When he was 21, Chris McArthur was deployed to Iraq as part of the Marine Corps Reserves, and the experience left him with “an overwhelming sense of urgency to begin living.” So he decided to move back to his hometown, get married and start a business with his brother, Mike.
Eight years later, it sounds pretty simple, but Black & Brew didn’t grow into a staple of Downtown Lakeland overnight. Back then, Chris was going to school full-time for Advertising and Business at UF, but that overwhelming sense of urgency made him realize that he needed to go into business for himself. In 2004, Mike and Chris began discussing what kind of business they wanted.
Chuckling, Chris remembers, “We had to choose something because we didn’t have experience in anything.” What they did have were complementary skills — Mike had the charisma and personality, Chris had the business acumen — and a love of coffee.
“Coming from a Latin background, coffee was a big part of that culture. It just seemed like a natural fit for us to pursue that passion.”
And it took passion, indeed. Chris, a newlywed at the time, recalls spending many nights on the couches that once lined Black & Brew’s right wall.
“On the days when we had to be here until 11:00 at night, and I knew I had to be back here at 4 in the morning, it just made more sense.”
Luckily, his wife was (and still is) supportive of the whole thing, and while Chris has managed to achieve balance in his life, his passion for great coffee hasn’t changed, even if his menu has.
It is that time of year when Black & Brew features some winter seasonal original drinks that warm you up and make you feel all good inside. The current menu features favorites, like hot chocolate and peppermint mocha, but every item has a unique spin.
Take the Mexican Hot Chocolate, for example. At first sip, it seems like a simple albeit quite rich hot chocolate. But a moment later, you feel the heat of cayenne pepper and cinnamon, and you know you’ve ordered something extraordinary. The spiciness may seem odd at first, but it keeps you coming back sip after sip, and the drink warms you in more ways than one.
Then there’s the Peppermint Mocha and its frozen cousin the Peppermint Chip Frappe. Where lots of peppermint drinks this time of year remind you of sucking on a candy cane, the peppermint at Black & Brew is subtle, perfectly blending with the rich semisweet chocolate and Latin espresso, which Chris prefers over the traditional Italian espresso because it’s what he grew up with.
And of course, the holiday menu wouldn’t be complete without an Eggnog Latte. This is actually new to Black & Brew. Chris gets input from his whole staff when building his menu, and one of his team suggested it this year. The silky sweetness of the eggnog pairs well with the familiar bite of espresso to delight even non-fans of eggnog. If winter and holiday drinks aren’t your cup of tea (pun intended), amazing lattes and creamy frappes are available year-round, and Chris drinks his own Cold Brew every day! If you haven’t had it, the Cold Brew is a real treat. It’s brewed for twelve hours with no heat, which allows the coffee’s natural sweetness to shine through.
Of course, over the years, Black & Brew has evolved into more than a coffee house. In their first year, Chris and Mike decided to invest in a kitchen, and Chris attributes much of their success to that decision. Black & Brew is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a variety of delectable options, like the sweet and savory Turkey and Brie sandwich.
Ultimately, Chris’ goal has always been to create a space where people can feel comfortable, whenever they want for as long as they want. “People can come to Black & Brew at any time for any reason. It doesn’t need to be a special occasion.”
Yet with the amazing items on their ever-changing seasonal menu, fantastic food any time of day and the knowledge that you’ll always be treated as a valued guest on every visit to Black & Brew feels like a special occasion.