But as national trends developed in the late ‘90s, food was left in the dust of lattes and soy milk and the two went separate ways. Salt Lake City’s shops had to find a path catering to a wide audience where industry trends wouldn’t work. Utah’s leading coffee shops wouldn’t have made it had they offered just coffee, like their influential out-of-state counterparts. Instead, the Utah coffee community embraced the partnership of food and specialty coffee in a different way than before. Luckily national trends followed, and now specialty coffee in a restaurant setting is commonplace across the country.
Coffee in Salt Lake City wouldn’t have been a realistic idea if it weren’t for something as simple as opportunity. Whether it was a perfect location at the perfect moment, or the perfect opportunity arising from the kind of relationships this community fosters, coffee now has a stronghold in Utah’s northern cities, and is slowly beginning to flourish statewide. Each of the shops in town has its own identity. Luckily, all those identities overlap through their coffee and delicious food, each with the hope of making things taste as wild and beautiful as the Utah landscape.
After my time at La Barba, the opportunity to work for one of the most iconic shops in the West came knocking, and I couldn’t imagine not taking it. After working for The Rose Establishment for five years, I can confidently say it has been the most rewarding environment of my career. The community The Rose has fostered extends from behind the bar to each chair and table, forming a group of passionate baristas, foodies and regulars that are some of the most inspiring minds in town.
Riding Waves in a Desert
The contemporary coffee industry is comprised of several waves. The first was made up of diners, often called coffee shops, serving full breakfast and deli menus. Think of the coffee shop from “Seinfeld,” and you’ll understand the first wave. Espresso was rarely found in these diners, until the second wave began to roll in with hulky brass machines and a reinvigorated zeal for cappuccinos swept the nation’s metropolitan hubs. Think of “Frasier’s” Café Nervosa, where Frasier and Niles ruminate over a misstep or missed opportunity.
During the second wave, people wanted to know not only what makes a good cappuccino, but also where the coffee was grown. Shops like Jack Mormon, Coffee Garden, Salt Lake Roasting Company and Caffe Ibis made up the second wave of the 1980s and 90s, paving the way for local coffee culture, rather than it being some distant rumor of coastal culture, and these Salt Lake City coffee shops remain integral. Coffee Garden lives in legend as the only local shop to push Starbucks out of its neighborhood.
The third wave was ushered into its current glory by Salt Lake legends Cafe D’Bolla and Nobrow Coffee (now reimagined as Blue Copper). Joe Evans of Nobrow and John Piquet of D’Bolla are the dreamers who built the infrastructure of today’s expansive third-wave coffee industry, leading companies like Campos Coffee of Australia to settle their first U.S. operation in the heart of Salt Lake City’s business district.
Ironically, two of Salt Lake’s high-end local roasting powerhouses are within a block of each other. Publik and Blue Copper both have their flagship stores near the intersections of Main Street, West Temple and 900 South, and both operate in unique and inspiring ways. Both these shops exemplify the third wave of coffee: education, honesty and a religious exaltation of the coffee itself.
Publik seized an opportunity to make something great of a giant warehouse in a developing neighborhood. The company’s flagship is a behemoth of communal workspace, securing its spot as the environmentally responsible shared workspace coffeehouse of the 21st century. Now, they have more shops: one at Salt Lake’s 9th and 9th neighborhood serving full breakfast and lunch menus, another small and bright shop perfect for dog walks and breaks from gardening in the Avenues neighborhood. Most recently, Publik opened another food-focused spot (across the street from the University of Utah’s Presidents Circle taking the place of an institution known as Big Ed’s) serving burgers and beer in addition to diner breakfasts and bold roasts.
The truth is that opportunity spews right out of the ground in Utah, ringing true to the old adage that this high-elevation desert plain is a promised land: Zion opening her arms to the pioneers who settled their shops here.
Round Table/Town Square
Opportunity knocked 10 years ago when The Rose Establishment opened its doors to the Rio Grande/Gateway neighborhood, southwest of the city’s central business district, in a beautiful warehouse space, circa 1910. Hardwood, subway tile, huge windows and an open concept kitchen design made this shop the perfect gesture toward what the coffee community could become: simple, warm, welcoming and of the utmost quality. Erica O’Brien, The Rose’s owner, cares a whole lot about everything: from the materials that make up the environment to the ingredients that make up the menu.
The Rose is everything a standard-bearer of a coffee community should be: It’s spacious, bright, simple and offers excellent music, diverse food (including gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian items) and a beautiful patio. The chef grows herbs in a rooftop garden. The baristas make everything from scratch, including their twist on the legendary London Fog and cashew milk as a dairy alternative. The team at the Rose presents a carefully curated alcohol menu, featuring local or hard-to-find beers and affordable, delicious glasses of wine. Their beverage program has garnered national attention and respect, growing in the hands of former general manager Cody Kirkland.
The Rose has made its place in the local scene in the decade it has been open by serving a seasonally rotating food menu and a shifting collection of out-of-state coffee roasters. It remains the only shop in town to offer a dynamic range of award-winning and nationally known coffee roasters, each hand selected by its team of expert employees. As general manager, Shaylee has focused their roaster partnerships on a set of guidelines: A close understanding of the growers’ and harvesters’ labor conditions, a carefully monitored environmental impact from planting to roasting and an intersectional engagement with class, race and gender issues across the whole chain of supply.
The Rose is an opportunity for something truly unique, a space with positive and warm energy that surpasses time and trend, where countless travelers and locals have spent hours of their time WiFi-free. The building itself had been used as a variety of industrial plants, but O’Brien’s decade-old project revitalized the space, making it a home away from home for residents and visitors.
The Rose is where I go when I want to be at home with all my friends. Perhaps you’ll see me there, often sitting at the counter watching and chatting as baristas whip around, concocting house-made beverages of fresh coffee, tea, curious reductions and elaborate nonalcoholic spirits, emulations and bitters.
Sustainable Sourcing and Conscious Consumption
Ambitious and passionate about social responsibility, seasoned barista Shaylee Syme isn’t shy about doing what she can to make change that benefits others. She has a presence that fills any room, and is one of the most joyful people I have ever worked with. Shaylee is a Utah native who started at The Rose Establishment in 2016. With a drive to fill in the blank spaces along the vertical chain of the coffee industry, Shaylee has managed to make use of The Rose’s resources to empower customers with knowledge and charity.