Daniel Brown has a lot on his plate. The owner of Stone Mountain-based Gilly Brew Bar, Brown is in the process of opening a second location in Atlanta while working on opening a kitchen and cocktail bar space in the original Stone Mountain Village location.
Gilly Brew Bar, known for its cocktail-like coffees and teas they call “elixirs,” will open a second location later this year in the front portion of tattoo artist Miya Bailey’s Peters Street Station.
A community-driven coffee shop, Brown said Gilly’s main goal “is to get to understand the community that we’re in because we feel that’s the best way we can meet the needs of the people in that community.”
Despite finding success in the first location, opening in April 2018, Brown said he was initially reluctant to open another bar. Planning with the long view in sight, Brown says he wanted to build for longevity, not expansion.
“At the time, I really just wanted to focus on the growth here and didn’t want to grow the business too quickly,” Brown said in an interview with What Now Atlanta. “But my wife had asked me if I did want to open another location, what would be the ideal location? And I wanted to serve in a community where the A.U.C. [Atlanta University Center Consortium] was.”
The opportunity came shortly after that conversation, when Mori Russell, granddaughter of Atlanta entrepreneur Herman J. Russell, connected Brown with Bailey, who was looking for a coffee shop for Peters Street. After a couple of months of talking, Gilly Brew Co. announced its Peters Street opening on Juneteenth, holding a popup at Peters Street Station.
“I actually didn’t have a set time as to when I wanted to announce it, but with the way 2020 has panned out, I knew I wanted to have kind of a celebratory moment for the Black community,” he said. “It just made perfect sense to announce it on the 19th for Juneteenth.”
Gilly Brewing Co. will continue to hold popups up until its opening later this year. For Brown, these popups are a way to introduce themselves to the community. Brown says that the reception from the people in the area has been encouraging.
“I had a lot of students who graduated from Clark or Morehouse or Spelman who said that they wish we were there four years ago when they were at school” he said. “They were like, ‘we needed something like this.’”
Brown says that the popups are also a way to understand the community they’re joining and cater its services to the community’s needs. “We still plan to do innovative drinks and elixirs, but a lot of them will probably look a little different just because we want to stay relevant to that community,” he said.
Though the menus will vary between the two bars, on a broader scope, the intentions behind the two locations are different because the communities they’re in are different. The Peters Street location will reflect the predominantly Black arts community and Black-owned business that surround it.
“It will most likely be reflective of [the community], just being a Black-owned business, and wanting to let the world know that just because we’re Black-owned, doesn’t mean that our prices should be any lesser,” he said. “I want to promote that although we’re a Black-owned business, we can do things with excellence as well, kind of a celebratory, artistic, very prideful demeanor.”
Meanwhile, in Stone Mountain, where a lot of racial tension still lingers, Gilly Brew Bar works to build relationships. “A lot of the events we put on, a lot of the strategic relations that we build are always with that in mind, trying to figure out ways we can help to reconcile that division that occurs here,” Brown said.
This is partly why the Gilly Brew Co. is opening a kitchen in its Stone Mountain location, which the Gilly team refer to as the Mayor’s House. “I knew that it would be great to bring a restaurant back especially because there’s not that much diversity [in Stone Mountain] in relation to food and different cuisines,” he said.
Built in 1834 by slaves, the Mayor’s House has a long history. It housed Stone Mountain’s first mayor, Andrew Johnson, served as a hospital during the Civil War, operated as a hotel, then a restaurant.
When Brown bought the building six years ago and learned that it used to be a restaurant, opening a restaurant was a given to him. “It already came with a grease trap,” he said.
To increase culinary diversity, Brown is planning on inviting several chefs to the Mayor’s House throughout the year, rotating different types of cuisines through the kitchen. He is also working on acquiring the permits and licenses necessary to open the cocktail program he’s developing.
However, he says that over the course of opening and developing his business, he’s received a lot of pushback from the city.
“I can write a whole book on the many hiccups that I’ve had just solely on the lack of support,” he said. “They’ve put certain systems in place that will make any business owner have a difficult time opening up.”
That said, since Brown owns the Stone Mountain property, he has a lot of freedom in controlling the speed of growth in his company. It also means his business wasn’t hit nearly as hard by the coronavirus than those leasing their spaces. In fact, his business has actually expanded during the coronavirus.
“A lot of people are seeing how many businesses have been affected due to corona, but when you look at our business, it’s the exact opposite. We’ve been able to grow,” he said. “I’m always trying to encourage people to look into ownership, especially the Black community.”
Though Brown has built a business that can withstand a pandemic, he wants to build something longer lasting. “I wanted to really establish a brand and a legacy for my family,” he said
In building that legacy, he has surrounded himself with a team of people that believe in what he believes in.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am if I wasn’t surrounded around a team that has grasped onto the vision of the business,” he said. “We know that this is something really special.”