By: Tyler Julian
There is something about the Coal Creek Coffee Company, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Something draws people into the coffee shop in downtown Laramie, and at the sister shop on the east side of town, and after 11 am at the beer tap just on the other side of a sliding door on the west side of the downtown location. Maybe it is in the welcoming message on the door: “Home to Malcontents, Revolutionaries, and Do-Gooders of all types,” or the tagline on their website: “An Eclectic Place for People with Authentic Tastes.” Hell, you can even find an invite to get a free drink – coffee or beer – on Blossom Yoga Studio’s Partner Night, which I did last week and from which I may still be a little sore. I am not sure what exactly does it, but at Coal Creek Coffee, the Malcontents, the preachers, the Revolutionaries, the students, the Do-Gooders, those with authentic tastes and the local ranchers all come to the same coffee table here in Laramie.
When I sat down with John Guerin, with his wife and co-owner Jodi, is the co-owner of Coal Creek, I was surprised to find that it has been around for over 20 years. John and Jodi, almost on a whim, bought the coffee shop in 1995 with a dream to provide people a good cup of coffee. But, I think that is part of its allure. There is this next-big-thing vibe that permeates Coal Creek and makes this mainstay for Laramie locals the hottest “new” place for students, especially as the city has developed and continues to evolve. As John would put it, “This is just a really cool place that has really good coffee.”
Really good coffee is an understatement.
Coal Creek is one of only three places in the whole state that roasts its own coffee, but John would tell you he is not trying to be better. Quality is just an expectation, and that is what Coal Creek offers. He said, “We’re not Starbucks…we’re not trying to be, never have.” But, he quipped, “We’re as good as any place in San Fran” and shared a story of a student stopping him to explain that he had never seen anything this cool in Colorado.
That is part of the natural charm of the place. And, I don’t mean organic coffee, though that is what you will get at Coal Creek. As John argued, if you expect and pay for the best coffee you will get organic coffee. The best coffee is grown at high elevation, on mountainsides, without pesticides, protected naturally. But, when I say organic charm, I mean the word of mouth, small town coffee shop style that has organically grown at Coal Creek, serving up fresh coffee daily to its loyal patrons. This is a true mom-and-pop shop, but maybe something closer to a fun-aunt-and-uncle act in its “eclectic tastes.” Coal Creek is a family-like business though it is sometimes hard to see everyone behind the scenes as they stretch from the kitchen to the serving counter. What you will see, however, is that every single person working at Coal Creek has been trained by John and all exude a similar affinity for coffee. On the coffee operations side, there are 22 employees. On the tap side, there are 8 or 9, but once you come in a few times — don’t be surprised if they remember you, and you start to see the authentic candor they have with customers, one another, and their boss.
According to John, those who work here are “doers” and have his same drive to offer as high a quality of coffee as anyone else out there. For example, for several weeks before they can serve espresso, employees must work every other aspect of the job and be put to a test by John. This is not an attempt to root out the weak or anything autocratic like that; John, Jodi, and the managers are rooting for them, providing encouragement and guidance, and a genuine desire to see their staff produce great customer service and quality coffee. By collateral, this extra time spent together brings the staff that much closer in the form of lifelong friendships at Coal Creek. John says, “It’s a great place to work. As much as anything, it’s the staff. We try to treat everybody as we would like to be treated.”
I once wrote an article called “Why I Drink Coffee,” and, ultimately, I found “Life percolates around a coffee pot.” In that piece, I wrote that, while not completely true now that I think about it, I learned how to write in coffee shops. Still, the last piece I wrote which turned into my application to a Master’s Program in Creative Writing was completed at Coal Creek over high-quality coffee that, as time passes in the day, eventually turns into quality libations. This article has been written over several cups of coffee as I have sat and watched people come and go, smiling, pensive, warmed as they head back into the seemingly bipolar Laramie winter. As I wrote this, one day a friend came over and said hello then returned to his table and laughed with another friend to pass the time. My girlfriend corrected med sheets for her nursing classes alongside me. The baristas played their own music; we all sang along to “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield and “Runaround Sue” by Dion. And, I got invited to a local band’s concert set to happen in this very same coffee shop this coming weekend. I will say it again: there is something about this place. Coal Creek Coffee Company catches everybody from all stations of life, with its Golden Rule, small town, organic appeal, and stellar service.
Personally, I can’t think of a better place in Laramie to sit and write, or people watch, or do homework, or meet friends, or hear music, or have a great cup of coffee, or you name it. Whether Malcontent or Do-Gooder, student or local, you will always be in excellent company and find a great cup of coffee at Coal Creek Coffee Company. To work and work out of Coal Creek, now that is a worthy pursuit.