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?'”
“It was kind of the universe telling us,” Shank adds. “We couldn’t pass it up.”
Since its opening on October 25, Brick Road has had a steady stream of loyal customers who might be surprised the duo had their doubts. “We’ve never owned another business before,” Hagen says. “There was a lot of like, ‘This could go terribly bad.’ It’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done, but it’s the most rewarding thing we’ve ever done.”
Brick Road’s grand opening celebration in January featured Congressman Greg Stanton, who cut a ribbon in front of the store. “The night before, I was like, ‘If 15 people show up, I’ll be ecstatic,’” Hagen says. “There were probably a good 40 to 50 people.”
“We are kind of blown away by how much the community seems to be telling us we need this place,” Shank says.
Brick Road Coffee, 4415 S. Rural Rd., 480-590-7246, brickroadtempe.com