The Blendmaster: Paul Olsen and Weird Brothers Coffee
Paul Olsen of Weird Brothers Coffee in Herndon, Virginia, roasts on a 20 Kilogram Mill City Roaster in a commercial warehouse a few blocks from the original coffee shop. Besides the roastery, Paul is in perpetual motion managing three retail Weird Brothers locations.
Setting the Scene
Kenny and Paul Olsen grew up in the Bay Area in California, surrounded by independent coffee shops and small, specialty roasters. In a hometown with such immersive coffee culture and variety, the brothers cultivated their own interest in specialty coffee and the atmosphere it creates.
Paul’s military career took him away from the West coast. He started as a mechanic in the army, worked his way through college and spent the last five years of his career in Washington, DC as an analyst for military intelligence.
While there, he bought a house and eased into life in the Herndon, Virginia area coffee wasteland. After thirteen years of service and a medical discharge, he became a government contractor.
Finding himself Ill suited to desk work and with no local coffee roaster to turn to, the Olsen brothers started roasting their own coffee at home on a modified barbeque grill. Here, Paul could work with his hands; there wasn’t a desk or a stack of paperwork. His coffee career began there, in the backyard, with Kenny at his side.
The Way Up
The first Weird Brothers cafe was a coffee truck: “a coffee bar on wheels,” Paul calls it. It debuted in early 2016, after the pair spent a thorough year or two planning their new entrepreneurial coffee career.
To launch it, the brothers taught themselves not only how to roast, but how to build their own company. And the planning paid off: within a few months, they’d moved on from their backyard grill to a 6 kilogram Mill City Roaster, which lived in a commercial space that would eventually become Weird Brothers’ first location, affectionately called The Roasting Factory.
The Roasting Factory opened to the public as a coffee bar within a year after the coffee truck’s first splash.
In 2017, Kenny passed away. Paul carried on their co-founded company.
As Weird Brothers grew, it was no longer feasible to house the 6 kilogram in the coffee bar. So it moved to a warehouse down the street. Now, the roasting space was suitable for a bigger machine, which would help Paul as he solidified his plans to open a second location. He scaled to a 20 kilogram.
The second location opened in a business park in 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When all the office workers went home for lockdown, Paul had to pivot his expected customer base and encourage outside traffic to visit the new location. They used the momentum of the first shop to carry the second; then, in early 2021, they opened the third, in Leesburg, a town a few miles away from Herndon.
As Weird Brothers has expanded, Paul’s role has shifted. At first, he did a lot of the roasting; he was hands-on, which he loved. But as things grew, and staff numbers increased, he found himself further removed from the roasting action and instead in charge of the paperwork and logistics of balancing all three locations.
“I don’t think anyone really expects all of the administration that comes from a business that grows,” he says.
Now, most of the roasting time he gets is spent training others. While he misses spending his days roasting and interacting with customers, he does enjoy teaching: “I get to learn about myself as a roaster,” he says.
The next biggest move for Weird Brothers Coffee is the relocation of the second coffee shop, which will be moving from its initial business park home to a shopping center nearby the third Weird Brothers location in Leesburg.
He’s also considering getting a second 20 kilogram, as Weird Brothers is now operating at the capacity of its current machine. Paul is looking forward to a season of restructuring his role by outsourcing enough of his administrative tasks to fenaggle more time on the roaster.
Bring Weird Brothers Coffee Home
You can pick up a crafted latte from any of the Weird Brothers locations Monday through Friday 7am to 6pm. Paul’s retail coffee is also available for purchase in-store, online, or through subscription on the Weird Brothers website. Weird Brothers Coffee also has a YouTube channel, where you can keep updated on new blends, secret menus, and everything else Weird.