Nestled in Raleigh’s Warehouse District, Heirloom Brewshop was born from a curious blend of Japanese, Laotian, and Taiwanese influences. Since opening last October, the café-bar hybrid has been serving up sake, coffee, artisanal tea, as well as small bites and a unique selection of sweets including jasmine-infused brownies and pandan cheesecake. What unites this wide variety of offerings is the relentless drive of owners Chuan Tsay and Anna Phommavong to not only deliver fine craftsmanship, but also bring cultures that have been historically underrepresented to the forefront of a modern Raleigh.
Chuan defines Heirloom as a “canvas” for him and his wife Anna to share both aspects of their cultures and experiences from their travels. Heirloom’s menu presents a union of Anna’s Laotian heritage and Chuan’s upbringing in a native Taiwanese household infused with Japanese influences. Despite their love for comforting Southern fares, the couple sidesteps typical elements from American cuisine in order to avoid the hackneyed binary of “fusion” and “traditional”. Instead, Chuan and Anna aim to put their own spin on dishes that have been served for generations in Laos, Taiwan, and Japan.
Chuan tells us: “Our single criterion for bringing in each menu item is that it doesn’t exist in Raleigh yet, so there are no other restaurants serving the same thing. We do this for two reasons: one is to create a unique menu, and the other is to respect the restaurants that already exist around us.”
Heirloom’s innovative menu constantly changes based on local and seasonal availability, guaranteeing both a freshness to their cuisine and a minimization of food waste. Their latest experiment produced two varieties of mooncake, a pastry customarily served during the Mid-Autumn Festival in many parts of Asia. Encased in a patterned crust shell and baked to a golden crisp, the mooncakes come in the flavors of red bean and sesame-peanut butter, pairing perfectly with a smooth cup of their matcha or ginger-rosewater latte.
However, Heirloom’s distinctive range of offerings is only the beginning of its owners’ creativity. In designing the storefront, Chuan and Anna poured over plans of the space with the same diligent attention that they devote to their food. With floor-to-ceiling windows and a palette of white, baby pink as well as a warm chestnut, at daybreak Heirloom radiates a sunlit incandescence, while at the tip of sunset, the space is also able to usher in a slow repose.
“The ceiling is actually inspired by Asian architecture,” Chuan says of the elegantly-curving wooden shutters, “It’s the idea of taking simple shapes to create a whole that’s more complex and stronger than any one piece. As individuals we’re singular beings, but we really become something bigger than ourselves when we come together as a community.”
Whether it’s for the sparkling mint cold brew or Taiwanese fried chicken, Heirloom has seen incredible popularity since its inception. Chuan remembers Heirloom’s first month: “We had moments where it was nine o’clock at night and it was full-on study hall. And then it was a day club at eight in the morning. It was just packed.” For both Chuan and Anna, Heirloom symbolizes an unapologetic self-acceptance. Like the welcoming space that it inhabits, the Brewshop embodies their vision for a modern Raleigh and the intersecting paths of the increasingly diverse communities within.