Year one of the dream: Eagle’s Color Coffee marks first anniversary
If you go ...
What: Color Coffee.
When: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: 717 Sylvan Lake Road, Eagle.
More information: Learn more on the business’ Facebook page at Color Roasters.
EAGLE — A year ago, at about this time, Charlie Gundlach was preparing to launch his dream.
At that point, Color Coffee was simply a concept, but he had closed on a space in Eagle Ranch and was at work transforming what had previously been the site of 7 Hermits Brewing Co. into a craft coffee roastery and cafe. By August, his operation was open.
And now — after a year of crunching numbers, showing up early and working late and clocking hours and hours at his business — how does Gundlach feel about that dream?
“It’s been a huge amount of work,” he acknowledged. “But I knew going in it was going to be a lot of work.”
Yes, running the operation has been harder than he thought it would be, but it has presented him with opportunities and everyday pleasures that he didn’t expect. For instance, he spends more time as a barista than he thought he would, but he enjoys that one-on-one time with his customers. He has worked pretty much every day except Christmas for the past year.
But when he traveled to the 2016 Global Coffee Expo trade show in Seattle, Color Coffee was one of two brews spotlighted in a master roasting class. One show expert reported one of Gundlach’s products was “easily the best coffee I tasted at the show.”
What customers at the Color Coffee cafe might not realize is the guts of the business happens in the alcove off of the main counter. That’s where a huge coffee roaster dominates the space. Color Coffee is a brand, and Gundlach is busy roasting and selling it to other operations.
His wholesale clients reach as far as California, Illinois and Rhode Island. In Colorado, you can drink a cup of Color Coffee at shops in Aspen, Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Breckenridge and more.
Gundlach spends a couple of days a week on sales calls, working to get Color Coffee served at other locations.
“At a certain level, the product sells itself,” Gundlach said.
In Vail, Color Coffee is served at Root & Flower. Not surprisingly, Gundlach said that is his favorite place to dine in the village.
“We are not going after big corporate restaurant chains,” Gundlach said. “It’s more other small operations focused on providing the best possible products to their customers.”
Life at the coffee shop
“The cafe has been awesome, but it’s been a challenge,” said Gundlach of his storefront operation.
Honing in on the menu has been a painstaking, trial-and-error proposition for Color Coffee. When the cafe opened, the menu was basically restricted to waffles and toast.
“In the beginning, we wanted to just basically offer food that paired well with coffee,” Gundlach said.
The cafe doesn’t have a full kitchen, so there are limitations to what can be prepared and served on site. Added to that, Gundlach is pretty picky about what he serves.
“We have very high standards for everything that goes out,” he said.
Color Coffee food director Mike Sammartinno has tweaked the menu, which now includes quiche, breakfast burritos, grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade soups. During the afternoon and evening hours, when Color Coffee offers beer and wine service, a small-bites menu is available. But Sammartinno also works a number of barista shifts during the week, so his time in the kitchen is limited.
Gundlach said the popularity of the food options at Color Coffee has been a pleasant surprise.
“People are just craving more options for food in Eagle,” he said.
During the past year, Gundlach has discovered what countless other entrepreneurs have also learned. Working with customers is the fun part. The other stuff entailed in running your own shop, not so much.
“The work part is making schedules and payroll and mopping,” Gundlach said.
He knows Color Coffee has been remarkably fortunate with its employees.
“We have had great staff retention,” he said.
Gundlach believes the cafe’s success is tied to having a great product in a great location with great workers.
“Happy employees create a great atmosphere,” he said.
But there have been not-so-great trials throughout the past year.
“We didn’t fully anticipate how slow April would be,” Gundlach said.
If Gundlach could go back in time and offer himself some advice, then he would suggest spending less money on coffee inventory so he would have cash for other business needs. He also confirmed an often-cited suggestion for entrepreneurs.
“You are always going to need more money than you think you will,” he said. He addressed that need by working on his space himself, rather than hiring others to do it for him. He also repurposed everything he could from the prior tenants.
But despite all of the challenges, Gundlach would do it all again.
“The best part is to be able to go to Seattle or go to L.A. and taste our coffee that has been brewed there,” Gundlach said. “It’s always nice to get out of the bubble here, because it’s one thing for people to really like the coffee here in the bubble, but it’s another thing to have it taste great in Seattle or Chicago.”
Gundlach is proud to say his dream has survived its first year, but he stresses Color Coffee is still in its infancy.
“I am just getting started,” he pledged.
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