Even for experienced builders, a new coffee shop will never go exactly according to plan. The unexpected will come in many forms, and at times some buildout hurdles may prove too high to leap.
For Allison and Justin Real, who were working on a space in Loveland, Colorado, to bring their dream of a multiroaster cafe called Dark Heart Coffee Bar to life, one major electrical hurdle led to an even larger hurdle: a stubborn landlord.
Roughly one full year and $100,000 into the buildout of a space on 5th Street in the small mountain city, the pair needed to contract some electrical work, which is one of only a couple areas the Reals couldn’t handle on their own. The electrician encountered some issues, and a month before the projected opening day, city inspectors confirmed that none of the existing electrical work was permitted or up to code, according to the Reals.
“The owner was upset when we compelled him with a letter from our attorney to bring his building to code, and responded with an eviction notice,” Justin Real told Daily Coffee News. “We were even going to pay for the electrical upgrade. All he had to do was submit for a new permit to upgrade electric. He refused.”
As tensions mounted and the path ahead proved costly and insurmountable, the Reals ultimately took their attorney’s advice and moved on, operating a mobile coffee and kombucha cart along the way. A year and a half later, the couple — which has also been building out restaurants, bars, coffee shops, casinos and hotels for over a decade through their custom design and fabrication company Real Industrial Edge Furniture — have finally realized their vision.
“My favorite thing to do is fabricate industrial materials in a slightly more modern way, and this was our opportunity to build out our dream space,” said Real, who crafted Dark Heart Coffee with a modern industrial feel. “Our goal was to pull together a beautiful creative space with intention in every detail — ‘an exceptional beverage in an engaging atmosphere.'”
Within the 1,200-square-foot space with a 400-square-foot enclosed patio, the Reals provided and helped install the structural steel for the renovation. They finished the bar in zinc and created every accent, including a hand-torched shou sugi ban accent wall. Allison Real hand-troweled lime and mica walls accented with gold leaf and filled existing concrete cracks with gold acrylic. They built their own reclaimed wood tables and steel frames, fabricated brass wall sconces and steel pendant lamps, and more.
Equal attention has been paid to the coffee, which is run through either a Mahlkonig K30 of EK43 for extraction on either a two-group Mavam under-counter espresso system or Fetco batch brew. A pair of Baratza Fortes grind for pourover executed via Fellow Stagg EKG and Fellow drippers. The coffee program is anchored by beans from Portland’s Coava Coffee Roasters. Said Justin Real, “We chose Coava because we believe in their commitment and pursuit of quality.”
Offerings from other small-batch roasting companies are rotated roughly monthly and are featured mainly as drips or pourovers, and on espresso only occasionally. Said Real, “When we choose a roaster to highlight, we research them to see what their standards are — [to see] if they’re passionate and genuine humans, and to see if their standards match ours.”
Dark Heart also offers an array of drinks on tap, including two locally made nitro cold brews and five kombuchas, the latter of which, when considered alongside nine more kombuchas in bottles, amounts to what Real said is the largest kombucha selection in Northern Colorado.
Local craft beer and biodynamic wine are also on offer, although it’s the coffee that courses most fervently through the veins of these perseverant entrepreneurs — hence the dark heart.
“Someone may want to just get their coffee and leave with zero chitchat, or someone may want to know every detail about our Mavam. We try and cater to every person’s individual needs,” said Real. “The customers who truly search for quality coffee and an overall amazing experience are who we want to engage.”
Dark Heart Coffee Bar is located at 419 N Jefferson Ave in Loveland, Colorado.