Interview: Songwriter & Producer Peter Cornell Discusses New Venture In Cornell Brothers Coffee, Music Collaborations, & More

In the last year, every community has had to part ways with many loved local businesses.

Unfortunately, small-owned operations were some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and many are still dealing with its resounding effects. And at a time when we all could really use the opportunity to connect with our friends and acquaintances over a cup of coffee at our favorite cafe, our options have become more limited. Coffee shops across the U.S. are projected to decrease for the first time by 7.3 percent

The glass (or in this case mug) is not half empty though. Although this last year has shut the doors for some, it has opened a window of opportunity for new entrepreneurs to help rebuild their communities. Songwriter and producer Peter Cornell, is one such visionary, as his new venture, Cornell Brothers Coffee, has opened at Oh My Chives Natural Market in Nolensville, TN. 

Cornell was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, and as a former resident of the official number one city for coffee consumption, Cornell and his siblings had no other choice but to jive with java and “grow up with it in their veins.” Professional coffee pursuits weren’t always the plan though, as Cornell played professionally with bands including Inflatable Soule and Black Market Radio in the 90s and early 2000s.

In 2014, he partnered and recorded with former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzzese for his solo album Champion, which received notable acclaim upon its release. His most recent musical endeavor includes co-writing the song “Let Me Down Easy” with Kevin Martin of Candlebox for their upcoming album, Wolves (due out September 17th). 

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We caught up with Cornell to discuss the opening of Cornell Brothers Coffee, the communal ambitions associated with it, what he has in store next, and much more.

So Cornell Brothers Coffee is an homage to your grandfather and his brothers- what about them inspired you most, and what made you choose to open a coffee shop? 

My Grandad was the true fraternal presence in my life when I was growing up. He had a great reverence for coffee. He was wheelchair bound with MS and was very aware and careful of things like his diet. His caffeine intake was limited, so he cherished it. He had an old school stove top espresso machine, a French press and always the current best drip machine available. He taught me about the various brewing processes, and my coffee snobbery was born. I was named after his youngest brother Peter who, along with their brother Harvey, were positive influences on me as a young man. For my entire adult life, I’ve aspired to bring honor to the Cornell name.   

How did you approach opening the business? What were some of the challenges you faced in the process? 

Our mission is hospitality, customer care and adhering to the science of coffee. We are a small shop. We keep it simple. First and foremost, we are about quality beans. Quality coffee. This isn’t me reinventing the wheel, it’s about making great coffee. Be it espresso, cold brew or drip. Each brewing process is paired with a bean that stands up best for that specific process. Really the challenges were minimal. My partner is my wife, and she has amazing business chops. Once we greenlit the business, she went to work behind the scenes and brought it all to fruition. Everything just fell into place. That’s how we knew it was meant to be.   

“From my first espresso, I had a spot close to home where I would go on a daily basis. I became aware early on about the ritual and the consistency of coffee. Cornell Brothers Coffee strives to be exactly that. The neighborhood coffee joint.”

You partnered with Lesa Wood, the founder of 8th & Roast, for sourcing and production- what have you learned from her in the course of your partnership? 

The single most important thing I’ve learned is tasting and testing every different variety of bean in all of the brewing processes. Knowing where each bean shines. Lesa is a proponent of nuances and being hands on. With all of her years in coffee, she still gets in and gets her hands dirty, and that is an inspiration.   

Coming from Seattle, which has a very specific coffee culture, are there aspects of that which you would like to encourage through your work in Cornell Brothers Coffee? Anything from sourcing methods to coffee-community engagement, etc. 

Coffee community, ABSOLUTELY! What I remember most about my earliest experience with coffee in Seattle, is the neighborhood coffee joint. From my first espresso, I had a spot close to home where I would go on a daily basis. I became aware early on about the ritual and the consistency of coffee. Cornell Brothers Coffee strives to be exactly that. The neighborhood coffee joint. We opened our shop in our neighborhood. We are members and patrons of the community as well as being business owners in it. Another influence of Seattle coffee culture is strength and flavor. We Seattleites love strong coffee that tastes good. This combination completely drives how we source, roast, grind and brew our beans.    

Can you discuss Cornell Brothers Coffee’s partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee and how that came to be

The charity component was always a part of our business model. It had to be an organization that contributes to the community we live and work in. Second Harvest feeds a lot of people in our region. Especially during the last 18 months of the pandemic. A lot of people had food on their tables solely because of Second Harvest. We are honored to be partnered with them.

In regards to musical collaboration, you co-wrote “Let Me Down Easy” with Kevin Martin of Candlebox for their new album coming out in September- what was that experience like for you and how did that partnership come to be

I’ve known Kevin for the better part of 25 years; all the way back to when we were both making music in Seattle. I reconnected with him a couple of years ago through his management. We discussed collaboration and I threw out a couple of ideas and the outcome came together so effortlessly. We are continuing our collaboration with an acoustic “unplugged” style arrangement of a track I recently produced for the band called “Riptide”.

Have you found any new inspirations for your work as a musician through the course of your recent endeavors? 

Absolutely. I played a set at the grand opening of our store. It was the first gig I had played in over a decade. It was the first time I’d played with Brian Quinn (or any other musician) in that same decade. I got to experience how much I like playing live. I’m going to play a set in Seattle in November opening for Candlebox at the Paramount. I’m working on new material and will definitely do some recording in the next year. 

If someone asked you what coffee they should drink while relaxing and listening to your solo record, Champion, what would you recommend? 

Brazilian Sunflower. It is the coffee I start my day with. It makes a great espresso or French press.    

What do you feel it takes to be successful both in business and music?

One word. Perseverance! 

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