Coffee business brews off beaten path

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Kelly Bubach checked out major cities before deciding to locate his coffee business in an older neighborhood, where he’s totally satisfied.

Kelly Bubach checked out major cities before deciding to locate his coffee business in an older neighborhood, where he’s totally satisfied.

Urban Steam Coffee Bar

1025 S. Sierra Madre St.


Owner: Kelly Bubach

Employees: One full-time, two part-time

Kelly Bubach is a former IT professional who left his job to turn his love of java into a warehouse coffee bar in a southern corner of downtown.

The neighborhood, southwest of Tejon and Las Vegas streets near the Martin Drake Power Plane, is not what many might consider an ideal location for a coffee shop, but it’s just what Bubach wanted — a gritty urban site.

“This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Colorado Springs,” he said. “It’s totally blue-collar and probably the closest thing to urban in the city.”

Bubach’s coffee shop, called Urban Steam, opened at 1025 S. Sierra Madre St. in November.

Bubach picked the spot early on when he was trying to decide just what kind of coffee joint he wanted his to be. He considered high-visibility boutique locations and funky urban spaces.

“I checked out Seattle and Chicago and I just thought this was the future,” he said.

“People are moving into rundown neighborhoods and revitalizing them.”

He opted for an older, urban setting over a sleek boutique in a high-traffic area.

It was a gamble that’s paying off for him now.

“This is perfect for two reasons,” Bubach said. “One — selfishly — I love it. I just think it’s cool. And then it’s also giving local people a place to hang out.”

While Urban Steam’s location gives it a unique distinction from other coffee shops, that’s not what Bubach really thinks is the café’s distinguishing feature.

It’s all about the coffee, he said.

Different model works

He said he sells about 1,000 cups of coffee a month and hopes to double that in the next year.

But it will still pale in comparison to what he imagines most high-volume Starbucks locations do — maybe 10,000 cups a month. But that’s OK. He has a different business model.

“We’re different from most commercial-venture coffee shops that place themselves in the consistency market,” Bubach said.

“You can go in and get a coffee from five different Starbucks any time of year — winter or summer — and have a cup of coffee that tastes exactly the same.”

Just as high-end avant-garde restaurants bring in locally sourced or exotic ingredients for carefully prepared and thoughtful dishes, Bubach said his approach is highlighting the quality and the uniqueness of the coffee he sells.

“I scored this coffee from Kenya,” he said of one brand in particular. “It’s amazing — and we’ll probably never see it again after it’s gone.”

He always has eight to 15 different types of coffee on the menu. They’re sourced from small farms around the world and selected for their unique and special flavors.

Just as beer and wine lovers can enjoy tasting different flavors that come from the earth where the barley and grapes were grown, Bubach said his customers appreciate the intricacies of the many coffee flavors.

“People come in to taste different coffee,” he said. “And we try to educate them about what they’re tasting.”

Every cup is made to order. It’s freshly ground and slow brewed specifically for the person who ordered it.

There are no “dark roasts” or “breakfast blends” at Urban Steam. Instead, every cup is identified by the specific beans used to make it.

Bubach searches for the highest-quality coffees and roasts them himself. It’s more of an art than a business, he said.

“This is my living room,” he said. “This is my home and I love entertaining.”

He picks high-quality coffees that he wants to share with people and he willingly pays a premium for them. For the customer, they range in price from the $2 a cup someone might pay for drip coffee at Starbucks upward, depending on how rare and in-demand the particular bean is.

Bubach said a lot of people who have traveled and lived in Europe or other parts of the world with well-developed coffee and espresso cultures have become regulars at his shop, ordering shots of espresso.

How it started

Bubach started home-roasting after a stint moonlighting at the Acoustic Coffee Lounge on Garden of the Gods Road, which closed in 2002.

As he got more and more into it, he would give beans to friends and family and then he started selling it a little here and there.

“It was enough to keep me in coffee,” he said. “I was breaking even.”

He decided to see if he could try wholesaling, but there was no market for his ultra-high-end roasts, he said. So he thought he would open a roasting operation with a small tasting room. That’s what he set out to do in the beginning. But his market research led him to go all the way and open a café and coffee shop complete with food.

Of course, there’s still great emphasis on the coffee.

“I don’t have customers,” he said. “I have clients.”

He talks to everyone who buys coffee beans from him about what flavor profiles they like and how they brew. He wants to make sure they’re getting a coffee they will love.

Bubach’s chef prepares gourmet waffles, and the menu offers a selection of elaborate salads and sandwiches, most for typical café prices between $5 and $9.

Bubach said he’s worried the shop has already outgrown its space. He’d like to expand so he can roast on-site and offer coffee education classes on better brewing and even home roasting.

“It’s going really well,” he said. “It’s even better than I expected. I think Colorado Springs was ready for something grungy and urban like this.”