As a child, Oliver Miller-Finkel was fascinated with his family's history. There were stories of World War II bombardiers, flower arrangers, and beautiful Victorian gardens. Today, he is still fascinated by it all, and through his own love of coffee has added a new chapter to his family's story.
Less than a year into its existence, his Lula Rose General Store has made a home in Denver by balancing the world of specialty coffee with local goods, family nostalgia, and his own personal touch.
“I really liked the idea of [Lula Rose] not being focused only on the cafe side,” says Miller-Finkel. “Obviously, that’s the main driver of the business, but there’s more of my personal interests [here] outside of coffee. We have canned jam, we do flower markets on the weekends, and obviously we sell bags of coffee, stuff like that. It’s really more about diversifying our average orders.”
The shop's aesthetic is signaled by lively flowers and big, inviting windows. Miller-Finkel has paid homage to both the building’s previous existence as a flower shop and his own familial tradition with gorgeous blooms he arranges himself, with occasional help from his mother.
“My mom’s whole side of the family grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and my great-aunt, Lula Rose, is a flower arranger,” says Miller-Finkel. “It kind of made sense to tie it all in together with the history of the building—it used to be Country Club Flowers before Lula Rose.”
As a coffee house, Lula Rose's setup is simple and solid: The coffee bar consists of a baby blue-and-blond wood Slayer single-group espresso machine; Mahlkönig Peak and EK 43 grinders; and an AeroPress. The rotation of roasters includes Coava and Onyx as well as local staples MiddleState and Sweet Bloom. Thump Coffee Roasters (which makes its own pastries in-house) provides daily deliveries of baked goods such as blueberry orange pecan muffins and macarons, while Sugar Vision delivers additional pastries like macarons and breakfast croissants on the weekends.
The general goods at Lula Rose change on a regular basis, though, and are largely determined by the staff's interests. While the regular stocking of a particular item may not be guaranteed, this allows for curating and hand-picking local items on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s not very systematic,” admits Miller-Finkel. “It’s based around what we’re interested in at that time, or when we get wind of something that’s cool. It’s in the business plan for someone to walk in and say, ‘Oh, I'm just coming in to get a cappuccino’ or whatever, and then leave with a pair of selvedge denim [jeans].
“Or, ‘Today we have an awesome box of strawberries, we just got it, we’re super stoked on it, and I think you’ll like it and it’ll be good with your coffee, too.’ Really it’s all about trying to be fun like that, and being able to put what we like out there and seeing if other people will like it too.
Miller-Finkel says Lula Rose's patchwork style and range of wares is the result of a steady evolution. “Initially, I’d look at other shops and businesses that I kind of wanted to [emulate], and tried to take some lessons from them without totally ripping them off. But since then it's been a fluid process to get it to where it is.”
At a time when several coffee shops in Denver are pursuing liquor licenses (three have obtained them, with at least two more applications pending), new locations, or expanded food menus, Lula Rose’s success lies in the simplicity of its operation and the customers with whom it has developed relationships.
“We really try to focus inward now, and not look over to the other side of the fence at all,” says Miller-Finkel. “Even sometimes, to almost make a point, [we'll] kind of go in the opposite direction from a lot of people.”
The shop is located on well-trafficked Colfax Avenue, near restaurants and popular music venues. Set between the Congress Park and City Park neighborhoods, an area without an abundance of good coffee, Lula Rose has become more than just a coffee shop or a general store.
“Colfax is an awesome street and such a busy one too,” says Miller-Finkel. “We appeal to not just specialty coffee [fans]; we have a lot of people who find out about us by just driving by. We get people from the neighborhood, people coming in from the airport, and people heading to the hospital down the street.” In other words, it's become just the sort of community staple it set out to be.
Ben Wiese is a freelance journalist based in Denver. Read more Ben Wiese on Sprudge.