Matthew Bolick is a co-owner of two popular East Austin coffee businesses: Flat Track Coffee, a roaster and small coffee shop, and Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, where the second “Brew” stands for beer. Bolick’s path from barista to boss has paralleled the evolution of Austin’s coffee scene over the last decade. The native Texan is a fan of the community of designers, manufacturers, and eateries to which he belongs. He’s also an example of how to use Austin’s laid-back style as a strategy to keep things simple in order to focus on your passions. We caught up with him at the Brew & Brew to talk about coffee, fancy socks, and being a secret drummer.
Tell us about Flat Track and Wright Bros.
I’m the bridge between the two. Flat Track is my buddy Sterling and myself, and then some wonderful folks that help us out. It’s a roasting company and a really small cafe as well. We’re working on some more projects for that so it’s going to grow quite a bit in the not-too-distant future. The Brew & Brew is myself and two brothers—the Wright Brothers—Matt and Grady. Next door is Byron & Blue, which is clothing and different smallwares, and then Punctum Records—they’re a local record label, and Mark Stowe, he does leather work. So we’ve got kind of a collaborative space, which is cool.
When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing that you do?
Probably get up, wander around the house for a little bit, maybe make an AeroPress coffee for my girlfriend and I, shower, shave, and then just throw on clothes. As far as clothes are concerned, I’ve got like one pair of Levi’s, some fancy shirts for nice days, and random stuff I got from Billy Reid when I did an event there. Usually I wear shirts of my friends that I support, like right now I’m wearing a shirt from Indy Coffee, which is in San Antonio, and Flat Track sells coffee to them. I’m kind of lucky; a lot of my friends are designers and stuff, so I have some nice-looking shirts. So that’s kind of usually what I go for, which is like pretty casual. A T-shirt, jeans, and sometimes, fancy socks.
Do you have a grooming routine to start the day?
I don’t grow much in the way of facial hair, but I still buy razors and shave my face every morning. I get my hair cut at Peacock Salon down the street by this guy named Joel Hamburger, who’s great. Lately, I’m letting it go. Wintertime means longer hair—right?
What is it like to stay clean-shaven in a town known for its facial hair competitions?
I like to keep my look kind of dialed in, keep the hair relatively short, and be clean-shaven. I’m behind the bar, making drinks for customers, and I like to appear to be pretty professional. I feel that lends itself to professionalism as well.
What’s the one crucial item that you wear?
My girlfriend made this super simple little bracelet. I’ve never worn bracelets in my life but she made it, and she’s got one. That, and I like nice socks. You put them on and you kind of get stoked about it. So on a day when you’re wearing a T-shirt and jeans, and you’ve got fancy socks, it’s a nice little accent.
How does your look change when you’re going out at night?
Generally it’s going to be pretty similar to being on-bar because I try to dress pretty nice when I’m working a shift. I haven’t really been making much coffee lately because I’ve been running around doing other things that need to be done, but I like to wear a nice long-sleeved button-up, jeans, and boots. I have a denim jacket that I throw on every now and then. I think that’s kind of the standard in Austin, too. When you go out to eat, there’s no dress code at places here; it’s more of just about comfort level and feeling good.
Do you find that Austin’s casual aesthetic has held on as the town has grown?
I’ve definitely noticed heavy-duty changes in our section. I think it’s great. You see restaurants now on the east side of town where you definitely wouldn’t have seen a Maserati parked out front. That’s a sign of the times. I think we’re still carrying that casual attitude, which is inherently Austin. I think it’ll stay. We’ve got a lot of people that are moving here from other places, so we’ll see some changes, but it would take a whole lot to jostle that level of casual out of Austin and turn it into something more serious and fancy.
You’re a native Texan, right?
I am. I’ve been in Austin for probably ten years, maybe a little more. I grew up outside of Fort Worth in a really small town. I started working in coffee in Fort Worth and got really into it about five or six years ago at Frank, as they have a really great coffee program. I started serving Intelligentsia coffee under Tyler Wells, who went on to open Handsome Coffee Roasters and do his own thing called Blacktop.
How has the coffee scene in Austin changed since then?
We’ve seen a lot of changes. There’s never been a better time. I feel like I’ve said that on a lot of occasions but there’s never really been a better time to be in coffee. We’re definitely just now starting to catch up to other large coffee cities like San Francisco, L.A., Chicago, Portland, which have been doing it like this for a long time. I think we’ve come a long way, and it’s just getting better and better. We’ve got a really nice community, I’m lucky to be a part of it.
What inspires you?
I really like concepts that are very small and deliberate. The project that I have in my head right now is based around that idea as well. It’s like a very small menu. I really like breakfast and lunch a lot, so that's a direction I’d like to move in—very small, well-tailored, super-deliberate spaces.
What tool do you use every day?
I haven’t been making as much coffee as I was when I was actually on-bar, but the espresso machine is the backbone of both businesses in my mind—that and the roaster. The espresso tamp is a pretty common tool that I use most of the time. I remember when I bought my first one. You have your own tamp instead of using some shop’s tamp. It’s kind of a big deal, I think. I’d go with that. It’s very specific. You need it to get a lot done.
How will your interest in highly focused concepts manifest in future projects?
I’m determined to keep what we’re doing pretty small and do things that I’m really excited about and the people that I’m working with are really excited about, and just those things and not try to add too much. Here, we’ve got a really small menu of coffee and a really big menu of beer and I think that’s really neat since you’ve got a lot of options, and we’re doing the coffee that we do in the way that we want to serve it. So there are a lot of options but it’s also a very dialed-in concept. And that’s what I want to continue to do.
What’s one thing that would surprise everyone who knows you?
I’m in a band. Since I opened Flat Track and the Brew & Brew, I haven’t really had time, but now I’m taking weekends off and I’m off at a decent hour most of the time. I play the drums—that’s something I feel like none of my employees probably know. I’ve got a band with my buddies, it’s called Crossbows, and we’re not playing shows or anything yet but I’m sure it’ll get there at some point. It’s pretty heavy, loud music. I’d be interested to see what an employee would say after coming to a show, but I probably won’t tell them. I’ll just let them figure it out on their own.