The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday June 2nd

Business brewing for Carrboro coffeehouse owner

<p>Shaw Sturton works alongside Laura Leech at Grey Squirrel, a new coffee show in Carrboro.</p>
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Shaw Sturton works alongside Laura Leech at Grey Squirrel, a new coffee show in Carrboro.

“That was really beautiful to watch,” he said. And for Sturton, seeing that relatively ordinary moment is what he said business is all about: providing customers not only with handcrafted coffee, but also a well-crafted experience.

Sturton began his coffee career more than 12 years ago, and in that time, he has gone from working behind the bar making beverages to traveling the world buying coffee beans. When his wife took a job at UNC, the two quickly settled on making Carrboro their home.

“We ended up looking at Durham and Raleigh, and the realtor showed us Carrboro, and after wandering around, we just fell in love with it,” he said. “We have a home literally across the street, where I can walk to work and my wife can walk to work.”

Gray Squirrel Coffee Co. has been open for just under a month, but through Sturton’s meticulous work and dedicated employees, it has steadily made a name for itself in Carrboro.

“It’s my most favorite coffee selection around here,” customer Sarah Honer said. “It really reminds me of my time spent in the Bay Area. I’m here as often as I can be.”

After spending time getting to know his community, Sturton set out to find his own space to open a small walk-up coffee bar, but his vision changed when he met the owner of YesterYears Brewery, who asked if Sturton wanted to share a space.

Now nestled between the ArtsCenter and Cat’s Cradle, Gray Squirrel offers customers a limited menu of options, which Sturton spent weeks working on.

“There’s this old saying that it’s science and art, and I like to say coffee and roasting is science and art,” he said. “We’re not scientists, but we do like to consider ourselves artists. That being said, we do delve into the scientific side of things as much as we can.”

Not only does Sturton work closely with his importers to make sure they’re providing the best beans — he also roasts them himself in the back of the shop.

“Sometimes a roast tastes better dark, and we’re not afraid to tiptoe that line and go onto the dark side. We generally don’t. We like to play right there in the middle,” he said.

And while the self-proclaimed coffee geek loves to experiment with his beans, Sturton said the best part of his business is how it enables him to meet new people.

“I think my favorite thing about coffee is creating relationships, be that behind the counter or out traveling to the regions meeting producers and sitting down for a meal with their families,” he said.

As his business continues to grow, Sturton said Gray Squirrel’s next big step is getting its online business up and running so he can share his North Carolina-roasted coffee with people back home. He hopes the online store will be fully functioning within the next three months.

Until then, Sturton and his employees are focused on providing the best coffee experience around — evident when he beamed with pride as first-time customer Tonya Sink congratulated him on his espresso.

“It’s my first time, but espresso-wise, it’s very smooth, which isn’t always the case with espresso,” Sink said. “It’s delicious.”



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