Plenty of people say that coffee changed their life, but Rudy Hernandez means it. Apart from the energy boost he gets from drinking about six espressos a day, coffee introduced Hernandez to a new community where he has found his closest friends; his girlfriend of two years, Vanessa; his current apartment and even a new fitness regimen that allows him to be on his feet from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.
More so than anything, though, coffee and the community that revolves around the drink in Houston has led Hernandez to a career with a future and a deeper way to relate to those around him. “When I first started out [as a barista] I couldn't even hold eye contact with anyone,” he remembers. “I was super shy, I had no idea how to even engage someone and keep them engaged throughout a conversation.”
But today, as coffee manager at the newly opened Throughgood on West 27th Street, Hernandez has to “engage” with people constantly. In fact, it’s an integral pillar in the shop’s culture he helped create.
Hernandez, 22, realized he wanted to help build a friendlier coffee community in Houston while working at Starbucks to save up for paramedic courses. “There was a culture around the café, but it was never enough,” he says. “The negative experiences would always outweigh the positive ones.” Shortly after, he accepted a barista position at Tout Suite, skipped his first EMT ride-along, and for the next two years moved from one well-regarded Houston coffee shop to the next—including The Honeymoon Café and Boomtown Coffee—while building up his coffee brewing chops and pushing himself each day to interact with and better serve his customers.
While Hernandez was putting that mission to practice he met one of his most influential customers to date, Rudy Rasmus, Beyoncé’s spiritual advisor and senior pastor at St. John’s Church. Bearing the same first same, the two developed a friendship of sorts. Rasmus came to the shops where Hernandez worked several times a month to make sure he was doing right by their name. “I was still trying to figure out how to engage people, but Pastor Rudy always made me feel comfortable enough to talk to him from the get-go,” Hernandez says. It was during Hernandez’s second stint at Tout Suite, after countless cups of coffee and conversations, that Rasmus offered Hernandez a job at the soon-to-open Throughgood, which donates 10 percent of its proceeds to Rasmus’ charity for Houston’s homeless, Temenos Community Development Corporation.
“It was one of those moments in my service that completely floored me,” Hernandez says. “I had no idea that what I was doing daily meant that much to someone and how much it could mean.”
Hernandez was in. Rasmus provided the financing and the vision, but it was up to Hernandez to create the coffee program—which now includes three pour-over options, a traditional espresso menu and a couple of signature drinks—and to build the inviting, approachable culture he dreamed of.
“Someone said it best, ‘You just walk in here and it feels like you’re being enveloped in a really nice hug.’ I think the word they were going for is ‘welcoming,’” he says.
Since opening about in April, Throughgood—with its chalkboard walls, always-spinning turntable and surrounding dog park—has already attracted a growing group of regulars, some of whom have gone as far as to drop off a rack of ribs while grilling at their home nearby. “It honestly feels like we are at a block party all day,” Hernandez laughs.
The program is slated to change soon to provide customers with different options based on their needs, with $3 grab-and-go drinks for those on the run, versus more intricate crafts pours for those who want the full experience. Still, Hernandez plans to stick to Throughgood’s motto: changing lives through good coffee.