Cross-Country Coffee Tour Inspires Tiny House Café: Part Two

Last year, we followed Barista Magazine contributor Don Niemyer on his cross-country tour of the United States in search of inspiration for his own coffee shop. Now, we follow Don in this three-part series as he uses the lessons he’s learned to build his own cafe.  

Part Two: Building a Mystery

œThis is the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. 

Don pulling the cafe!
Don pulling the finished cafe!

That was what my dad muttered as he pulled his big truck out of Portland, Ore., towing behind us my dream: A Tiny House Coffee Shop. We were headed to Colorado Springs, Colorado, but once again I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me go back and fill in some of the blanks.

In part one of this article we shared the pathway that led us to becoming ˜accidental minimalists,’ and how that path led to the idea of starting a tiny house coffee shop. But as we researched this idea, we couldn’t find anyone who had ever done it. There were similar structures, but they all operated as food trucks, serving customers from a window. Our idea was to build something where customers come inside. And we wanted it to be a high-end, classy experience. Was it legal? Or even possible? We believed it was, so we set out to make it happen.

Don and his family tried a number of layouts with masking tape.

We spent several months gathering ideas, laying out the floor plan with masking tape, researching tiny ice machines and dishwashers, and just trying to imagine how it would work. With over three years of living in less than 100 square feet, and fresh off our national coffee tour of over 200 shops, we had a pretty good sense of how to use the space. But there were seemingly endless mysteries to solve. How to plumb it? How to wire it? How will we heat and cool it? What will the health department require? And on and on. Finally, we were ready to start building, and we decided to go back to Portland for the first phase. We had a friend who was willing to help with the build, and my wife, Carissa, would be able to work as a doula to earn some income while I built the shop.

Starting to build the cafe.

As with most tiny house projects, we were going to begin with a flat bed trailer. So we picked that up in late April, and by May 1st we were off to the races. For the next three months we worked furiously, sunup to sundown, seven days a week. Carissa worked overnights, so my two daughters helped with the construction while Carissa slept in our RV under a shade tree. We were honored to have a few friends jump in here and there to help make things happen, and by July we had it to the ˜dried in’ stage, with all the doors, windows, and roof on. Now we were ready to relocate to Colorado Springs and finish up the interior. So my dad brought his big farm truck up from Oklahoma, and off we went on our ˜crazy’ cross-country trip. We did encounter a couple of storms, complete with flash flooding and hail, but for the most part she pulled like a beauty, and just three days later we arrived in Colorado Springs, safe and sound.

The menu board for the cafe.
The menu board.

Now came the hard part! Most everything we had done to this point would eventually be covered up, but going forward we would be working on things that people would see. Cabinets, flooring, walls, fixtures, and so on. Luckily, once again, we had some friends who were able to help with all of that. Brandon and Kelly Noffsinger teamed up with us to help solve all our mysteries (Kelly is a graphic artist and Brandon solves problems for a living). Additionally, my friend Robin Pasley had started an interior design business, and offered to help us create a cohesive design. These three, along with my friend in Portland, were indispensable partners and I can’t stress enough how critical it is to form these types of partnerships when starting a new café. Finding people who are good at what they do and turning them loose is absolutely paramount. Carissa and I had a ton of great ideas from our national coffee tour, and we had a strong vision for how those ideas would work in our new café. But putting that puzzle together in a way that satisfies the health department, building requirements, and still looks and functions beautifully, is a massive challenge. So we were thrilled to have such great partnerships at those critical points.

The cafe is almost done!
The cafe is almost done!

As we headed into fall, we were getting nearer to the completion of the build. We had learned so much from our national coffee tour, and incorporated what had learned wherever possible. I hope you’ll join us for the next installment of this series, where I’ll share a few examples of things we experienced on our tour that made their way into our tiny little coffee shop. See you then!

donniemyerDon Niemyer used to own three coffee shops in Portland, Ore., where he and his wife Carissa spent 8 years immersed in the excellent coffee culture there, milking it like a dairy cow for every drop of expertise it would give them, making lots of friends, doing some USBC judging, and learning all they could. One day, they decided to move their kids closer to family, so they bought a tiny RV, moved into it, and have been œmoving to Colorado  ever since, visiting coffee shops, practicing minimalism, and having lots of fun. That was over two years ago. One of these days, they might even end up living in Colorado.

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Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at