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Like summiting over a steep mountain pass, a retail business’s trek through the rocky COVID-19-era terrain requires determination and plenty of pivoting.
Fortunately, both come naturally to the outdoors-inspired Colorado-based Switchback Coffee Roasters, whose grit and mountaineering spirit led to a second cafe, despite the pandemic.
“I know many have viewed this differently, as they’ve closed for the safety of employees, which I can understand,” Switchback Owner Brandon DelGrosso told Daily Coffee News. “But we felt, with conversations with our staff, staying open kept them employed and still provided that space of encouragement and hope for those in our community, even when there wasn’t seating inside.”
Switchback staff are all provided paid sick leave and an employee assistance program that includes mental health benefits, DelGrosso said. There are also enhanced cleaning procedures, mandatory mask wearing, limited seating, all to-go cups and other precautions.
Inside the new 1,700-square-foot shop in the Hillside neighborhood, many of the locally farmed ingredients that had been sold as grocery items at Switchback’s original cafe just a mile straight north are now featured in sweet and savory goods baked on site.
With design help from local firm Echo Architecture, the new shop’s calm grey and beige color palette is accented by white crown molding and dark countertops intended for smooth transition into night vibes, in anticipation of a planned future beer and wine program.
“We kept our ‘plants everywhere’ vibe, and of course with lots of natural light, [we] rely on the 300 days of sun in Colorado to shine,” said DelGrosso. “We did a three-panel bifold window that slides open to create a large community-style table that’s indoor/outdoor seating and completely opens up the space.”
The new shop also carries forward the original shop’s “pay-what-you-can” program for cups of the drip coffee issuing from Curtis ThermoPro batch brewers, making good on the company slogan, “Excellent coffee, for everyone.”
The pursuit of excellence at Switchback is also expressed on the competition stage, where in recent years multiple workers have ranked highly. Switchback’s Sam Neely landed in 5th place at the 2019 U.S. Barista Championship, and Evan Schubert snagged silver at the 2018 U.S. Roaster Championship.
The roasting program began in 2010 with an 8-pound-capacity Sivetz roaster, and five years ago the company installed 12-kilo Probat next door to the original cafe. The company may soon need to relocate into a larger dedicated production space in order to continue growing, DelGrosso said.
“Colorado Springs is one the best coffee cities you haven’t heard of,” said DelGrosso. “Our friends at Loyal Coffee have competed and won awards. We have a great relationship with Hold Fast Coffee who has competed in the past as well. Plus many other great shops like Story Coffee and Building Three who are doing great things in our city, and all roasting. With that said, each of us basically has one, some two cafes. In a city of nearly 600,000 there is a huge need for more cafes. None of us have or are generating the wealth to be opening cafes like crazy, [but] we’d love to open another cafe or two in our city.”
The Switchback Coffee Roasters Hillside shop is now open at 909 E Moreno Ave in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.