This is not your average build-out. Kelly Nelson fell in love with coffee, and dreamed of one day opening his own cafe in the small city of Richland, Washington. That dream was nearly deferred because of a cancer diagnosis for his daughter, Miette, who loved cool trips and Airstream trailers. Thanks to a donation from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Nelson family became the proud owners of a gorgeous 1972 Airstream trailer. These days Miette Nelson is recovering, and the Nelson family have renovated a second vintage Airstream into a working cafe.
Tragedy and triumph, coffee and cancer, family and faith and the kindness of strangers. This is Ström Coffee in Richland, Washington, now open for business.
As told to Sprudge by Kelly Nelson and the Ström Coffee team.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your company, and how it all got started?
I would say the dream for the business started years ago when my love for coffee exceeded what was available in most places I had ever been to. I began a quest for the perfect cup of coffee. Smooth, rich, never bitter and hints of flavors deep within the sip. The research began and any opportunity I had to learn about pulling that elusive perfect shot, I took and breathed in as much as possible. I began to realize how many elements there were to making espresso. Beginning with the roasted beans. Without a good roast, you really have nothing to work with. I was thankful to meet and befriend an excellent coffee roaster in my local area and have been using his coffee beans ever since. I believe he is like myself and cares very much about the craft, not just the dollar.
And of course the next important element being the machine. A machine that was the most thermally stable, etc. for pulling that liquid gold. After learning how all the elements worked together to craft an amazing espresso shot, I began dreaming about opening my own shop someday. Fast forward a few years and the dream took a backseat to my daughter’s diagnosis of Ewings Sarcoma cancer in her leg. At that time in our life, nothing else mattered but getting her healthy again. As most may know, one of the things cancer kids “get” to do is submit a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. While many kids choose something like Disneyland or a Cruise, Miette decided she wanted an Airstream trailer. She made us realize in making a comment about how “cool” cancer was, because she got to go on so many trips, that we needed to take more vacations as a family and travel more. Prior to her diagnosis, the only real vacation we took was for our annual church convention. We knew we wanted to change that and fully supported her dream of owning an Airstream travel trailer to make that possible. And Make-A-Wish did as well.
Once Miette was out of treatment and doing well, my dream of owning my own coffee business was even more fervent and with more meaning. The realization about how short life is made that desire even stronger. We wanted to spend more time as a family and running a family business would help facilitate that. Merge that with our love for airstreams and you have Ström.
Can you tell us a bit about your new space?
We are situated in a totally renovated vintage 1964 Airstream. It’s 30 feet of mobility, 185 square feet of area to work in. The Airstream was stripped down to just the frame and the shell and rebuilt to be completely self contained for serving coffee. Marmoleum countertops, custom hand made maple faced cabinets, aluminum countertop edging, warm LED lighting, reclaimed wood (from our blown down 30 year old fence), 5 foot wide serving hatch and the entire thing polished to a reflective finish.
The Ström Coffee Airstream was completely hand crafted, just like our coffee. A way to encourage the appreciation of the craft (both coffee and the Airstream) is to change this area’s culture of take-out, on-the-go coffee to that of the Nordic “fika” culture (hence our Norwegian based name, umlauts and all). We want an extended visit to Ström Coffee to become a ritual that our customers engrain in their lives. Our business plan and philosophy discourages any drive-through. In an area with virtually every coffee shop sporting a drive-through, Ström Coffee will not have one. We want our customers to see Ström as a destination so our space has been designed with clean lines, very simple, bright and inviting. Airstreams provide that perfect canvas for a Scandinavian style space.
What’s your approach to serving coffee?
Our vision is really focused on making sure we give the customer the absolute best chance at tasting the coffee, rather than the other ingredients usually found in espresso based drinks. We encourage customers to step outside their normal boundaries of drinking coffee by tasting more coffee by serving less of the other ingredients. One way this is accomplished, as an example for espresso based drinks, is by offering smaller cup sizes but maintaining the same amount of coffee. That means less milk for lattes.
The other way this is done is by education. We educate the customers that the smaller sizes are a good thing; it means they get to taste more great coffee rather than it being drowned out by milk and sugars. One of our business objectives is to educate all the taste buds out there about specialty coffee. We believe roasting, preparing and serving excellent coffee requires high skill and craftsmanship. We want our customers to focus on the work of our craft just as much as they would on a elegant house, beautiful piece of wood furniture or a delightful culinary dish. Of course this means our coffee needs to be 110% most excellent, which requires absolute attention to the finest details of preparation and techniques. We believe in a strict program for our espresso based drinks and will be disciplined, yet experimental with our single origins pour overs.
You’ve got a beautiful Slayer espresso machine – any other brewing, coffees, special equipment lined up?
Besides the custom Slayer 2 group, which was designed by Kelly Nelson and Jason Prefontaine of Slayer in the inspiration of the Airstream curves, lines and rivets, we will be using Mazzer Kony grinders for espresso, Baratza Virtuoso grinders for our pour overs, Bonavita variable temp kettles, Chemex and a Yama cold brew tower. Keep in mind we are a “mobile” shop, so the trick is finding ways the equipment can be fastened down and not flying all around while in transport. The Slayer is the centerpiece of the setup and fits really nicely with our philosophy of precision craftsmanship. Having the pressure control and precise temperature stability was essential to truly crafting our espresso and thankfully we will have that ability along with style.
Are you working with craftsmen/women, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
Most of the work done on the Airstream was done by Kelly Nelson and his dad, the most excellent craftsman, Robert. Lisa (Kelly’s wife) designed most of the interior coverings. It has been a great family effort in getting this “mom and pop” shop into production. Without the help of the family, this project would not be where it is today. This is exactly how this project was supposed to be. Family and coffee.
Where will the Airstream be parked?
For the most part, the Airstream will most likely be parked in John Dam Plaza in Richland, Washington city park at the edge of a shopping parkway but we will plan out other locations throughout the year.
Photos courtesy of Paradox Visual.