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Business Spotlight: Built for Two

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For good reason, coffeehouses often set up shop around high-traffic public areas or institutions.

The Assemblies of God World Headquarters has Coffee Ethic. Missouri State University has a Starbucks coming soon.

The Hub Bikes & Beans LLC selected Springfield’s Government Plaza two years ago.

Operating as The Hub Coffee and Bicycles at the corner of Boonville Avenue and Chestnut Expressway, owner and founder Jason Strother each morning watches hundreds of city and county employees walk by his shop. Some stop in; most don’t.

“I guess they’re not coffee-drinking people,” he says, nonchalantly.

Despite a target demographic amiss, Strother says The Hub has attracted employees and students from the nearby Assemblies of God offices, Central Bible College, and Evangel and Drury universities. “We get probably more professors than students from Drury,” says Strother, who counts himself among the coffeehouse’s three full-time baristas.

The trio take their craft seriously but not pretentiously.

“They have just as much responsibility as I do,” he says of Kevin Cott and Isaac Neale, who doubles as the bike mechanic and manager of the adjoining shop. “There are no college-student jobs going on here.”

Coffee is king
From the onset, it was always coffee and bikes together in the business plan.

Strother, a Joplin native, packed up his belongings and his business idea and moved to Springfield in 2009. He had 10 years of coffee shop work under his belt and teamed up with bicycle enthusiast Joe West to open the dual coffeehouse and bike shop in early December 2009.

“There were only 300 days between conception and opening day,” says Strother, who covered the $25,000 startup costs out of his pocket.

The biggest investment was a $10,000 piston-driven lever espresso machine shipped from Italy. “There’s not a button on the machine,” he says. “There is a lot that’s handed to the barista.”

On the 1,200-square-foot coffee side, The Hub carries two roasters: Intelligentsia, a 15-year coffee roasting veteran out of Chicago, and Handsome, established this year in Los Angeles by a 2010 World Barista champ, Strother says.

The Hub baristas employ artisan brew methods with an emphasis on single-origin coffees from Colombia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Honduras, for example.

“We brew every cup to order,” Strother says, pointing to the French press and pour-over methods as well as the Clever Dripper, a full immersion brewing system with a filtered extraction. “You can have one coffee and have five experiences with that coffee.”

Through Intelligentsia, Strother says an award-winning barista spent a week at The Hub and training resources are readily available. He says there are no fees for training or becoming an approved seller by the roasters.

“They are committed to making sure from seed to cup their coffee is the best quality it can be. Any research they have is available to me,” he says, recalling time spent at Intelligentsia’s training lab in Chicago, where he learned technical skills and studied coffee bean farms. “I’ve cupped coffees with some of the lead coffee buyers in America.”

Out of the ordinary
At the 500-square-foot bike shop, repair revenues outpace new bike sales, Strother says.

The addition of the Linus line of commuter-style bikes provided a shot in the arm this summer. The Hub has sold about 25 of the 1950s and ’60s European-inspired bicycles that retail between $450 and $850.

“We’ve worked on bikes from the 1800s,” Strother says.

A good portion of that work comes by way of James Allen, a bike collector since the 1980s who plans to open a bike museum in the spring on East Commercial Street. Allen introduced The Hub staff to high-wheelers, aka ordinary bikes, which were built with roughly 50-inch front wheels and 18-inch rear wheels.

“They fascinated them,” says Allen, a retired Southwestern Bell repairman of 30 years and now a residential handyman. “The boys have an interest in the old bikes.”

The past six months, Allen has brought about 25 bikes to the shop for tune-up and restoration work. “Every time they got one done, I’d take them another one,” he says.

Strother and staff have learned to ride the high-wheel bikes and completed a 100-mile ride that Allen organized. They also were contracted by Springfield booking agency BookTheBest.com to ride the high-wheelers dressed in period clothes at Highland Springs Country Club in October as guests arrived for a 22nd anniversary party.

“The three of them wheeled around the guests as they came up,” says Mark Steiner of BookTheBest.com, who arranged for jugglers the year before. “They dressed up in vintage garb. It’s different. I like to offer alternatives.”

Steiner also owns the 1901-built building, which The Hub leases for $10 per square foot under its three-year contract.

“I really like the old building, the old feel. It makes for a great atmosphere,” Strother says, noting the bike shop space was built as a credit union in the 1950s and still has a vault inside.

Steiner’s companies, including GigSalad.com, operate upstairs and staff members are known to wander down to The Hub. “Mark has a tab with us,” Strother says.

Strother says he’s eying his hometown market, but he’s in no hurry to expand.

“I opened the shop because I love to make coffee – not because I want to own seven shops and make a ton of money. This is what I enjoy doing, so I made a way for me to do what I enjoy.”[[In-content Ad]]

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