Foundation Coffee Roasters may not be the easiest place to find, but customers say it’s definitely worth the effort. And once they know where it is, they return.
It’s at 9650 Main St., No. 46, in Fairfax’s Fair City Mall. But it’s actually behind and down one side of the mall. Drive past Chipotle and Bed, Bath & Beyond, toward the trees, turn right and head downhill until the white-painted brick with the glass door appears.
“My head roaster and I were looking for a space large enough for us to roast our own beans and to have an open look, where people could easily find a seat and enjoy their coffee,” said owner Hae Woon Kim. “When I heard about this space, I was skeptical because it’s on the back of the shopping center and had no windows [then].
“But I saw its possibilities to provide a unique experience to people. And Fred Cornett, with Fair City Mall, believed in our ideas and liked our concept, so I’m grateful to him. We expected to open last spring, but COVID delayed it until fall. I didn’t know how comfortable people would be coming into a coffee shop, but business has been good. We’re open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and people are asking us to expand our hours.”
Foundation offers a wide range of hot and cold beverages, plus French pastries – homemade on site daily and overseen by a pastry chef. “We made sure our pastries and coffees complemented each other so they don’t overwhelm the taste of the coffee. And we only use quality ingredients, so they taste really good.”
Besides coffee, there are espressos, cappuccinos, lattes and affogatos, as well as hot chocolate and a variety of black, green and herbal teas. “Our teas come from Steven Smith, and we blend them to make the custom tea drinks,” said Kim. These include iced tea lattes and an Oregon chai latte.
AS FOR THE COFFEE, he said, “We’re very proud because we roast our own beans here. We’re a specialty coffee shop; our niche is that we’re so committed to our coffee. Even our syrups are house-made.” He and head roaster Brad Kim (no relation) – a former opera singer – met at church, shared their passion for coffee and joked about opening their own shop.
Hae worked in IT then and Brad became a head roaster at another coffee place. But they eventually reunited, and Foundation Coffee Roasters is the result. ”Our approach to coffee is precision and accuracy – having complete control of the coffee drinks we offer to our customers,” said Hae Kim.
They have a special, glass-walled, roasting room where customers may see their two roasters. Each one roasts 1-1/2 pounds of beans at a time to yield two 12-ounce bags of beans. Operating that way, explained Hae Kim, “We get small-batch roasts with consistent flavor, no matter what drinks people order. We’re committed to the little details, so the amount the customers pay is worthwhile. We also make sure the servers can accommodate customers’ requests without compromising quality.”
The shop’s interior is large and airy. “When designing it, I thought of a theater,” said Kim. “Center stage is the coffee bar and prep area, with raised, stadium seating and tables on the perimeter. So everyone can see what we’re doing and learn how their cup is made.”
Smooth-jazz music plays in the background. “My brother’s a jazz pianist, and he first introduced me to good, drip coffee, about 10 years ago,” said Kim.
Most popular with customers is the vanilla latte. “But serious coffee drinkers like our cortado with a small amount of steamed milk,” said Kim. “You taste more of the coffee than with a cappuccino or latte, and people also like it over ice. And our espresso drinks are all double shots.”
Noting how grateful he is that his shop’s neighbors are showing their support, he said one of them – a teacher – “painted a picture of a coffee mug with our name on it and framed and presented it to me. That means a lot.”
Foundation Coffee is also a family affair since Kim’s wife Hyun is co-owner. The couple has two sons, 11 and 9, and a 4-month-old daughter. And Kim’s father, Sung Kim, 74, a contractor, built all the wooden furnishings – tables, cabinets, etc. – except for the chairs.
“He also did all the lighting,” added Hae Kim. “I designed it, but he turned it into reality. And despite all the hard work, the memories we made doing it made it all worthwhile for me, and I’m grateful to him.”
AT THE RIBBON-CUTTING, Fairfax City Economic Development Director Chris Bruno said, “The emphasis is on the quality of the product and the space. Despite the pandemic, people still want to open businesses in Fairfax City, and we can help them do it safely and efficiently.”
“This is a classic example of creating something beautiful in a utilitarian space,” added Fairfax Mayor David Meyer. “I welcome all the neighbors and hope everybody in Comstock will walk over here to get their morning coffee.”
Pleased, Kim said, “I really like the Fairfax City community because it’s close-knit, and the local government is definitely cheering for us to succeed. So I feel grateful to have started my business in this City.”
The hardest part, he said, is how much time it takes to run the business, plus the time it takes away from his family. The best part is “getting to meet our customers and see how they enjoy our coffee and how we’ve become part of their daily lives. They’re business owners, residents, neighbors, GMU students, firefighters, etc., and I get to talk with them and know them on a first-name basis.”
Centreville’s Min Soo Jung goes there every Thursday afternoon before teaching private bass lessons. “It’s spacious, and I like how it’s designed,” he said. “It’s like a Korean café in the U.S. – very modern and with a theme. Their iced mochas taste good, and I also love their pastries, especially the dacquoise and fruit tarts.”
Fairfax roommates Liz Beauchamp and Maddie Quick also enjoyed their coffees and pastries. “My iced Americano was really good,” said Beauchamp. “The espresso was light but had lots of really good flavor. And my croissant was fresh, flaky and buttery – what you want in a croissant. I also like the music and the seating. With COVID, there’s a lot of space between the tables, so I don’t feel crowded.”
Quick liked the variety of seating options – bar seats and places for groups or individuals. “And there are lots of outlets to plug in your computer,” she said. “It’s hard to find a place with everything you’re looking for, but this one’s really good. My iced vanilla latte was really smooth, had good proportions of coffee to milk and tasted good. And I could tell my almond scone was made fresh – it had a great crust and great flavor.”
She also plans to recommend Foundation Coffee Roasters to others. “The atmosphere is so nice; I think we’ll come back here a lot,” said Quick. “In lots of places, either the coffee or the seating is good, but not both. But this one has all the elements you need.”