This is a guest post by Sarah G. Grant, of the University of California, Riverside. If you are interested in writing guest articles for the Table, feel free to contact me.
I’ve lived in the “Inland Empire” for nearly eight years. I live in Riverside to be precise. It’s not exactly a hotbed of intrigue but like anywhere, we find our people, we find good beer, and tacos. And we find coffee. After years of driving north-east on three different freeways to Redlands, Augie’s Coffee Roasters has opened a new location in downtown Riverside on the corner of Twelfth and Main (4205 Main Street). I was able to sit down with general manager Robb Pearson to chat about the new space and prospects for specialty coffee in Riverside.
(Disclaimer: I’ve known the folks at Augie’s for years and I firmly believe that they roast some of the best coffee around.)
Riverside has long been without a specialty roaster, forcing coffee seeking residents to drive to Augie’s in Redlands, Klatch, or make the requisite weekend LA excursion. Nothing wrong with that…but opening a cafe in Riverside seemed like a logical next step for owners Austin and Andy Amento. Augie’s already has a strong Riverside based following on various social media networks and, well, Riverside suffers from a dearth of specialty coffee.
The new space is in a predominantly nine-to-five part of town, next to the county courthouse and a few bail bond agencies. but not too far from the California Museum of Photography and next door to The Salted Pig—easily Riverside’s best spot for craft coffee. Locals can finally spend the afternoon working at a cafe, with a slow, evening transition to after-work libations. That said, the new cafe is a great spot for cups-to-go with ample parking on all surrounding block corners and plenty of foot traffic. I know a lot of folks in Riverside who are aching to eat and drink locally and foster a sense of community vis-a-vis local businesses. This could be the place.
Yes, the new location poses a few challenges but also new opportunities. When asked about the latter, Robb explained that many potential customers have “never seen latte art or slow brew, or thought about coffee in terms of fruit…we want people to feel good about a $2.95 cappuccino.” The new location is an opportunity to share inherently good coffee with the community but not at the expense of customer tastes. If someone wants a sweet drink, Augie’s can make a killer mocha or a vanilla latte (with their house made syrup). Without judgement. And I’ll get back to that in a moment. There are generally two Hario V-60 pour over offerings, an espresso menu, and the occasional seasonal offering that utilizes local ingredients when possible.
There’s still one major question to consider: how do you convey third wave coffee and the Augie’s experience to Riverside? The new cafe isn’t simply another Augie’s located in a new town. It’s a different space — open and airy, and malleable. Literally. The build out is 100% flexible and able to work with the neighborhood as necessary. The space affords the possibility of educational opportunities — perhaps public cuppings and a much needed creative arts space are in the near future. I can imagine an amazing, collaborative latte art throwdowns here. Whereas the Redlands location is cozy and warm, the Riverside space is open and airy, even a touch industrial, with plenty of natural light and somehow twenty-six seats, though it only appears to hold a dozen or so. Redlands has its regulars but with the new location just down the street from Riverside Community College and across town from University of California, Riverside, I see a massive potential for the new location in a loyal student clientele in addition to young professionals who work in the neighborhood.
Robb explained that there’s a learning curve, a “process of education,” involved in this kind of venture but it’s clear that Augie’s seeks to maintain the approach to specialty coffee that I’ve come to love over the years. Back to my comment: without judgement. As a consumer invested in the specialty coffee industry (for the love of coffee as it were) but as a researcher studying industrial grade coffee and the macro-system (some 63% of consumers in the U.S) I can’t help but wonder how the two worlds will find balance. How does a small, local specialty roaster reach a wider customer base without compromising their own values and love of coffee? It should be a simple task but there are a handful of specialty cafes out there that unwittingly or not, seem to subjugate coffee drinkers.
Augie’s does a great job of avoiding this while still exposing customers to a Kenya Gaturiri on pour over or a latte that ideally, tastes better than any latte they’ve ever had. The Kenya Gaturiri is brilliant, by the way. I think Augie’s has the recipe down right. That is, delicious (and affordable) coffee and a receptive tolerance of coffee consuming customers with diverse tastes. Where else can you get a daily $2 cup of rotating single origin coffees? Or a nitrogenated cold brew for $2.50? There’s something very powerful in an affordable cup of amazing coffee and I wish them luck in their new venture.
About the Author
Sarah G. Grant is a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Riverside, who focuses her research on the industrial coffee industry in Vietnam and transnational links between Southeast Asia and the coffee consuming world.
As an avid consumer and advocate of direct trade specialty coffee, she seeks to bridge the knowledge gap between the seemingly distinct industrial and specialty coffee worlds through scholarly inquiry, teaching, and public lectures.