Dotting the eastern end of the Lesner Bridge are a handful of local mainstays known for their freshly squeezed crushes, briny Lynnhaven oysters and towering seafood platters. Just on the other side of the high rise overpass stands American Brew, a rustic coffee and whiskey bar that rivals the beachy libations and waterside dishes of its inlet counterparts with whiskey-infused cocktails and light fare. The mission of American Brew, however, is not to function solely as a social house and food hub, but to foster an environment that supports and empowers women.
Photos courtesy of Camille Coquereau/Camille Marie Images
American Brew first opened on Shore Drive in 2016 and moved to its current location on East Stratford Road in September of 2017. The two-story java joint juxtaposes the breezy beach atmosphere of Chic’s Beach with an industrial interior outfitted with an exposed wood bar, communal dining tables, metal chairs and ligneous fixtures draped with bright Edison bulbs. A velvet, emerald green sofa anchors the back of the café where coffee and whiskey enthusiasts can enjoy board games, cards and a collection of books.
Behind the bar hang timber shelves lined with glass canisters of loose leaf teas and bags of American Brew coffee beans. To the left is an open buffet chock-full of whiskey bottles, mixers and fixings for American Brew’s signature Kentucky Mule. Also at the bartender’s disposal is a modest triple tap flowing with local Coastal Virginia brews.
Camille Coquereau/Camille Marie Images
As for the cuisine, American Brew’s menu presents several unique twists on beloved comfort foods like a grilled cheese quesadilla, Brewritto and hearty overnight oats. Preceding the coffeehouse’s list of caffeinated creations, all of which are served with one chocolate covered espresso bean, are a handful of fruit and veggie smoothies.
The attention to detail in both American Brew’s design and edible offerings serves as tangible evidence of the hard work and care of café owner Ashley Horner. Horner, a Virginia Beach resident, mom and national fitness celebrity, discovered a need for a relaxed and family-friendly social space within the Chic’s Beach community. With dozens of bars lining the 3000 block of Shore Drive, a cozy café seemed like the perfect fit.
The first American Brew location was small, thus forcing Horner to compromise on her vision for the communal coffeehouse. When a spacious corner building went on the market, Horner made an offer. Her plans for a quiet corner bistro, however, were met with great opposition from neighboring business owners.
Several of her proposals were postponed, and some were vetoed entirely, as the city sifted through scathing letters from fellow entrepreneurs questioning Horner’s intentions of opening a coffee and whiskey bar in their quiet beach community. “I had a really hard time moving into this space as a young, female entrepreneur,” explains Horner. “But I learned how to stand up for myself and to remember my why, and remember my purpose. Not everyone is going to agree with what you’re doing, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to doing what you love and doing it for a purpose. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.”
Camille Coquereau/Camille Marie Images
Nine months later, American Brew is a bustling workspace for Virginia Beach residents and a convenient meet-up spot for afternoon cocktails and live music. Despite its popularity, Horner explains that American Brew is so much more than a neighborhood cafe, but an extension of her desire to bolster female confidence through the Unbroken Foundation.
Horner launched the Unbroken Foundation by running 280 miles from her Virginia Beach home to Wilmington, N.C. in support of battered women and children shelters. She has since endured several sports-centered challenges to raise money for women and children of domestic abuse and instituted a fundraising initiative at American Brew that donates a portion of coffee sales to the foundation.
“Everything that I stand behind is for women to find beauty in their strength, and through [that] strength, to find their worth,” says Horner. “I want women to be and feel independent, to know they are capable of doing anything and everything they want to achieve.”
Horner’s passion for helping battered women transcends the simple act of raising money and works to build their confidence, helps them refine life skills and offers them stability. She longs to give broken women a chance. “My long-term goal for American Brew is to have [several] open up across the U.S., staggered from the East Coast, Midwest and onto the West Coast, and to serve as an underground railroad-type facility for women of domestic violence,” Horner says.
She believes that employing these broken women and offering them communal support can successfully combat the feelings of doubt and confinement often experienced by abuse victims. Enduring hardships of her own, Horner sympathizes with these women as she reflects on her personal life.
“Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to realize that there’s nowhere else to go but up, and it’s a really, really long climb,” affirms Horner. “I knew that I was meant for something greater. I wanted to take a stand, to set an example, and that’s when I started training. The training gave me a confidence that I wouldn’t have [otherwise] had. The strength I acquired in the gym bled out into the confidence I now have to tackle any [challenge] the world throws at me.”
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