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Meet Will Shurtz, the 22-Year-Old Helping Shape Coffee in Greenville, S.C.

will shurtz

Will Shurtz of Vagabond Barista and Methodical Coffee

Will Shurtz always figured he’d be going to college, but at age 17, plans changed in a big way when he jumped with both feet into specialty coffee.

After working behind the counter and not long out of high school, Shurtz launched his own brand, Vagabond Barista, a mobile pop-up and apt self-description that took him throughout his native Greenville, S.C., and eventually to events throughout North America, wherever he could find table space and willing tasters.

“I love coffee and I love to travel, so that’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to do since high school,” says Shurtz, whose travel time is about to be severely diminished with the upcoming opening of Methodical Coffee, a 1,300-square-foot downtown Greenville bar with a floor-to-ceiling glass facade and a large mezzanine.

Shurtz signed the lease on the space earlier this summer along with friends and business partners Marco Suarez, who is handling the brand’s design and marketing, and David Baker, a former hostel operator in Prague who is running the business end. Shurtz, naturally, is running the coffee program, one that he says will have the potential to take the emerging coffee culture in Greenville to the next level.

David Baker, Will Shurtz and Marco Suarez.

David Baker, Will Shurtz and Marco Suarez.

“Downtown Greenville is a really exciting place to be right now,” says Shurtz, a certified lead instructor with the Barista Guild of America. “It has become a real foodie town. The coffee shops here — there are good ones — are mostly laid back. We like that about Greenville, and we want our shop to be inviting, but we really want to put out a really professional vibe and build a culture for professional baristas.”

To that end, Shurtz plans to train a team of baristas, then help encourage and support their professional development through classes, workshops, competitions and other events outside the bar. “We want them to take classes, get certified, be professionals,” he says, adding that the Vagabond Barista brand will not be retired, but the concept will be folded into Methodical coffee’s outreach.

The infamous Vagabond Barista suitcase.

The infamous Vagabond Barista suitcase.

The bar design itself will also communicate a more buttoned-up vibe than Greenville may be accustomed to in its coffee shops. “The general aesthetic is going to be very clean,” says Shurtz. “Around here there is a lot of upcycled wood and reclaimed barn stuff, and we like that, but we’re going for more marble, cement, subway tiles — lots of blacks, grays and whites.”

Facing customers as they walk in will be the back of a modded out, white powder-coated espresso machine with wood panelling, while the smaller side of the L-shaped bar will have a manual brew bar, doubling as a space for more interaction between barista and customer. While Kalita Wave pourovers will be available all day, Batch-brewed coffee will be on hand during the morning rush.

Expanding on a 1920s upscale cocktail lounge theme, Methodical’s menu will include “Prohibition Cocktails,” alcohol-free coffee-based drinks that are likely to rotate based on local and coffee seasonality.

As for the coffee itself, Shurtz says Methodical is poised to be the first true multi-roaster cafe in Greenville, and he hopes to begin by offering coffees from companies he’s come to know during his professional travels, including Ceremony Coffee (Annapolis, Md.), Counter Culture (Durham, N.C.), Huckleberry Roasters (Denver), 1,000 Faces (Athens, Ga.) and Verve (Santa Cruz, Calif.). Says Shurtz, “I’d like to start with five roasters, make sure we really have our system organized, and then bump it up to eight or 10.”

Helping launch a substantial retail project in the center of a growing city full of young entrepreneurs, Shurtz has quickly come a long way from the 17-year-old pulling shots with no obvious life direction.

“When I was 17 and starting to realize that maybe I wanted to do coffee for a living, the next thing I realized was how hard that was to do,” says Shurtz. “There is no clear way in specialty coffee; you have to make your own way. Some of the mentors I’ve had along the way helped me just by repeating, ‘Be consistent, and be good at what you do, and you can make a way.”

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