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 four-part series (more to enjoy!) as he uses the lessons he’s learned to build his own cafe. You can read part one here, along with parts two and three.
Part Four: The Story of Story Coffee Company
œWhy don’t you just call it ‘Story Coffee’?
I’ll never forget the moment we named our shop. I had been telling my father-in-law how excited we were about sharing the stories of the coffees we had discovered while traveling, and how passionate we were about highlighting the stories of the people who produced them. Additionally, we were always telling people about our own story, and wanted to know the stories of each person who came into our shop.
œI think we’ve got a great concept, I explained. œI just have to come up with a name that represents all those things.
I’m not sure why the very obvious answer had never occurred to me, but it seemed like a light went off when he suggested we just call it Story Coffee. It was perfect! So we were nearing the completion of our café, and she was a beauty! Only one problem. We had no idea where we were going to park it. Our concept wasn’t to move around, even though we were on a trailer. We wanted to be in a permanent location where we could be a part of the community, and build our business on relationship with regular customers. For weeks, I had been turning over every stone I could find to see what would open up, and we had some decent options that looked promising. But each one had various issues with access to things like electricity and water, so we were still uncertain if any of them would be viable options, and it was almost time to launch our business.
Then I got a call from a woman named Sarah. She said she had heard about what we were building, and thought it might be a good fit for a project she was working on with the City of Colorado Springs. For the past three years they had installed a full sized ice skating rink in a city park that was in the heart of downtown. It attracted thousands of ice skaters, and was a hit of the holiday season. But they kept hearing people say how great it would be to have a place to warm up and get a hot drink after their skate. She thought what we were building would be perfect.
Well I have to say, it took me a minute to warm up to the idea of setting up shop, knowing that I’d just have to move again in three months. But the opportunity was too ideal. We would be introducing our concept to the city in the most visible way possible, while sitting in the middle of the most romantic location we could imagine, surrounded by natural beauty, looking out towards the mountains, with all the resources we needed to operate our shop.
So we worked out the details, and on November 13th, 2015, we opened our doors on the same day they opened up the skating rink. To our great delight, all our systems worked perfectly, and over the next three months we served a few coffees and a billion hot chocolates to everyone from ice skaters to holiday shoppers to parade watchers and more. It was a blast, and we were so grateful to be right in the middle of the city’s cultural activity. We loved being there, and the Parks and Recreation folks seemed to like us being there, too, because they surfaced the notion that maybe we should just stay put! They had received nothing but positive feedback from the community, and thought it might be a nice amenity for the park to have us set up shop permanently. We did have to move from the middle of the park to the edge, but that was no big deal, and we’ve been set up in Acacia Park ever since.
Once we moved to our permanent location, we built a little more infrastructure around the tiny house. Now we have a deck that wraps around two sides, and on the back we have a 20 foot ramp which makes us wheelchair accessible. We also have a walk-up window that allows us to serve people who just want a quick cup of coffee, as well as folks out walking their dogs. One of my favorite features is on the tongue of the trailer. It’s a trash shed, which we access through the tiny window above our sink, so all our trash literally gets thrown out the window! Our restroom, electricity and water (as well as some bonus storage) come from the building next to us, which is a 100 year old historic band shell. All of this, plus trash and a beautifully landscaped ˜yard,’ are included in our permit to operate in the park, which is a fraction of what most shops pay for rent!
So all in all, our concept seems to be working. It’s certainly not without its problems, and after almost a year of business we still have a lot of room for growth. But our model of simplicity and minimalism means we do almost nothing but what we love: coffee. We don’t have sandwiches or wifi or a drive thru or even a bathroom to clean. All of which means we don’t need a large staff or have a lot of overhead to cover. The outcome is that we can focus on coffee, and present the stories of some of the finest coffees in the world with our customers, which is precisely the point. We’re doing what we love in a way that allows us to focus on the things we value. Things like excellence. Simplicity. Beauty. And lots and lots of compelling stories.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our story. And just so you know, if you’re ever in our neck of the woods, we’d love to hear more about yours as well. We do love us some good stories!
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.