Never one to shy away from a challenge, Cornelius resident Tony Vo is taking on another in a venture combining a love of coffee and cars. He recently opened Waterbean Coffee in the Peninsula Village shopping center on the corner of Jetton Rd and Catawba Ave.
I sat down with him recently to find out more about the concept, how the business came to fruition, and why he works so hard to support his family, which includes a wife and two year old daughter, Alexandria, nicknamed Alexa for short.
My first question had to do with its logo. Polished and professional, I assumed it was an unfamiliar brand expanding to Lake Norman. I was impressed to learn it wasn’t, and that the coffee shop, as well as its cool logo, were the brainchild of owner/entrepreneur Tony Vo.
The name is a nod to all of the water surrounding Cornelius, and the fact that you need it plus the bean to make coffee, he said.
“I’m taking a huge risk, but in life you have to do that sometimes. I have a lot of people counting on me,” said Vo. A peek into his past reveals previous challenges along with a passion for hard work.
A native of Vietnam, Vo came to the United States as a child with his grandfather, a former POW who fought for the US allies in the Vietnam War. When his grandfather was released he was able to move here with his unmarried children and took guardianship over his grandson, Tony. Vo’s parents made the gut-wrenching decision to let their minor child (and oldest son) go, wanting a better life for him, knowing his opportunities here would be infinitely better than any they could provide for him at home. So, Vo left his parents and arrived in this country at the age of 8, not knowing any English, to live the “American Dream.”
He feels a tremendous sense of gratitude toward his grandfather, who has since passed away. Careful not to squander those opportunities, he excelled in school and rushed to graduate college in 3 years.”I wanted to be able to start working right away,” he said.
Armed with a computer engineering degree from University of North Carolina at Charlotte, he landed a job with the federal government in Washington, D.C. However, when he learned he could work from home and relocate anywhere, he returned to the area he had grown to love and now resides with his wife and daughter in the Weatherstone neighborhood, north of Washam Potts Rd.
The rest of his family, including his parents and two younger brothers, are still in Vietnam. He sends money regularly to supplement their income. His goal is to build the brand, franchise it, and bring his brothers here to run it. As he quickly explains, “I can always continue to send them money, but if I teach them how to work for it they can learn to support themselves.”
With a sleek, modern interior, checkerboard ceiling, and state-of-the-art equipment, Waterbean Coffee aims to deliver quality coffee, espresso and teas comparable to what one might expect in Europe. Vo spared no expense when it came to outifitting the space, which can also operate as a restaurant should he decide to do limited cooking. A lunch menu is planned and while he isn’t ready to prep the food himself, he’s actively looking for a local vendor to provide sandwiches and deli items. He’s also working on an alcohol permit, which will allow him to serve wine, a decision that bodes well for this location given its large outdoor patio and proximity to Catawba Ave. Throw in live music and it’s a bona fide nightlife and happy hour spot.
For now, Vo’s concentrating on coffee. Want something that’s not on the menu? Just ask for it. “We can make everything Starbucks makes, only better,” he said.
How does one go from computer engineering to coffee barista? With a crash course in Texas. Vo traveled there, immersed himself in the coffee culture, learning everything he needed to know to run a top notch coffee related business. One lesson he took to heart was the importance of good water. As a result, he installed a separate water filtration system at Waterbean Coffee strictly for coffee beverages, something he says is uncommon in the industry, noting that most places are apt to have one water source for everything. He showed off the system while also pointing to a UNIC Stella di Caffe espresso and cappuccino machine that he believes is the only one in use in the state. While I can’t verify this claim, it’s impossible to overlook his enthusiasm for perfection. And, I can vouch for the quality of the espresso and macchiato. I tried them both and they were delicious.
While coffee takes center stage, his love of cars is evident in the decor. He plans to schedule car themed events in hopes of attracting the “coffee and cars” meetup crowd he had sought out and enjoyed while living in DC. Appealing to other car enthusiasts is a primary goal, as is actively recruiting study groups from nearby Davidson College, and professionals who want space to work and/or meet clients. He’s even willing to reserve an area depending on one’s needs, describing how easy it would be to secure a section for someone’s specific use.
A shelf with branded merchandise completes the interior, all of which is currently for sale and will be available online just in time for the holidays. I joked that if he lost his federal job and this venture failed, he had a future in marketing. He shared with me the makings of the logo from hand drawn sketches he had saved, laughed, and agreed.
“I’ve worked hard all my life” Vo said.
WANT TO GO?
Tony Vo and Waterbean Coffee will host the shop’s first early morning car show, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 16. As you may have guessed, coffee will be served.
Waterbean is at 19420 Jetton Road. Hours are 6am-9pm Monday through Saturday, and 9am-6pm Sunday. www.waterbeancoffee.com Phone (828) 305-9999
HAVE NEWS FOR ROBIN?
Send news about Cornelius people and happenings to Robin Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears Tuesdays on CorneliusNews.net