Community first, coffee second.
That’s the credo at Bandit Coffee Co., which at 3 p.m. on a recent weekday was so packed it was hard to find a seat. The shop in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central district opened in 2016, and has since steadily built a loyal following that seems to come as much for the atmosphere as for the cold brew.
Owners Sarah and Joshua Weaver both grew up in the Tampa Bay area, met in high school, dated in college and later married. After graduating from Flagler College in St. Augustine, they moved back to Tampa and worked marketing jobs that didn’t do much for their community-oriented goals.
“I wasn’t investing in our community,” said Joshua, 29. “And I felt a lack of connection with who I was working with.”
They brewed for their coworkers, brought an Aero Press into the office. Eventually, they came to a fork in the road, and chose the path that led to coffee.
“We met at a coffee shop," said Sarah, 28. “Our free time was spent in coffee shops. It became a hobby of ours.”
“We sought it out when we traveled to other cities,” Joshua said. “We fell in love with coffee shops. It felt like the hub of the city, in every new city I stopped in.”
Joshua is hesitant to use the term “entrepreneur,” but it’s safe to say he had a business-oriented mind from a young age.
“I was always interested in serving a need in the market,” he said. In high school, he bought skateboards wholesale then sold them to his peers for a profit, because there wasn’t a local skateboard shop nearby.
That spirit helped them take the leap to open their own space.
Joshua and his dad, who’s a contractor, built most of what you see in the shop, working on weekends over six months to, with Sarah, create a bright, cozy, minimalist vibe.
She’s worked diligently to create a cohesive space and charming aesthetic that extends even to their social media posts.
What about the coffee? Bandit sources its beans from countries like Mexico and roasts them locally. They import single-origin coffees, a fancy way of saying the beans come from one place. They can talk to you about coffee farms and bean grading systems. But the last thing they want to do is alienate people with potentially pretentious terms.
For them, Bandit has first and foremost been a chance to connect with the folks around them.
“It’s become more important to build a space for our actual community,” Joshua said. “We take coffee so seriously. But it’s just coffee at the end of the day. And if we do our jobs right, then the customer will just know it tastes good."
The coffee menu is simple. They don’t do a ton of flavor syrups or pour overs. Baristas are helpful and attentive, offering, “Our new Ethiopian roast is really good."
Sarah and Joshua like places around town that make you feel comfortable as you are, restaurants like Rooster and the Till with stellar service and food where you don’t feel out of place in a T-shirt.
A couple months ago, Bandit started selling beer and wine, focusing especially on natural wines. In May, the Weavers hosted their first event that had nothing to do with coffee: a wine tasting with the Florida-based City Beautiful Beverage Company.
At the end of July, they debuted a short food menu, bringing on chef Shane Schuch to cook to order out of a small kitchen space they built in the back of the shop. For now, it’s various toasts, bowls, egg sandwiches, yogurt parfaits.
There are some interesting touches like pine nut butter on a ricotta toast and an egg-tomato dish called shakshuka, things you may not expect to see in a more traditional coffee shop. Food is served a couple days a week for now, but they are already dreaming up a bigger menu.
Bandit also recently created a new Instagram account, @banditstpete, that’s more broadly focused. It’s full of photos of tantalizing toasts, wines in stock at the shop, teases to upcoming events. There’s barely a coffee cup in sight. (Their original Instagram, @banditcoffeeco, will be used to highlight their coffee partners and their new roastery, a mile away from Bandit.)
They host events monthly now, partnering with wine companies and local food purveyors for happy hours that extend well past their regular hours. On the weekends, they’ve held plant shows and bakery pop-ups.
The idea of an all-day cafe is something the Weavers encountered in Europe and other major cities in America. It’s not a new concept, but it’s one that they felt would be a good fit for their corner of Central Avenue.
“Through our cafe and our staff, we all fell in love with hospitality,” Sarah said. “So that includes coffee, beer, wine and food. Our coffee bar skills have transitioned quite easily.”
Sarah reminisced about a wine bar she visited recently in Montreal that also served a killer breakfast. She thought of it when a group of 21-year-olds came into Bandit a recent weekend morning and bought a bottle of rosé to take with them to the beach.