In the coming weeks of summer 2018, Blank coffee/food, or [ ] coffee/food, opens inside the “The Roundhouse” formerly of the Colorado Midland Railroad in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Built in 1889, the locomotive building is located on the corner of 21st Street and Highway 24, and although railway operations subsided in 1949, numerous merchants and restaurants have chosen to occupy the space since 1955.
RMFR visits Blank amidst their on-going construction to meet co-owners, Vance Garrett and Alex Baum, where we discuss the breadth of their coffee education and how the highly-anticipated coffee shop comes to fruition between two brackets.
[ ] prologue
Baum, who attended college in Portland, Oregon, began his craft coffee career at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, where he says he “got thrown into [it]” due to his status as a coffeehouse regular. After graduation, he briefly relocated to North Carolina, before accepting a position in Colorado Springs, at the local watering hole, Wild Goose Meeting House.
Garrett began his first java stint in 1997 at the now defunct Borders bookstore on the North side of Colorado Springs. He then spent a few years serving as a fire fighter in the U.S. Air Force, before returning to the area to revisit his growing interest in craft coffee.
“It was always a passion, it was never far away. ” says Garrett. “My wife and I started going to all of the cafes, getting to know the coffee community. That’s when I started getting deep into the specialty side.”
Garrett says he soon began to notice that coffee shops were experiencing a shortage of services necessary to maintain their equipment. To better understand the machinery he chose to travel to Seattle to take classes by La Marzocco, a top producer of high-end espresso machines, and quickly launched Congruent Services, a company that specializes in coffee equipment.
The connection between Garrett and Baum is of mere coincidence meeting at Alpine Modern, a cafe and lifestyle boutique in Boulder, Colorado, where they built a friendship that manifests into what is now Blank coffee/food. They tell us that the non-name was initially just a working title, but they soon came to the conclusion that remaining “nameless” is essential to the entire scope of their vision.
“As the project developed, we nailed down our core values, we wanted to be approachable, and be all the things that coffee is to people,” says Garrett. “It’s a necessity for some, a joy for others and it’s a comfort – it’s very versatile. That’s why ‘Blank’ fit what we wanted. Rather than create a rigid…identity, we wanted to keep it universal. It made sense to keep it open and flexible. The things that are important to us are the quality, consistency, and the level of service; those things aren’t necessarily tied to an image – [they] can be…anything.”
[ ] philosophy
We ask Garrett and Baum how they intend to approach stellar product quality and service at Blank and both parties immediately cite Japanese hospitality.
“There’s a book called “Coffee Life in Japan” that is a huge influence,” says Baum. “It talks about how ingrained [coffee] is to their culture. My parents lived in South Korea for four years; their coffee community is similar. There’s this place called 5Extracts, which is the most vivid coffee experience that I’ve ever had.”
Garrett says that another large Asian influence in their design is n/naka, established by Niki Nakayama, born to Japanese parents in Koreatown, Los Angeles. The restaurant offers kaiseki cuisine, a sequential, multi-course meal that pays particular attention to the taste, texture and the colors of dishes, in addition to the artistry of presentation.
“Japan takes an intentional approach to everything…always looking for the best way to do things,” says Garrett. “They put a lot more honor into jobs that many in Western culture may see as menial.”
[ ] inspiration
We peek at the menu to find several toast and baguette offerings that include a wide array of elements, from pickled asparagus to smoked mackerel to chocolate. What jumps off the page, however, are the donuts.
“There’s nothing simpler or better than coffee and a donut, when it’s done really well,” says Garrett. “General Porpoise was the inspiration, a donut shop in Seattle. It’s not the ‘let’s see how much sugar we can pack into fried dough.’ It’s good, quality stuff – simple, but complex in flavor.”
At Blank we can expect to see a high level of conscientiousness in all aspects of their operation, but what seems to take priority is “keeping things simple,” says Garrett.
“It allows us to nail quality and consistency,” continues Garrett. “The places that impress me most are the ones who nail it every time. That’s what we want to do.”
[ ] expectations
Baum and Garrett emanate an inherent love for Colorado Springs, for both it’s supportive coffee fellowship and burgeoning artisan culture. They passionately explain how Blank already sees its patrons and chooses to use the word “client” over “customer” or “guest,” due to the connotation it carries. They want their “clients” to acknowledge a budding relationship from their verbiage, their products and through the entirety of the experience.
“We want it to feel special every time,” says Garrett. “We want people to walk in the door and go, ‘wow.’ When they interact with our staff, we want another ‘Wow.’ When they get coffee, it should be the same. When they get a donut or sandwich, we want them to say, ‘I’m glad this is here.’ We want [people] to see our commitment to them and what we provide.”
“I would say: tiny piece of happiness,” Baum adds with a small shrug, conveying both an honest humility and deep conviction all at once.
It’s obvious as we tour the space that their vision for a slice of bliss exhibits a brooding amount of effort and careful attention to detail – from the use of sustainable materials to the seating layout – we walk through and see the life blood in their sawdust-covered labor of love.
“Coffee may be the first experience of your day,” says Garrett. “We’ve all had that [moment] where you sit back with a cup of coffee and take a sip, and you’re like, ‘things are right with the world.’ It’s that feeling that we want to pass on to people on a daily basis. If we can set the tone, we can make a big impact on people’s lives.”