Gilly Brew Bar: Rewriting History In Stone Mountain Village
Daniel Brown realized that he would be the person to make an innovative space for coffee and tea while tagging along for his grandfather’s baptism in Jamaica.
“In that moment, I just heard the Lord say, ‘I think you should be the one doing the coffee shop,’” Brown said. “So, I didn't question it. I just ran with it.”
Brown said he sees parallels between baptism and brewing coffee.
“You have coffee, which is then broken down, like we are broken individuals. And that coffee gets placed into a filter, whether that be a paper filter or metal filter. And then we submerged it with water. Whether it's a pour-over, an immersion... some way, form or fashion, that coffee is then covered with water. And then it drips out and it comes out brand new,” Brown said.
Brown makes coffee in his shop named for his grandfather, Gilly Brew Bar, in Stone Mountain Village, a small town with a history of heavy racial division and the revival of the Ku Klux Klan.
Brown grew up as an only child in Brooklyn with his Jamaican family. He said he was prepared for entrepreneurship by the hustling attitude of New York. He started small by selling candy on trains in the city and water bottles in the summer. That proved to be a stepping stone for something bigger.
“That's always kind of been planted in me, just wanting to use my gifts in a way to benefit the community and helping the family,” Brown said.
In the summer of 2009, right after high school, Brown moved in with his grandmother in Decatur. What was originally a summer break turned into a permanent residence as it give him an opportunity to mature and give his newly remarried mother space to enjoy her marriage. To him, the reason for his change of scenery wasn’t too significant, but it led him to new territory in the city of Stone Mountain.
Several years later, Brown and his wife, Shellane, started looking around for land to buy. They’re advocates for new urbanism, a term Brown said focused on walkable communities.
“What it is is that new developers try to intentionally create a community in which neighbors would interact,” Brown said. “You have a main street with residential homes surrounding it. It's just smart design and community done well.”
They had some examples to go by as they searched, like Pinewood Forest in Fayetteville, and eventually purchased a large all-white home on Mimosa Drive, a perfect opportunity for expansion.
“We came across this property and, in a lot of ways, we noticed how much Stone Mountain Village was built like a new urbanist community,” Brown said. “It's just not done well.”
While Stone Mountain Village is a more quiet community compared to others in metro Atlanta, it has a past in racial tension and Brown faced racial profiling since he bought the property.
Nearby residents would see Brown entering and exiting the property and call the police, who would then park on Brown’s property and patrol him. They eventually stopped after he confronted them.
“Just because I look a certain way doesn't mean that I am a certain way,” Brown said. “I want to be able to change the narrative of what a black male looks like, especially in historic Stone Mountain Village.”
The white building, now dubbed The Mayor’s House, was built by enslaved Africans in 1834 and served several roles since then. It was once the home of Stone Mountain’s first mayor Andrew Johnson, then a hospital during the Civil War, a hotel, and lastly a Southern fine dining restaurant.
Brown wanted to use it as a cultivating space for his community.
“Coffee shop, restaurant and a space where people could work. It was what was needed,” Brown said. “And so we said, ‘All right we'll do that. Coffee shop, restaurant and coworking space.’”
Then, Gilly Brew Bar was born.
Brown said he approaches making coffee and tea in unconventional ways.
“What I've tried to incorporate into the coffee and tea is our approach when it comes to pairing coffee or teas with other flavors that people wouldn't normally try.” Brown said.
Every season, there’s five new flavor mixes, or elixirs, to try and Brown said that’s what makes Gilly Brew Bar stand out.
“They're always us trying to take risks and kind of step out the box,” he said. “I don't think many coffee shops are doing that.”
Since Brown’s purchase of The Mayor’s House, he feels like he’s making history with his passion for people, art and brews.
Every first Saturday of the month, he showcases local artists in his shop who perform in front of a packed crowd. Nearby painters and illustrators sell their art on the walls. Without any advertising, Gilly Brew Bar has made a sustainable business only from word of mouth.
“I don't think it's by mistake that we're here,” Brown said. “This property is a gem and I'm blessed to be part of whatever story the world is writing here.”