Austin mainstay Bennu Coffee brews up a new location in the Highland neighborhood.
By Kathryn Stouffer, Photo courtesy of Bennu Coffee
A straightforward mission and unwavering commitment to carry it out has sustained Bennu Coffee’s existence in the crowded and ever-changing coffee landscape of Austin.
In 2009, Stephanie and Steve Williams opened up shop on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, offering 24/7 coffee service caffeine-starved Austinites could count on. The flagship Bennu location is conveniently located a stone’s throw from the University of Texas campus and has become a mainstay for students, night owls and third-shift workers alike. Today, 10 years later, after the successful opening of a second Bennu location on South Congress Avenue, Stephanie Williams and the Bennu team will open the company’s third mainstay, in Central Austin, nestled adjacent to Austin Community College’s Highland Campus.
Despite the success of the first and second Bennu locations, Stephanie Williams shares that the third “definitely took us by surprise…because while we were always looking for a second location, after opening it, we thought, ‘Let’s wait before a third.’ ”
When the developer, Greystar, approached her and she saw the details, the decision to join the development came with no question.
“It’s going to be right on campus, and for us, that’s what we do so well,” she says. “So, we really couldn’t say no.”
Stephanie Williams is humble when speaking of Bennu and its growth in the last decade, but her entrepreneurial spirit is evident when discussing plans for the newest location.
“When we got there, they were thinking of a smaller space for us, but we have a rule to always go big, and there happened to be a larger space available. We thought, ‘If we’re doing this with the students in mind, then we need to go really big,’ so, we ended up with a spot that’s 3,500 square feet, which is 1,000 square feet bigger than our current spots, and we’re really excited about that!”
The new location will also be the first Bennu built from the ground up, uncharted territory for Stephanie Williams, which is not readily apparent from the vision she shares. The first Bennu was a labor of love, opening shortly after the 2008 Great Recession, and the space was shoestringed together. Stephanie Williams recalls working all day, epoxying floors, then crashing on the thrifted couches filling the space.
“Now we’re in a different place financially than when we started the first two and can do whatever we want without worrying so much about budget,” she says. “We are working with an entire team outside of our own to design the space, and on the one hand, that’s really exciting, but on the other hand, we don’t want to get away from our roots.”
While the bar at the new location might be bigger and better, a “barista’s dream” in Stephanie Williams’ words, the furniture will still be thrifted, the colors adhering to the same Bennu-esque palette, the room decked with long communal tables and filled with warm lighting fixtures, embracing the feeling of an “old-world library,” she says.
With long Austin roots and a commitment to creating a welcoming third space, Bennu will continue to offer what’s tried and true versus what’s shiny and trendy in the coffee world.
“What we feel like we do well is a place that’s really comfortable, community-driven and definitely doesn’t feel pretentious in any way. We will stay true to our values, which is keeping prices low and doing what’s best for every step of the chain,” Stephanie Williams asserts.
Pending construction timelines, come late winter, ACC students, Bennu loyalists and all those looking for a comfortable chair and a mood-warming coffee drink will find space aplenty to work, study and commune in this new yet well-loved space.