Coffee and books are a natural pair, dating probably farther back than the invention of the printing press. Bicycles, of course, weren’t invented until centuries later, so that relationship has had some catching up to do. Today, the bond between cyclists and coffee is perhaps stronger and more obvious than ever, and having just relocated its sole retail establishment from the inside of a bookstore to a space shared with a bike shop, the Austin, Texas-based Flat Track Coffee has a unique experience with both.
Founded in 2012 as a coffee catering business for events, Flat Track established its original brick-and-mortar retail presence at 913 E Cesar Chavez in Austin, Texas in 2013, where it shared space with Farewell Books, a progressive book shop and art gallery. Farewell was fairly well packed with exhibits and activity, between the art, the books, a fashion boutique and other occasional retail pop-ups.
To maintain that level of diversity, the bookshop wasn’t too keen on leasing additional permanent space to accommodate growth for Flat Track, which wanted to eventually bring its roastery together with retail under one roof. “The bookstore had a lot of different collectives going on in that space,” Flat Track Director of Coffee Jeremy Brooks told Daily Coffee News. “They liked having this rotating collaborative thing going on with the community, and we were roasting offsite.”
In order to streamline operations and simplify their footprint, a buildout began roughly four months ago on an expanded new flagship location just a few blocks up the road from the original, where the company will be able to bring its retail business together with its roasting operations, centered on a 6-pound-capacity San Franciscan roaster. They achieve this while at the same remaining a part of yet another engaged, progressive community — the bike world.
At 1619 E Cesar Chavez, Flat Track is sharing the space with Cycleast, a bicycle repair, renovation and custom shop. Yet while the multi-retail concept is familiar, the pace and atmosphere are in some ways totally opposite. Apart from going from a 250-square-foot area inside Farewell to a 1,500-square-foot area attached to Cycleast with an additional 1,000 of outdoor seating to be built out in the backyard this fall, the very culture of the business feels like it’s shifting.
“The people coming in just wanted to enjoy a cup of coffee and read a book, which was a much slower pace,” Brooks said of café life in the bookstore. Conversely, of the cyclist clientele, he reported, “They come in, they meet up for their group rides, have a cup of coffee, grab some pastry and then they leave, and another group comes in. It’s very quick-paced, high turnover.”
The company moved into Cycleast with a temporary pop-up-style build to start service while their permanent set-up continues construction, and for equipment on the temporary counter they employ a machine that couldn’t be more appropriate for getting up to speed: A Kees Van Der Westen Speedster single-group espresso machine.
A few feet away on the future main counter there’s also a two-group Mirage in waiting. “A lot of people use the Spirit, and I think Spirits are great machines,” said Brooks, “but we decided to go with something a little more stripped down, so we decided to go with a two-group Mirage.”
The Flat Track Mirage has custom paneling to match the single-group that will eventually become the catering machine once the full service set-up is on line. Brewed options in the café will meanwhile serve to highlight their featured coffees.
“Part of our overall vision is to have not only rotating offerings in coffee but also different kinds of brew method offerings,” said Brooks, describing a program that, while highlighting the unique qualities of the marquee coffee of the moment, also highlights the brew method they think brings out the particular coffee’s ideal cup, whether it be a Kalita, Hario wood-neck, Chemex or other brewer. The rotation will not only be a skill-building exercise for staff and but will offer unique experiences for customers, with new bean-and-method pairings launching roughly once a month. Batch brew will also be consistently available through a Fetco XTS brewer.
Coffees sourced mostly through Royal Coffee, Coffee Shrub, InterAmerican, Olam Coffee, and others will continue to be roasted for the store and for wholesale clients during the transition and up until a refurbished Probat UG15 that the company has ordered is ready for delivery.
Stylistically, Brooks approaches each bean the way a chef might approach different meats. “Every coffee and its origin presents itself differently. Some things you want to have rare, the other ones you want to have a little bit more well done,” said Brooks. “It just depends on what coffee you’re roasting and how you want that coffee to taste. I don’t think I have a style that I like to approach it with.”
Brooks said Flat Track has always wanted to be a single-store destination within Austin, noting that while they want to keep the brand and its store unique and special for locals, out-of-state opportunities for expansion are a definite possibility, particularly on the West Coast. “That seems to be where a lot of our demographic outside the state of Texas is coming from. Los Angeles, San Francisco,” said Brooks. “We’ve got out ear to the ground for opportunities out there.”
The Flat Track pop-up cart is currently open with a full menu at 1619 E Cesar Chavez in Austin, adjoining the Cycleast store. The grand opening of their official permanent operation is slated for June 10.