The Coronavirus pandemic is not over—repeat, it is not over!—but we’re two years and change now from those wild, early days in spring and summer 2020, and that’s long enough to lend a little bit of perspective. For so many people the pandemic was a life-changing, career-changing deus ex machina jolt, whose aftershocks are still very much being felt in real time across society. We keep seeing it again and again here in the 2022 season of Build-Outs, in stories like this one, where a successful coffee cart with a focus on events catering saw its business evaporate overnight. What came next looks like something bigger, maybe even something beautiful, born out of the changing uncertainty of unfamiliar times. A little bit of beauty from the chaos. This is Circle Coffee in Topeka, Kansas.
As told to Sprudge by David Vincent.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
We’ve been operating our coffee cart for two and a half years, doing primarily private events. When COVID hit, all of our events went out the window, so we had to find another use for the cart. We started popping up in front of our friends houses and at the downtown farmers market. We live a few blocks from an old laundromat building that’s been vacant for three or four years, and would always walk by it and dream about someone else opening a shop inside of it. While the public demand for our coffee grew, many other doors began to open for us to open a shop and we eventually signed a lease in October of 2021 and began remodeling the entire building.
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
Like most laundromats, it fortunately has a huge bay of windows in front, which is one of the main things that drew us to the space. We also loved the white cinderblock walls and concrete floor, both of which we kept. The building is right in the middle of several neighborhoods, and two blocks away from Washburn University. I don’t think we could have dropped it in a better spot if we wanted to.
With the bright white walls and black accents we didn’t want the space to feel too modern or stale, so we added pops of color throughout the space through paint streaks, colored grout, and a few fun furniture pieces. We wanted our space to feel like the living room and backyard to the neighborhood, and that influenced a lot of where our money was spent. We poured a 1,000-square-foot patio on the east end of the building, and added a garage door to connect the two spaces. We added turf and bike racks on the other side of the patio, so our neighbors can roll right up to our space. We also added a bakery to the east end of the building, which my sister Ruth operates as the head pastry chef.
What’s your approach to coffee?
Our goal is to serve really excellent drinks in a timely manner with a smiling face. We want to bring experiences to people through our products and service that make people feel valued and proud to live here in Topeka. We have a fairly simple menu and don’t plan to expand it much. Simplicity is always more if you’re confident in what you’re offering and don’t stay complacent with creativity.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
We are a multi-roaster cafe, with Cat & Cloud as our anchor roaster. We are currently featuring Brandywine and Sey Coffee as our guest roasters for the next few months. We are really proud to be able to bring world class coffees to our community. Our overall coffee approach is to offer top notch experiences without being that snobby shop that makes you feel dumb for not knowing that a caramel macchiato doesn’t exist.
Our approach with equipment was to add technology and convenience wherever we felt like it didn’t take away from the artistry and quality of what we were serving. We want our team to have time to interact with guests and less time distracted by the equipment they’re using. We have a two-group La Marzocco Linea PB AV for espresso, a Tone Touch 03 for automatic pour-overs, and a Ground Control Cyclops for drip, cold brew, and espresso concentrate.
A big workflow decision we made late in the game was to split up our hot and iced drink stations, and with the addition of the Ground Control brewer we are able to brew espresso concentrate and add it to kegs with nitrogen gas to prevent oxidation. With the espresso on tap we are able to make every iced drink at a separate station, and we utilize iPads with KDS to send orders to either the espresso machine, or the keg station. We have three other rotating taps, with our current lineup featuring nitro cold brew, a sparkling hibiscus berry limeade, and an oat milk latte with passionfruit and curry spices. The separated drink stations increases our efficiency and our guests spend less time waiting for drinks and more time with the people they came here to be with.
How is your project considering sustainability?
We plan to only partner with roasters who offer transparency in their relationships with the farmers they source from. We use alternative milks that actually taste good to encourage people to go that route. We are also composting our coffee grounds.
What’s your hopeful target opening date/month?
We opened on June 30, 2022.
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
All of the wood pieces in our space was done by my brother Tim, who just launched his business (Community Woodworking Co.) here in Topeka. The attention to detail in all of his work is second to none and it took our space to another level.