Cats and Coffee: What Makes Dos Gatos Coffee Bar
For over 33 years, Dick Nelson has held businesses in downtown Johnson City, Tenn., Nelson’s Dos Gatos has been housed in its current location since 2017 but started long before that.
Dos Gatos is, located at 238 E. Main St., a coffee shop that welcomes everyone who craves a little caffeine, a little conversation and a lot of homage to cats. Nelson and his girlfriend, Kate Pierce, began the coffee shop, formerly known as Brew Plum, in Nelson’s Fine Arts located at 205 Colonial Way.
“We wanted to have good coffee and my girlfriend has worked in coffee, so she had coffee expertise and I didn’t,” said Nelson. “So, we started it [in Nelson’s Fine Arts] and then when we moved it down there [to E. Main St.] we went from having two employees to having 12 employees…we always wanted to have really good coffee, really good beans and really good people.”
The original name of Brew Plum was changed after the Blue Plum Festival relocated out of Johnson City. Nelson said that he and Pierce struggled to find a good name to suit the coffee shop. He said that one night they went out for dinner and saw two black cats upon stepping out of the car—over dinner the words “dos gatos” came up and the name has stuck ever since.
“We make all of our own syrups for drinks, all except for the chocolate [syrup],” said Nelson. “They’re all recipes by either my girlfriend or the baristas on staff.”
The one thing that Nelson said is most important to him is using organic ingredients and creating a more sustainable coffee environment. He says that the main reason they create syrups in-house is to reduce the amount of fructose corn syrup that they provide. Nelson’s main mission with Dos Gatos is to create a more eco-friendly environment surrounding coffee. To maintain this standard, Nelson works with Counter Culture Coffee, located in Asheville, N.C., which works directly with farmers.
“Counter Culture has barista training, so they have four training centers around the country, one of them is in Asheville,” said Nelson. “So, we send our baristas to period training and there is a certification they can get…we try to motivate them to do it because as they reach certain levels, their pay increases.”
Barista James Edgar has worked in the specialty coffee industry since 2005, he originally started out in a coffeeshop in his hometown of Seattle. He joined the team at Dos Gatos in 2018 after finishing a graduate assistantship at East Tennessee State University. He explained that he became interested in working at Dos Gatos after going in for a cup of coffee and seeing a Marzocco espresso machine—a machine he was well versed in from his experience in Seattle.
“Johnson City, when I first moved here, didn’t really have any kind of a coffee scene to speak of,” said Edgar. “I just came in [to Dos Gatos] one day, I noticed that they had good coffee at that time…and then I saw the espresso machine…and if you don’t have good coffee, or you don’t have good equipment, then it’s really impossible to have good stuff, which led me to working here.”
Edgar said that working at Dos Gatos is not a job of passion, but rather a way for him to continue crafting his coffee-brewing skills. He said that the work environment is very friendly and that the team of baristas feels like a family. Edgar notes that though he has already had the experience that Counter Culture offers, he recognizes its importance, especially in this region, for training baristas.
“When we were still serving Stumptown [Coffee,] their closest office was up in New York, so they had one regional trainer for the southeast that covered everything from here to D.C.,” said Edgar. “So [baristas] didn’t have that access or that kind of structural support from the roaster.
“Especially in this area, you don’t have 10-year experienced baristas just walking around the corner all the time,” he continued. “To be able to hire somebody new that’s maybe never worked in coffee and be able to send them over to Asheville for the day to take a couple of classes—that’s a really awesome thing.”
Edgar also mentioned that Counter Culture is extremely transparent in its sustainability reports. This information can be found on the company’s website where it lists transparency reports from 2009 to 2021. Sustainability is one of the many values that Dos Gatos prides itself on along with creating a welcoming and cozy atmosphere.
“I absolutely love Dos Gatos, it’s one of my favorite places to get a coffee,” said patron Ethan Martinez. “I know I can always count on a pick-me-up throughout the day and can take a few minutes to breathe before I start my day.”
Martinez said he stops by often to enjoy the atmosphere and study with friends. He said that if he were more interested in the coffee industry he would enjoy working there. Barista and Social Media Manager Anna Adelfang has worked at Dos Gatos since 2019 and enjoys crafting her creative skills in coffee and digital content.
"It’s been fun just to kind of learn more about coffee and increase my skills as a barista…it’s one of those things like a kind of challenge, it’s fun to work out my skills and get better at it,” said Adelfang.
She enjoys the content creation aspect of her job because it has allowed her to explore her creativity and add to her portfolio. Adelfang is a junior at ETSU studying Media and Communication. In her position at Dos Gatos, she focuses on emphasizing in-house ingredients and the care and craft baristas put into everything that is served. Adelfang said it is important for customers to know that they are receiving a good quality product. Additionally, she noted that business has been booming and that they never slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been here for four years and every year has gotten busier than the last,” said Adelfang. “It’s gotten to be where the [customer] volume is more than what our current setup can handle.
“I think we are planning a bar remodel in the next couple of months,” she added. “Once that happens, there will be a better flow, especially when we’re busier, which I think will lead to faster service and more satisfied customers.”
Adelfang explains how cool it has been to watch the coffee shop grow and evolve throughout her time at Dos Gatos. She hopes that once business booms even more that the shop will be able to expand and create more room for patrons. Additionally, Dos Gatos gives back to the community by showcasing local artists.
“We started having art shows in Nelson’s Fine Arts in 2002 and when we moved Dos Gatos into that location [on E. Main St.] we wanted another gallery,” said Nelson. “Plus, we wanted people to come in and feel like they’re coming to a new place when we have our art rotation, so it kind of changes the vibe every month.”
Nelson recognizes artists throughout the Johnson City area. As of late March, Sealea Marie is the featured artist at Dos Gatos. Sealea received a bachelor’s degree in Chicago, Ill., before relocating to northeast Tennessee. The shop is known to focus on student artists as well from either ETSU, Milligan College or Northeast State Community College.
From featuring community artists to providing a future for sustainable coffee to creating a welcoming space, Dos Gatos offers a lot for coffee enjoyers. As Dick Nelson quotes James Cash Penny, “It is the service we are not obliged to give that people value most.”
To learn more about Counter Culture Coffee, please visit counterculturecoffee.com.
For more information about Dos Gatos, please visit dosgatoscoffee.com or visit their social media pages @dosgatoscoffee.