Saturday, January 29, 2011

Q&A with Chris Holliday: Coffee Talk

For those who don't know, there's a new coffee shop opening downtown. Elemental Coffee is located in the 800 block of N. Hudson in a former mechanic shop. It's actually a really cool concept. One of the proprietors, Chris Holliday, is a real coffee guru who knows his stuff. I like the blocky white look of the outside, and I understand the interior will have an interesting ambiance. Architect of Record is none other than Hans Butzer, so you know it will be very sharp.

Here's the Q&A:

1) I understand that coffee is not your day job..As a coffee buff, what was it about coffee that got you involved in trying to fill the void of it here in OKC?
I'm a natural born foodie. My life seems to revolve around eating and I really like to push my taste experiences in different directions. Coffee is both enigmatic and elegant and while we grow up knowing there is a difference between all the grocery store bags, we never really learn what makes coffees different and we are really shielded from the range of coffee's flavors. I started experimenting and researching and it simply became my hobby.

2) I read in an article that you buy 1 coffee out of every 90 that you and your business partners test--so it seems safe to say you're pretty selective and brew very high-quality coffee. What can people expect in terms of pricing?
Our retail prices range from $12.50 to $32.00 for a 12 ounce bag. This is pretty average in specialty coffee. We will probably start to offer more higher end coffees but we will introduce them slowly. Our drinks will be priced based on the coffee we use for brewing but generally inline with other specialty coffee companies.

3) My personal philosophy on coffee is that it's all about the environment, the price of a cup of coffee includes the coffee shop that you are enjoying. What type of environment for the coffee shop will you be creating?
Elemental will be a coffee and conversation place. We aim to present a sophisticated ambiance with an approachable atmosphere. There will be no doubt that we are dedicated in our approach to coffee but we also hope to make everyone feel welcomed regardless of whether they share our sentiment. Educating people about coffee can't be forced. But even the most dispassionate consumer can distinguish between horrifically prepared grocery store robusta and freshly roasted arabica that makes a clean and balanced lovingly crafted by-the-cup brew.

4) Until the coffee shop fully opens in April, how do you view the operation until then?
It will basically be a construction zone with a garage door in the alley on the South side that will be open in the early mornings as a stand up coffee bar.

5) What made you settle on Hudson Avenue, rather than some of the more notable activity hubs throughout the downtown region?
2/3's of the Elemental owners live in the Heritage Hills/Mesta Park area. MidTown is a proven and growing part of OKC.

6) What will be made of the warehouse you currently utilize on West Main? I know this is kind of off-topic and that Main is an industrial area, but how do you feel about the potential of the West Main Historic District (particularly between Western and Indiana)?
Our current location will go up for rent as soon as we vacate it. I think that part of town is still a few years away from becoming a fully utilized activity center.

7) What are some of the current local businesses that serve up Elemental Coffee?
Cuppies and Joe, Beatnix, Cafe Evoke, Forward Foods, The Wedge, Deep Fork, La Baguette and a whole host of other great shops.

8) Have you settled on a name yet for the coffee shop?
We are going to simply call it Elemental Coffee.

9) Downtown has seen some hit and misses when it comes to coffee shops. Obviously Coffee Slingers has been a success, whereas the Buzz has had landlord issues, which eventually led to the demise of Uncommon Grounds, and then BrewHaHa was just unsuccessful sadly, and so on. How do you view the opportunity for the coffee business in downtown?
I think quality served up with passion will always be successful. We have thousands of great customers all over the metro area and this is a testament for the thirst that exists in this region to be served quality products. We are going to push the quality envelop to the edge and see where it takes us.

10) One notable thing about OKC's inner city is a relative lack of Starbucks infiltration. At the surface that's always a good thing, but perhaps a stronger presence would raise coffee awareness in the city? Why are there so few good coffee shops in this city? Is that good for business?
Until recently there hasn't really been what I would call a "good" coffee shop. My assessment is that cafe operators have bought into the concept of competing with the large chain coffee shops and be content to clean up their leftovers. I believe that this short sells the consumer in this area and leaves a huge gap for those willing to deliver truly great coffees.


Mark said...

Question - how late will it be open? Late enough that after catching a show downtown (Civic Center, OMA, you name it) one can go and have coffee?

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Anonymous said...

I was an owner of Brewhaha. We did not "go under". One of our partners was/is military and was stationed to Germany. We decided to sell the building and cut our losses. husband and I were then approached to open a brewhaha in Cassidy highschool, which we did, sold in 2008 and it was still running until Aramark bought them out last year. Just to clarify