A lot has changed in the Texas Panhandle since our last set of visits about a year and a half ago. For one, Canyon is no longer a dry city, one of the last in Texas to make the conversion. And Palace Coffee Company’s expansion from Canyon into downtown Amarillo—only in its nascent stages during our last report—has not only been completed but has already celebrated its one-year anniversary. True to his word, owner Patrick Burns opted for a more “soft modern” aesthetic befitting a bustling downtown hub both the shop and downtown Amarillo look to grow into. The modern look is felt in the cafe’s high ceilings and a larger, open floor plan, and the “soft” is owed to the warm wood tones and smattering of heavy cotton Texas throwback flags (including the Gonzalez Flag, the most succinct expression of Texas pride/braggadocio).
And yet while some things stay the same—like Burns’ affinity for matte black everything, as evidenced by his 2001 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck, 1971 VW bus (sold to fund the new space), and now a custom La Marzocco GB/5 on the counter of the Amarillo location—others change, and quite drastically. The change, in this case, is one of relationships.
Palace has long had a symbiotic relationship with the Amarillo-based Evocation Coffee Roasters. Evocation served as their primary roaster for years and roasted all the competition coffees for all Palace competitors; they were like peas and carrots, cherries and beans. But as they move toward opening their own roastery, Palace has split ways with Evocation and teamed up with Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Company to begin a private labelling program with the St. Louis-based roaster in the interim.
In most private label relationships, the company doing the actual roasting (or the fact that a company other than the one listed on the bag is doing the roasting at all) is a guarded secret. The existence of a private roaster relationship is normally found out through a friend of a friend or under the legally binding agreement, “Okay, you have to promise not to tell anyone…” Not so with Palace. It is plastered on the backs of their bags in no ambiguous terms. “It’s unique to find a roaster who is willing to create a program for a cafe looking to start roasting for themselves in the future. Kaldi’s provides some great coffees but more than that, they are a great group of people and are great at the business aspects of our industry,” Burns tells me.
The partnership is also unique in that Palace will have an active role in the sourcing and roasting of their coffees. Working closely with Kaldi’s green buyer, Tyler Zimmer, Palace will help source six to eight micro-lots each year as well as assist in the creation of their espresso blend. And, in what seems to be ripped straight from the sports pages, Palace is “trading” one of their aces to St. Louis; Andrew McCaslin, the heir-apparent to the Palace competition crown after Burns calls it quits (in fact, Burns gave up his spot at this year’s USBC so that McCaslin could take his place—he thought McCaslin had a better chance to win it all), has made the move northeast to join the Kaldi’s team and be a part of the Palace private label program.
And what about the other half of the equation, Evocation, that helped turn the Panhandle into a Texas coffee hotspot? “A retail space is definitely in our near future, but I can’t say a lot about our plans at the moment. We have some great things lined up and big announcements right around the corner,” Evocation owner Roman Leal tells me. “We’re very excited for the future of Palace. New roasters entering into Amarillo will be great for the market and will challenge everyone to keep moving forward. We want the people of Amarillo to be able to demand excellence.”
Growing pains aren’t fun, and this change won’t be easy. But they’re a sign of… well, growth. In that sense, they’re definitely a good thing—for Palace, for Evocation, and for the coffee scene in the Panhandle. Now Amarillo, a city of roughly 200,000, will have two nationally renowned roasters operating out of their own backyard. For the consumer, that level of quality is hard to be upset about, and it’s certainly not something most would expect outside of the major US coffee cities. All in all, the changes are largely positive and point toward a brighter future for the small but illustrious world of West Texas coffee. And maybe the latte art throwdowns will get just a skosh more heated—but that’s pretty fun too.
Zac Cadwalader is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.
Photos by Ash Marie Grossman.