Technically, coffee is Tony Vo’s side hustle. For the past 15 years, Vo — who earned a degree in 2004 from UNC Charlotte’s William States Lee College of Engineering — has worked as a patent examiner with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. But coffee is his passion, and it certainly shows as Waterbean Coffee has quickly become one of the region’s fastest-growing local coffee shops.
- Tony Vo ’04 opened the first Waterbean Coffee in 2013, and just recently opened the 12th location. For those counting, that’s 12 stores in nine years, with more stores planned in the coming months.
- With a location in Da Nang, Vietnam — where Vo was born — Waterbean is the only local coffee shop with an international presence.
- Waterbean was recently voted runner-up for best coffee shop in Charlotte — we may be biased, but it’s number one in our book.
- Vo puts his engineering degree to use with an innovative approach to brewing coffee — read more below.
- Charlotte Business Journal named Vo to its 2022 class of “40 Under 40” for his business success.
- Vo recently announced franchising options with Waterbean, so its success could be yours, too.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
During his time as a patent examiner, Vo has seen his fair share of company names. So, when deciding on the name Waterbean, he wanted something unique yet meaningful. The name Waterbean is a nod to the two ingredients needed to make coffee. Together, they symbolize the coffee-making process, filtering water through ground coffee beans.
The company mantra is “a bean above” and Vo takes it to heart, aiming to create black coffee so good you don’t need to add anything else. He sources coffee from around the world that has been hand-picked. It’s then hand-roasted in small batches in their Probat roaster, located at Waterbean’s roastery in Cornelius, North Carolina.
ENGINEERING THE PERFECT CUP
Vo’s engineering mind is evident in his coffee preparation. He introduced a cold brew filtration system (below right) that slowly moves water through the coffee grounds at approximately one drop every few seconds. It can take 8-12 hours to get the final product, but good things come to those who wait.
With an engineering background, Vo is very enthusiastic about coffee-making technology as evidenced by the Belgian-influenced glass siphon coffee maker seen below (left). Requiring precise water temperatures, attention and skill, some coffee experts claim this is the best method to brew coffee.
Waterbean offers up the usual coffee favorites, including four blends and decaf, and more than a few twists. But serious coffee drinkers have their drip coffee and espresso flights, which are unique to Waterbean.
- What Tony Vo recommends: Iced latte with oat milk, with brown sugar and vanilla
What Tony Vo orders: Drip coffee double espresso
Check out a few of our favorites:
Cold Foam Snickerdoodle and Paradise Iced Latte
Nitro Thai Tea
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
With ten locations around North Carolina and one in Vietnam, there’s likely a Waterbean Coffee nearby wherever you are in the Charlotte region. But the Waterbean growth strategy is far from random.
Vo has intentionally opened locations in places that are meaningful to him and his family.
- Hickory, North Carolina is where Vo first moved when he came to the United States.
- Lake Norman is where the Vo family has put down roots.
- Charlotte is where he went to college.
Vietnam is where he was born. Check out the photos below.
The future is bright at Waterbean, especially with the addition of franchising opportunities. Already considered one of the fastest-growing local specialty coffee shops in the region, the shift to offering franchising will only serve to spur continued growth.
MAKING NINER NATION PROUD
Students come to UNC Charlotte from different backgrounds and leave as alums on a variety of paths. What they have in common is that they all take a piece of Niner Nation on their journey and use it in a unique way. And when you think of it like that, we’re all striking gold.