Ajay Brewer, 33

Owner of Brewer’s Cafe

He could have opened a coffee shop anywhere. But as a resident of Manchester, Ajay Brewer wanted to build something that would improve his own community.

“I genuinely believe I can change my neighborhood just by leading by example,” he says. “I want to do as much as I possibly can in a neighborhood that I feel the most comfortable in, that needs me the most, and that I need the most.”

Brewer couldn’t stand the smell of coffee before he opened his cafe, but he had a vision for a place that was warm, comfortable and diverse. Brewer wants his son to see that Manchester, a neighborhood with a complicated history of poverty and development, can be a place where small, local businesses like corner coffee shops thrive. He wants entrepreneurs and community leaders like him to stay, rather than taking their talents and business opportunities elsewhere.

“If I’m playing outside and I see a yoga studio, I believe I can have a yoga studio,” he says. “If I see a coffee shop, I believe I can have a coffee shop. I don’t believe I need to go to Short Pump, I don’t believe that it’s a white person thing or a rich person thing.”

Brewer also launched the Well Art Gallery nearby, and next door he plans to open a restaurant serving waffles and boozy milkshakes. His 4-year-old son Parker, a budding entrepreneur himself, sells candy at the front of Brewer’s Cafe.

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