Brian Wells is an artist. A visual storyteller through the medium of photography. His work captures unfiltered moments of reality that reflect an array of emotions and humanity. He is also the owner of Tougo Coffee near the International District, where his artistic talents expand to baking and coffee-making. Despite his obvious talents, Wells humbly clarifies that his café is not about him, it’s about how he can personally serve the community.
“There isn't much about me on the Tougo Coffee website because it's not about me at all,” he said. “It's about coffee. It's about the community. I just happen to be the middle person. I'm a Christian, so there's God, the owner and creator, and then there's me, the steward of the shop.”
Wells wasn’t involved in Christian ministry when he started his business, but he gradually became more involved with his faith, and today uses it as a tool to be a better person, and to become more available to people.
“I don’t use my beliefs to proselytize to anyone, but to be a better person for people,” he said. “People will come into the cafe and ask if I’m the owner. I tell them that God owns it and I’m just the steward. I say it without shame and without fear of guests not returning because I believe in God. If someone doesn't want to come back, that's fine. There will be room for somebody else to come in that I may be able to bless with laughter, a community conversation, or inspirational word or two.”
Wells got his start with coffee in 1992 when some of his friends in Boston opened a café and he jumped on board to help out. He fell in love with the service industry and discovered that serving was his calling.
“My preordained life work is to serve,” he said. “I like to say that I'm serving everybody a little bit of God,that's my secret sauce. Whether I’m preparing sourdough breads, making coffee, or doing a photo shoot, there’s a little bit of God in there.”
Wells left Boston, and moved to Seattle in 1996. In 2007, he opened Tougo Coffee, as well as co-founded and designed Cortona Cafe, Banister Wine & Charcuterie bar in the Central District. Through challenging economic times, and now a world-wide pandemic, Wells continues to create and serve the Seattle community with the comforts of homemade breads, coffee, and human connection.
“The opportunity to give back has been a blessing over the last several months,” said Wells. “Because we are essential workers, we are able to provide a sense of normalcy to people on a daily basis. When guests come into the coffee shop and need to talk, my job is to listen. I’m not judgmental. I don’t try to fix things. Over the last year, there have been plenty of people that have come in depressed and scared. It's important to listen and let them know they’re being heard.”
In addition to having a friendly ear to bend, we can’t forget what Tougo Coffee is all about - coffee. Coffee aficionados will instantly recognize the care and technique Wells employs to create his coffee drinks. Far from bitter, these beans are prepared to a smooth and delicious cup o’ joe, that even the pickiest java connoisseur will give a sigh of appreciation. Paired with some warm, delicious sourdough bread, breakfast tacos, or other tasty treats, Tougo Coffee nurtures their clientele with welcoming words and comforting sustenance.
“Tougo Coffee is a great place to enjoy a wonderful cup of coffee, make new friends, or meet up with old friends,” said Wells. “I'm just a guy trying to be good. I want everyone, no matter their circumstances, to come into my business. You're not a customer to me, you're a guest. It's important for us to treat everyone with respect and dignity. As for me, I just show up and do what I'm supposed to do, which is to treat people right.”
Tougo Coffee is located at 860 Yesler in Seattle. They are open daily from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Want to support more small businesses like Tougo? We're proud to collaborate with Intentionalist, an online guide that makes it easier for you to find/connect with diverse local businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.