Building Bridges One Cup at a Time
If you’re a coffee lover, you’ve no doubt noticed the irresistible aroma of beans wafting through the Coman Student Activity Center. In January Bridge & Tunnel Coffee Co. opened its doors in the Coman lounge and has gradually been introducing new menu items including breakfast sandwiches, bagels, and smoothies. Owner Greg Fulcher and partner and head chef Bobby Nagelberg are excited to roll out new menu items over the course of coming weeks including scratch-made soups, veggie burgers, chickpea cutlets, and tempeh panini.
Though both coffee connoisseurs hail from the Northeast, they come from very different work backgrounds. Nagelberg, 32, grew up working in a deli on Long Island that served traditional items like meatball subs and burgers. Beginning as a dishwasher at age 12, he worked his way up to managing catering for breakfast and lunch by age 20 and fell in love with cooking. Being diagnosed with a brain tumor at 21 made him reassess his eating habits and he soon quit fast food and began eating more whole, plant-based foods. “I realized that food is medicine,” he said.
Nagelberg is excited to expand Bridge and Tunnel’s new menu to include classic deli food items using healthy, plant-centric ingredients. “I want to shift people’s mindset on vegan food,” he said. “Build a bridge between it and the classic deli food I grew up with.”
Fulcher, 50, is originally from Cape Cod and a relative newcomer to the food industry. After 30 years of working as a media producer and filmmaker, the self-employed entrepreneur became frustrated with the restrictions of working in an industry that had gone online.
“I was tired of solitary time in front of the computer,” he said.“I missed working alongside co-creators, which is how the media industry used to be, but that has changed as people’s attention spans have shortened and the expectation for quality has diminished.”
Having a physical space to call home is a dream come true for Fulcher, who first intended to open a brick-and-mortar café in pre-Covid San Francisco, where he lived at the time.
An array of factors including high real estate prices, forest fires, and the pandemic, convinced him a mobile cafe and cross-country move would be a wiser idea. Fulcher and his family relocated to Asheville in January 2020, and the yellow Bridge & Tunnel Coffee truck soon became a regular fixture at farmers’ markets and events. The truck was welcomed on the A-B Tech campus in spring 2022 and it’s been a match made in heaven ever since. After the closure of the Trailblazer Café, A-B Tech began looking for a vendor to provide food and coffee service, and Bridge & Tunnel decided to submit a bid for its first brick-and-mortar location.
Building a café in the midst of a community college campus has many advantages, Fulcher said. “It’s a good opportunity in a crowded market to practice our ‘community as a verb’ approach to business. And A-B Tech has been extremely accommodating. It took away the risk.”
Over the past several months, Fulcher & Nagelberg have slowly been transforming the space. They’ve added wood paneling behind the kitchen counter to make the cement walls feel warmer and elegant light fixtures that hang from the ceiling. It’s all about creating a great atmosphere. The people we are with and the place we’re in all help to create a premium coffee shop experience” Fulcher said, “but it’s not just about the coffee. It’s about fostering relationships and being reliable, inclusive, and above all, friendly.
"He’s My Guy”
Watching Fulcher and Nagelberg work together at the café counter, it seems the two men have years of experience as a team, but actually, their partnership is a new one.
They met on a rainy day in the midst of the pandemic. Fulcher was driving back from Atlanta, badly in need of a caffeine boost before picking his kids up at school. He was feeling discouraged with the daunting task of finding the right employee to help with the rigorous Yellow Truck schedule. Stopping at a café, he ordered a latte and got into a conversation with the barista, which turned into a passionate discussion on the state of business. The young man, also from the northeast, clearly had a similar work ethic. Fulcher, drink in hand, said goodbye and slipped back into his car, but couldn’t bring himself to start the ignition and drive away.
“I was thinking to myself, 'He’s my guy,'" Fulcher recalled, smiling. Pulling out a receipt from his pocket, he scrawled his name and number on it, ran in, and gave it to the barista- Bobby Nagelberg- who called the next day. The rest is Bridge & Tunnel history.
"Working with Bobby draws on a familiar feeling of collaborating that I missed”, Fulcher said.
And the story doesn’t end with the café opening its doors on campus. Bridge & Tunnel hopes to broaden its scope by serving local businesses and offering catering for the campus conference center. And it has just introduced a new app for delivery service available on the Apple and Google app stores.
They’re also planning a campus grand opening on Valentine’s Day, a community-wide grand opening this spring, and the addition of their own in-house campus delivery service, so stay tuned for details.
What won’t change is the café’s mission to remain a welcoming place to gather. “There is a kind of attitude with some places that sell coffee, “Fulcher said. “That’s not us. We will be kind, not snobby.” “And,” he added, “We’ll have delicious food.”
Bridge & Tunnel is open in the Coman Student Activity Center from 7:00 a.m. -2:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. The cafe's food menu will change weekly. Visit their website at Bridge & Tunnel Coffee Company to see what's on the menu and follow them on social media @bridgetunnelcoffee.