Community and creativity: How Florida native supports both through coffee

Caroline Bryant | The Southern Newspaper Photo by Kailynn Bannon | Outside of Hillcrest Coffee House

Kailynn Bannon
The Southern Editor

Inside the brick walls of a house on Hillcrest Street, the smell of coffee fills the room and vibrant art covers the walls, hanging above vintage furniture pieces.

Brian Goding is the owner of Hillcrest, a local coffee shop built from a 1920s bungalow. He can be found in the shop having conversations with his employees, working behind the bar making handcrafted drinks for his customers and handling all things behind the scenes from inventory to finances.

Born in Gainesville, Goding is a lifelong Floridian. He went to school in Miami, Lakeland and then back to Gainesville to pursue his bachelor’s degree in marketing. After graduating college, he began working at a small marketing firm in Tampa until he got a position in an eminent domain real estate agency, which lasted for around 25 years.

After raising his children and sending most of them off to college, Goding decided to leave the longest job he ever held.

He made this decision during The Great Recession when several companies struggled to avoid economic collapse.

“I took [the recession] as an opportunity to reevaluate and identify stuff that I felt I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Goding said.

He had the idea of opening a coffee shop back when his eldest son left for school. He would visit his son’s college town and visit local coffee shops that supported local music and arts.

After seeing how the community would gather at these local shops, he felt like there needed to be more outlets for creative people, but filed that idea away for when he did not have a full-time job.

He spent the next few years at his job taking his lunch breaks to drive up and down streets looking for properties that could fulfill this need.

When Goding eventually left his job, he wrote down a list of all his interests and other areas he thought were divergent. This compilation of ideas included real estate, historic properties, performing music at churches, native landscaping and getting involved in the community.

When he left real estate, he revisited the idea of owning a coffee shop. He noticed that whenever he would travel for business, there were not many coffee shops besides Starbucks. He felt that Lakeland in particular had a lack of these places for people to hang out.

“I thought, wow, I could create a place in Lakeland using an old building and converting it, making a welcome space that anybody could come and feel comfortable,” Goding said.

Lakeland is close to Goding’s heart because of his history of living and working in the area, as well as it being the current home of his wife’s family.

“It seemed like a logical thing, I felt like there was a need for that,” he said. “There’s also a huge amount of creative talent, art-wise and music-wise, in the community and I felt like there needed to be more outlets to support that.”

Though Hillcrest celebrated its sixth anniversary this past month, the property was bought ten years ago. Even earlier, Goding bought a different property before its current location.

In 2012, Goding won the bid for an old house in Dixieland that was being auctioned off. When they got the appraisal back, it did not support the price that they had envisioned. They passed on the house, without a backup property in mind.

Luckily, there was another house with a similar setup near Downtown Lakeland that was in foreclosure by a bank. Goding bought the house out of foreclosure and got to work.

There were certain criteria to meet when dealing with old properties, which is why it took years after the property was purchased to open to the public. The house was transformed into office spaces in the 1980s, so Goding had to do renovation work to get it back to that house-like feel.

Goding spent most of his days working in the shop. When all machinery had been installed a year before opening, he would tell people that if they saw his car outside, they could come inside to chat and grab a cup of coffee on the house.

While Goding did not start appreciating coffee until the 1980s, his older brother was the coffee drinker in the family, drinking coffee after church at five years old. His brother gave him coffee beans from Buddy Brew as a gift one year. Goding liked the beans so much that he got them to be the first supplier of coffee at Hillcrest.

Since there were no other local roasters when Hillcrest was starting, Buddy Brew was their first provider. Not only did they provide the beans, but also training for Goding and his staff along with equipment installation. They still partner with Hillcrest to this day.

Hillcrest would go on to partner with Ethos Coffee Roasters, Patriot Coffee Roasters, Honeycomb Bakery and other local bakers.

In the initial hiring process for Hillcrest, no barista background was required. What was required was a background in music or art. He wanted employees involved in creative roles to give them an outlet to display their work and a space to practice.

He decided early on that Thursday nights would be dedicated to live music, to not compete with the weekend night scenes.

When first opening, Goding was always helping out at the store. Because he takes care of all managerial tasks, such as ordering environmentally-friendly agave straws, he is not able to be behind the counter as much as he would like to be.

“For the first six months that the shop was open, I was here,” Goding said.

Goding is not interested in opening up any other shops any time soon. He would rather spend his time helping someone else open their shop. Besides running the shop, his main goal is to make sure that everyone is welcome and comfortable.

“I wanted anybody walking in the door to feel welcome even before they opened the door,” Goding said.

He wants the needs of his customers to be put first before gaining a large social media presence, as well. 

“I don’t feel like we really need to be on social media unless we’re shining the light on somebody else and what they’re doing,” Goding said.

Goding’s favorite part about his job is the people. He loves getting to see couples have their first dates at the shop, and later get married. He has even hosted weddings at Hillcrest.

One of the most rewarding things he experiences every day at Hillcrest is “getting to know folks, breaking down boundaries and just making connections.”

“I want the place to feel like it’s your own,” Goding said.

After accomplishing his dream of creating a space for Lakelanders to connect, he only wishes that everyone else in the community has an opportunity to follow their dreams as well.


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