A little over five years ago, Nate Young, 32, and his brother-in-law Tim McTague, 36, were both touring the country in rock bands. They’d go to city after city, see a bunch of cool things, then come back to Tampa and see the folks doing cool things here leave for other cities.
“I thought, Tampa’s not going to get cool unless someone stays here and makes it cool,” Young said.
We’re sitting in King State, the space he and business partner McTague opened at the end of June on E Floribraska Avenue in Tampa. It’s the first brick-and-mortar location for the pair who spent the last handful of years steadily growing a coffee roasting brand of the same name.
“Back when I was touring, I was obsessed with coffee. It was right at the boom of all that third wave coffee stuff,” Young said. He’s an original member of Anberlin, an alternative/emo group from Florida; McTague toured with Tampa-based metalcore group Underoath. “On tour, I would seek out all these coffee places. Specialty coffee was more of a rarity then.”
He wanted to bring some of that to Tampa, so he came up with the name “King State” and the idea for something like a bar or a shop that sold good coffee. But McTague was adamant about roasting. It was barely a thing in Tampa Bay at the time, save for pioneers like Buddy Brew Coffee.
“I was nervous about doing that,” Young said. “But when we stopped touring around 2013, we kind of had this realization that we should both learn how to roast. I’m not really a numbers person, which is what roasting ultimately is, but I ended up getting really into it.”
The plan was to establish themselves as a coffee roaster first, then open the doors on a place. Not a coffee shop, per se.
“This was always the concept from Day 1 in 2013,” Young said. “We wanted to build a bar that has beer and wine and coffee. With our traveling, especially overseas, we saw those places all the time. You’d be at a cool bar and they would have food and an espresso machine.”
King State was buzzing on the weekday we sat down to chat, and Young said weekends have been even busier. The shop is in a building that used to be a car wash and a car garage, in a residential area north of downtown Tampa, right near a ramp to Interstate 275.
Like other coffee shops in Tampa Bay, they have created a vibe, and the vibe is distinctly chill. It is a place that invites lingering, from the pillow-laden day bed near the front door to the substantial food menu and beer taps lining the back wall.
When Young and McTague started back in 2014, they spent a week training at a small batch roaster in Portland called Water Avenue Coffee. There was a lot to learn about coffee. But at King State, the pair have kept their coffee list simple and welcoming.
“Even years ago, I could never understand why caring about good coffee meant you had to make everyone scared and intimidated,” Young said. “I am seeing more of this trend toward customer service, while still giving people the best cup of coffee. ... It’s more accessible, but the quality is still there. I want my dad to be able to come in and enjoy a cup as much as someone who really loves coffee."
King State’s hearty food selection is overseen by Young’s sister, Carolyn Young, in the in-house kitchen. Items lean in a somewhat Southern direction, things like biscuits and gravy, pulled pork sandwiches, cole slaw and potato salad.
“I thought about what could be good with coffee, and also stuff that could be good with beer.” Young said. “We mostly tried to think of things that people aren’t really doing here. We didn’t want to step on people’s toes. And we didn’t want to be another coffee shop that only served avocado toast.”
Diversifying their offerings made better business sense, too, he said.
“It’s why people are swinging toward being more unique, because they can’t afford to do just one thing,” he said. "Coffee is our biggest seller, but not by much these days. When it came to the food and beer and wine, it was just as much of a focus as everything else.”
The look of King State feels intentional, too, full of warm colors that conjure a ’60s-'70s vibe.
“We were so adamant about it not feeling like somewhere else,” Young said.
The biggest inspiration for the owners and their designer, a longtime friend from Seattle, was the Eames House in California, a bastion of mid-century modern architecture. Some of the glasses at King State look just like ones that belonged to Young’s grandma. The orange found throughout is a nod to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Young’s dad played for the Bucs in the ’70s.
And the bar? If the off-white, flecked surface looks familiar to longtime Floridians, that’s because it was made to look like the terrazzo floors in Publix.
“Publix is my savior,” Young said. “King State is really an extension of who Tim and I are. A juxtaposition of nice and junky."
Young said they intentionally left some cracks in the walls.
“We wanted to pay respect to the neighborhood, to the old garage this used to be in the ’50s. I didn’t want it to feel like we were putting up a wall. But I wanted it to still feel nice enough to be a place where you can have a glass of wine.”