Jeffrey J. Murphy

A local business owner and musician, Jeffrey J. Murphy is a man of many passions, some homegrown and others learned.

Murphy owns two coffee-centric businesses in Keene: Brewbakers Cafe on Main Street and Terra Nova Organic Coffee Roasters on Emerald Street. Terra Nova distributes online through wholesale and directly to customers. Murphy also opened a cafe when he moved the roaster to Emerald Street last year.

Along with his enthusiasm for joe and the process behind it, he has a lifelong love of music. He plays bass in two bands and curates live music events at Terra Nova, working diligently to create a space that welcomes and encourages artists.

Keene-bred, Murphy and his family returned to his hometown last year after 12 years in Surry. He lives with his wife, Eliza, their 14-year-old boys, Orion and Jonah, and their daughter, Lucia, 7.

When he finds downtime, Murphy, 36, enjoys cooking, golfing and playing hockey in a men’s league — but such breaks are rare.

Over the years, Murphy underwent a couple of professional transitions. He and Eliza met just after high school, and the couple took a gap year after graduation to travel.

Then Murphy attended North Eastern Institute of Whole Health Inc. in Manchester, New Hampshire, to learn massage therapy. He and Eliza built a yurt in Nelson and lived there for a year, and during the interim, he worked as a preschool assistant at Harrisville Children’s Center and Hancock Cooperative Preschool.

The yurt was a chance to try something new, he says.

“We were a young, idealistic couple, and we wanted to kind of live simply and, you know, garden and just kind of dig our roots in. It was beautiful, until it got really cold,” Murphy says, laughing.

So, they moved back home, where Murphy enjoyed his career as a massage therapist for six years. He loved the job, but he found himself looking for something to better sustain his growing family.

He enrolled in a business program at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge and then attended Marlboro College Graduate School in Brattleboro.

After having twins, Murphy says Eliza re-entered the workforce and started a job at Brewbakers Cafe in 2007. Around the same time, Murphy was finishing his program at Marlboro College and began developing a business plan, which revolved around owning a local foods cafe.

“While she was working (there), we found out that the owner at the time was looking to move on,” he says.

The couple had a history with the cafe, too, which he said has been around since the early ‘90s. Murphy smiles, remembering open mic nights and photos of Eliza and himself visiting as teenagers.

Murphy took over the business in 2011. The cafe never closed, he says, and they instead changed everything over the course of six months. They replaced equipment, redid the menu, painted the walls and overhauled training.

“By the time it was all done, people had become accustomed,” Murphy says, adding that business grew 40 percent the first year.

In 2012, the couple learned that the person who had been roasting their coffee was interested in selling, too. Murphy says controlling their roasting was in the plan, though not quite so soon — but keeping the source of their coffee local was important.

“So we took over ownership,” he says. “We moved the roaster down a big flight of stairs out of their barn, crept down some winding roads in the back of a pickup truck and into our barn in Surry … and we roasted there for six years.”

Last year, Terra Nova Organic Coffee Roasters moved into Building 48 on Emerald Street, a space with several businesses, including Colony Antiques, Keene on Vinyl, Dear Dear Vintage and Chawton Books.

That building formerly housed Blueberry Fields, a natural foods store that closed in 2016; Murphy worked there as a high-schooler.

“We didn’t at the time need 5,500 square feet of floor space, but we really loved the building and wanted to be downtown, so it was nice to partner with some other businesses to make that work,” he says.

And with the roastery’s move, Murphy opened a small cafe in the back of Building 48, which offers a slightly different menu than Brewbakers, focused on manual pour-over drinks with no machine-drip coffee.

Business changes over the years haven’t been conscious choices to expand, so much as natural progressions, he says.

“It’s funny, all the coffee that we roast here is 100 percent organic. We’re one of the few people in the state who do that. But also, everything we’ve done here has grown organically,” Murphy says. “It just kind of comes to us, and we adjust and adapt to it.”

Murphy drinks coffee nearly every day. But until Eliza started working at Brewbakers, he didn’t know much about it, and the couple began educating themselves on how the product is made, even visiting a few coffee plantations over the years.

Murphy called it a “beautiful sort of transportive process,” noting that each part and every hand that touches a bean contributes to the end result. It’s refined down to how the bean was picked and dried, the conditions where it was grown, the quality of storage and transportation, the quality control before roasting and the recipe for each blend.

“And then it comes down to how we’re gonna brew it,” Murphy says, adding that those factors include the grinder, water quality, filters and the brewer, which is programmable down to the second.

But ultimately, he says, it comes down to the people making each drink. His businesses emphasize that and work to educate their baristas on how it all works, too. It’s “… honoring the process, honoring the actual bean, honoring the farmer that harvested the bean.”

Murphy stumbled upon his gusto for java later in life, but his love for music is deeply rooted.

“I started when I was 12,” he says. “My father used to bring me out to the Rynborn Blues Club, and I kind of got my feet wet.”

As a bass player, he’s played with Wooden Dinosaur — an alt-country band — for eight years. He also plays in a honky-tonk band, The Rear Defrosters, which he’s been with for seven years.

From singing Beatles’ songs with his sisters as a toddler to playing guitar with his father and hearing stories of his grandfather’s jazz band, Murphy says that music is “ingrained in our family culture.”

His dad, Jim Murphy, began singing and playing guitar at 14 and continues to this day. At 69, he travels and plays in his band, Murphy’s Blues, which the father-son duo kicked off when the younger Murphy was in middle school.

“I was playing with 40-year-olds when I was 14-years-old,” Murphy says, laughing.

And Eliza has roots in music, too. Murphy says she sings, while her mother is a songwriter and pianist, and her grandmother was a pianist and accordion player.

The Murphy kids are keeping up the tradition: Lucia takes piano lessons and the twins played music and sang in chorus throughout school.

In a warehouse space where the roaster sits at Building 48, Murphy began using Terra Nova to host live music events a few months after opening. He plans to hold the events monthly for now and twice monthly in the summer.

“We look at space as an asset and as a venue to utilize,” Murphy says, pointing to the walls in Brewbakers where visual artists display their works.

“Our idea with the shows at Terra Nova is that it’s sort of a multi-faceted event, so there’s not just music but it’s art, and there’s food, and there’s some sort of special kind of curation to the evening.”

Admission is free, aside from a sliding-scale donation to the bands, and an important aspect for Murphy is that his business doesn’t take a commission.

“It’s not a money-making thing for us. This is truly just a community event,” he says. “We know how hard it is to be a working artist. We know how hard it is to be a working musician.”

Eric J. Gagne of Peterborough, a longtime friend and colleague, helps organize the events by booking bands. A guitarist and singer in the band Footings, Gagne says he and Murphy have toured and played in shows together.

Describing Murphy as selfless and generous with his time, Gagne says Murphy balances his confidence in those around him with an ability to give honest feedback, making him an effective leader and a reliable friend.

“Whenever I’ve had ideas in the past, he’s somebody that I always talk to, usually first, just to kind of get his perspective, and he usually would have some considerations that I hadn’t thought of,” Gagne says.

He notes that Murphy should be proud of being named a Trendsetter, but he would do all of the same volunteer work and efforts to help artists in the region regardless of the recognition.

“I think he deserves (the award) for all the attention and the thought that he puts into the community and wanting to make Keene better,” Gagne says.

Brewbakers supports local nonprofit organizations through donations and sponsorships, he says, including the Monadnock United Way and Monadnock International Film Festival.

Murphy also volunteers with local sports programs. He’s been a coach with Keene Youth Hockey for the past seven years, a board member for six years and the master scheduler for five.

He also coaches youth baseball.

“When we decided to put our roots down here, we knew that in order to be happy and engaged in this community that we really needed to just put everything that we got into it,” he says. 

Sierra Hubbard is a staff writer with The Keene Sentinel.