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 One: Accidental Minimalists
The whole thing was one big accident. It was a simple idea, really. œLet’s relocate closer to family . But somehow that simple idea led to over three years of homelessness, a six month national coffee crawl, and a one-of-a-kind tiny house coffee shop. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.
It was the fall of 2010 when the idea first occurred to me that it was time to move back to Colorado. We’d moved to Portland, Oregon in 2006 to work in coffee, but decided we were raising our kids too far away from their extended family. So we put the wheels in motion to sell our shop, and started planning our move. It wasn’t long into that process when it occurred to me that we could take this opportunity to go visit a few shops along the way, getting inspiration for whatever we would do when we got to Colorado. With no jobs and a little money in the bank, we could take our time. Maybe two whole weeks! Heck, as long as we’re at it, why not a month? Or two months! What’s to stop us!?! And so on it went, until we decided we’d just take off and go until we felt like stopping.
So it was settled. The only thing we’d need was a perfect vehicle for our grand adventure, and that conversation led straight to the Volkswagen Rialta. We found the perfect one, and the guy selling it was even willing to take payments on it! Problem was, we couldn’t afford to pay rent and make RV payments. So we moved out of our house and into the Rialta, œurban stealth camping around town, figuring our shop would sell quickly and we’d be ready to hit the road.
Then it took two more years to sell our shop.
So that’s how we became what I like to call œaccidental minimalists . In two years of living with four people in less than 100 square feet, you get good at existing with œless . Less space. Less privacy. Less resources. But you also get a lot œmore at the same time. More creative. More of a sense of what’s important. And more time together. What we learned was that, by living simply, we were automatically getting more of a lot of things we valued, and we were automatically living a lot of our values as well. Things like using fewer resources and spending more time outdoors. It was a total blast, and honestly, we loved every minute of it. But what we didn’t know at the time was how profoundly this experience was going to impact our future in coffee.
Our shop did eventually sell and we were finally free to hit the road! With our experience in urban stealth camping and utilizing minimal resources, we took off on our adventure. The plan was to hit as many coffee shops as possible, and learn all we could from whoever would talk to us. We would gather inspiration from each stop, and seek clarity on what we would do when we finally landed in Colorado. And for the most part, it worked great! We hit 45 states and visited over 200 coffee shops. We met some fantastic people, and gathered lots of inspiration and ideas. We did a little coffee consulting, judged a few barista competitions, and even reported on our adventure right here on the BMAG blog!
But as our trip neared completion, we still weren’t sure if we wanted to start another œregular coffee shop. We had really come to value simplicity and minimalism. But we also wanted to do something really beautiful and elegant, putting a spotlight on some of the amazing coffees and people we had met on our travels. And so with these thoughts bouncing around in my noggin’, one day it hit me: We could build something simple, yet beautiful, by using the principles of the Tiny House community. The folks building tiny houses have developed amazing expertise at creating elegant and functional structures by using quality materials and being creative with the tiny spaces. And with our experience living tiny for over three years now, who better to execute this idea than us?
Just one problem, though. No one had ever done this (that we knew of) and we weren’t quite sure it was possible or even legal. But there was one way to find out, and that was to just go for it!
So how’d that work for us? Check back here for part two of our report, and we’ll tell you all about it!
To be continued ¦.
Don 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.