Q&A: Gourmet beans, ‘tiny houses’ and Story Coffee Co.

The other day we reported on the coming Story Coffee Co., a gourmet shop housed in a “tiny house” and one of the first in the country with such an arrangement. The news even drew the attention of national food blog Eater, which posted a story titled “The First Tiny Coffeeshop Is Finally Here.” (It turns out Story is only one of the first, but more on that later.)

Missing from all this news is where the tiny coffee shop, owned by Don and Carissa Niemyer and their business partners Brandon and Kelly Noffsinger, is going to be located. Unfortunately, our conversation with Don Niemyer failed to reveal the truth, other than the fact that it will be in the downtown area. We did, however, touch on house-made chai, local culture, and the national coffee tour that brought the Niemyers back to hang out with Colorado Springs.

“We’re very hospitality focused and if what we do speaks to you, we want it to speak loudly and clearly,” Niemyer, 45, says of the Story Coffee Co. experience. “And we want it to really be beautiful, as frequently as you being the customer will allow us to share it with you.”

The interview has been edited for clarity and content.

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Don and Carissa Niemyer, left, with Brandon and Kelly Noffsinger.

Rocky Mountain Food Report: Where do things stand with the coffee shop construction right now?

Don Niemyer: Well, we are installing cabinetry right now. The cabinets are all built, we built them all ourselves, and on hold is the floor, which turned out to be a way bigger project.

A lot of things on this journey have turned out to be way bigger projects. … The most recent has been the floor, which we went with an all-natural, real hardwood, unfinished flooring product. And I’ve installed pre-engineered flooring before so I kind of had that in my head, you know, just click it into place, put some trim down and you’re good to go. And that was three weeks ago.  …

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So you’re planning to stay in whatever location is chosen?

Exactly. We’re not a mobile unit, really. We’re definitely constructing it as a mobile unit — it’s a tiny house on a trailer, you can pull it around — but we don’t want to be moving around all the time.

I owned three different coffee shops in Portland, Oregon, before we came down here. The nature of business is I’m not trying to sell someone a cup of coffee; I’m trying to earn a client who comes and gets coffee every day. Our goal is to have a strong presence in the Colorado Springs downtown area, to be a part of the thriving excitement that’s going on with the food and coffee and beverage industry here in the city. We want to be a part of that and develop friends that will come see us every day.

So why Colorado Springs?

I moved here  back in 2001. That’s actually where I got my start in coffee: I worked at both of the downtown Starbucks locations, in the Bijou area and South Tejon, and so I was kinda part of the downtown coffee scene 14 years ago now. …

We relocated to Portland and eventually bought a small shop there and kind of got our feet wet, made some good coffee friends and eventually owned three different coffee shops there. Meanwhile, we had another kid, and our kids started getting older and as they got older, our priorities started changing. …

Between Portland and here, we traveled around in our RV for six or ten months and we went to 45 different states, visited over 200 coffee shops, just kind of getting ideas and getting inspiration. So when we came back to Colorado Springs, we had to be honest with ourselves and say, “If you held Colorado Springs up against any of these other cities that we visited, that we really loved, and kind of let it have its own experience, what would you think of it?” And we thought “Man, we would love it.”

So now that we’re back we’re seeing like, oh there’s a lot of coffee culture developing, there’s a food scene developing, continuing to develop arts and culture and that kind of thing. If we had just came here and never been here before we would absolutely love it. So that really influenced our decision, and all those other factors converged and now here we are.

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Can you talk about your concept for Story Coffee Co.?

Our personal journeys have been influenced by some version of minimalism, which of course landed us in the conversation of the tiny house movement. And to back out of this a little bit, my family of four, I have two daughters that are now 9 and almost 11, and we’ve lived in a tiny RV — and I mean tiny, it’s less than 100 square feet of living space, basically a large van — we’ve lived in that for over three years now. …

Our offerings are very minimal, which is not to say “We would like to offer more and bigger and faster and stronger and powerful, but we just can’t because we don’t have enough space.” It’s not that. It is “We choose this,” and it matches what we would choose for our coffee offerings, which is a very simple, very high-quality offerings.

 You’re going to see a very minimal coffee offering of some of the best coffees in the world. We don’t do every size and version available and imaginable with our coffee. We go around the nation and find the best coffees we can get our hands on and make friends with those people and share the stories of those people and those coffees in a small, but very meaningful, context. That’s what we’re trying to do.

So you won’t see comfy couches with free WiFi and a dynamic acoustic duo in the corner every night. That’s not who we are. And we are unapologetically not that.

What they will find is, if you want to try coffee from Fayetteville, Ark., some of the best roasted coffee we found in the country, or from Stumptown in Portland, or from Panther in Florida, we’re going to bring that to Colorado Springs. We’re going to share that with you, and it’s going to be really amazing and high quality. And yes, it’s in a tiny house and it will be in a tiny cup, because it’ll be a tiny experience.

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What kind of food options will there be?

We will have espresso. You can get just an espresso, or you can get a macchiato, or a cappuccino or a latte. And those go up in size from ounce and half for an espresso, up to 2.5 ounces for the macchiato, five for the cappuccino, 12 for the latte. So we’re defining the size by what drink you say you want. So you can’t get a 6-ounce latte, nor can you get a 12-ounce cappuccino. That’s the espresso offerings we have.

You can get a mocha, for the record, and we do have a couple of house-made syrups: vanilla and caramel are the ones we’re going to go with. We also will have hot cocoa and we also make the chai.

Two things that will be unique in our menu. One is we will have some sort of a signature beverage. We intend to have one at all times. That’s something unique that we are crafting ourselves out of espresso. My wife and I are both judges on the barista competition circuit, and so that’s something that the competitors are required to do, create a signature beverage and that of their own making. So we’ll always have something like that on our menu.

And then the other thing is something that in all of our travels we never specifically saw, which is a flight of brewed coffees. A way for someone to arrive at that choice is they might say, “I don’t know one coffee from the next, it’s all just coffee to me.” To which we will answer with a wink, and “Wanna bet? I’ve got a flight of two coffees right now, I’ve got a Kenya and then I’ve got a Guatemala, and I’ll buy your coffee if you can’t tell the difference in those two coffees, because they are so different.” That’s kind of the fun that we want to have with that conversation, on a tray with a glass of sparkling water to cleanse your palate.”

Is this really the first “tiny house” coffee shop in the nation?

It was when we thought of the idea [laughs].

There’s two things with that. One is, lots of people build tiny houses and put lots of things in them, but we hadn’t seen one that didn’t essentially operate like a food truck. In other words, you walk up to a window and you order it, and if it’s snowing outside, tough, then go sit in your car or wherever. Whereas we built ours where you can actually come in and experience a high-quality, high-end, elegant experience where you can come inside and we as a team can really practice one of our favorite things.

We did, just recently, find, online — I haven’t talked to the owners yet, though I did send them a message when I found them — that there is another tiny house in Colorado that’s doing this and they beat us to it. They’re already open for business. They’re in Poncha Springs, they’re called Tiny House Coffee, and they have a concept similar to ours. …

I guess the point there is, it’s an idea who’s time has come.

[Images: Courtesy Story Coffee Co.]