There’s something unusually prepossessing about Don and Carissa Niemyer, and it isn’t the clean living, the lure of many miles traveled, or the shock value of four people living happily in just 100 square feet for over three years now. It’s something about their level, clear gazes and obvious enthusiasm about coffee community. For almost a year, the coffee world followed the Niemyers around the United States on the “Rialta Tour” as they sipped, took notes, and made friends with baristas, roasters, and shop owners in their exhaustive research, and then—silence.
“I generally don’t tend to like telling people we’re doing something until we’re actually doing it,” says Don Niemyer by way of explanation, “but we’ve started to pull the curtain back because we’re looking for a location.” A location…for their Tiny House cafe.
Yep, you read that right: the Niemyers, former owners of Speedboat Coffee in Portland, Oregon, and their business partners, Brandon and Kelly Noffsinger, are building their cafe on a 20 x 8-foot trailer and will be settling somewhere in the fair city of Colorado Springs, dispensing outstanding coffees sourced from their favorite roasters encountered on their travels. Expect a “fine-dining” experience in the novelty of a 160-square-foot space, and an emphasis on the stories that fill every batch of coffee, from producer to barista. They are, in fact, naming their business “Story Coffee Company”.
The concept behind the name is simple, says Don Niemyer. “Between us, we and the Noffsingers have traveled to 45 states in the United States and visited every great coffeehouse we could find. We are deeply compelled by the stories of their coffees, and we want to honor them.” He adds that it was when judging Andrea Allen of Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas at the Big Central Regional Barista Championship that he and Carissa truly became enamored of the potential for storytelling in coffees, leading them to drive hours out of their way to visit Onyx and experience the stories up close and personal in Allen’s cafes.
At the same time as coffee's continued growth, the Tiny House community is exploding across the United States. Niemyer recalls that laws meant to prevent slumlords from building unhealthy dwellings for the disadvantaged back around the time of the building of the Eire Canal had made it impossible to, for example, live in one’s shed or garage.
“That’s great, until someone in 2015 says they don’t want a big house with an unaffordable mortgage, but rather something small, high-quality, and made with good construction.” In a culture full to surfeit with excess, all it took to launch the movement was Jay Shafer circumventing those laws by building a small house on a trailer bed in the ‘90s. The movement is now in full swing and gathering force rapidly. According to an infographic released by Tiny House website TheTinyLife.com, 68% of people who live in a Tiny House own it outright, versus 29.3% of American homeowners. A recent festival in Colorado Springs, the Tiny House Jamboree, drew forty thousand attendees.
The Story Coffee Company team embraces the minimalistic ethos of the Tiny House movement with an eye to building with sustainability and elegance. The Niemyers bought the flat-bed trailer and began building from floor upwards in spring of 2015, returning to Portland for Carissa Niemyer to pursue her work as a doula while her husband put in long days in construction. Once the cafe had reached “dried in” state (walls up, roof on, windows and doors in, and waterproofed), the family went back on the road to Colorado Springs to finish the construction and begin the process of finding a location. The Noffsingers are invaluable business partners: Brandon Noffsinger is an enthusiastic home roaster and barista who will eventually roast for the company, and Kelly Noffsinger is a designer (the preliminary branding is her work).
A local interior designer, Robin Pasley, is helping the team integrate the many pieces of the puzzle into an efficient, aesthetically pleasing whole. Niemyer says each detail counts in this unique buildout, from using an ancient Japanese wood treatment called “Shou Sugi Ban” for exterior wood to showcasing a La Marzocco Linea, customized by Ben Schultz of Steadfast Coffee Tech in Portland. Currently in the thick of installing electricity and plumbing, the team will be adding flooring, cabinetry, lighting, sheetrock, and many other details in the next few weeks with a projected opening date of October 1st. (Probably more like November, adds Niemyer ruefully, but hope springs eternal.)
As far as they can ascertain, Story Coffee Company will be the first Tiny House coffeehouse to open—ever—and is designed to pack all bar equipment into six feet of the space, allowing fourteen feet for customers (they hope to accommodate about a dozen) inside, with seating on the deck and a walk-up window making for a solid flow. So far, the city of Colorado Springs has been great to work with, says Niemyer, “though they don’t always know quite what to do with us.” He adds that a lot of cities are having conversations about sustainability and simplicity culture—and the Story Coffee Company team wants to be part of that.
In a small way.