Thirsty Eye Brewing tried opening early and serving coffee. The coffee part worked.

Pairing coffee and beer in one shop seems like a natural, but logistics and legalities make it tough. 

Still, clever co-location along the lines of Zendo and Sidetrack, plus those forthcoming food halls, could achieve the same effect.
From the Thirsty Eye Instagram feed, some examples of beverages you don't normally find in the same establishment.
Editor's note: This story was reported in the before-coronavirus times. We hope it serves as a fond reminder that one day we will visit coffee shops and breweries for something other than takeout.

At first glance, it seems like a match made in heaven.

Coffee shops are basically in the drinks business, but they also serve as relaxed community hubs. They're a place to talk to friends, hold meetings, or get a bit of reading done. Breweries, meanwhile, are also basically in the drinks business, also serve as relaxed community hubs, and are also great for socializing, meetings, and even reading. And as luck would have it, coffee shops usually close just about when breweries open.

So why not put them together in the same building? Patrons, in theory, would have more choices, and the business could stay open longer and sell more drinks while making the same mortgage or rental payment. Indeed, elsewhere in the country, the concept looks to be gaining traction, even with Starbucks.

Last June, Thirsty Eye, the brewery on Broadway just south of Central, debuted by giving the concept a shot. There would be beer. There would be coffee. And the doors would open at 7:30 a.m. on most weekdays.

The owners "wanted to make sure there was something for everybody," said Amelia Salas, the general manager. 

It didn't last.

"We were trying to capture the early morning crowd, but ultimately I don't think we have the same kind of foot traffic that other places have," Salas said. "We adjusted our schedule to fit with what the neighborhood wanted."

Thirsty Eye is still open to the idea, because after all, what the neighborhood wants may one day change, not least because Hilton is busy adding 170 hotel rooms across the street. For the time being, though, the doors open at noon or 3 p.m., depending on the day. But the coffee itself remains and is heartily enjoyed by patrons in the afternoon and evening all the same. Whether coffee or beer, "I feel like what we're doing is just catering to that craft culture," Salas said.

Logistics, law, location
The hybrid model, it turns out, is a lot harder to pull off than it would seem. Consider location: For Thirsty Eye, Broadway south of Central didn't work out, but as locations for coffee shops go, it gets worse. 

"For a long time the breweries weren't in a place where people would go in the morning," Chris Jackson, the founder of the Dark Side Brew Crew blog, told DAN. "Breweries opened in industrial areas because the buildings were cheap."

But even if the location would support coffee and early hours, there are logistics to consider. Some people know how to serve beer and some people know how to serve coffee, but finding people who know both either takes longer or requires more training. That alone could be a bridge too far for stressed-out small business owners just trying to get things off the ground.

"They kind of start out with that no-frills approach," Jackson said. But that's not to say someone won't make it happen one day: "It'll just take someone who has the interest, the inspiration, and the funds," he says. 

Then there is the legal angle. Though less restrictive than traditional bars, the under-21 set still needs a parent or guardian to come along if they're going to enter a taproom, so all of the high school crowd and many of the undergraduates are out of luck. One way around that is to have a traditional restaurant on site, but that just takes a legal problem and makes it a logistical problem.

Hacks for the future
Having traveled in Europe, Pilar Westell has seen the hybrid model at work, and loves the idea of, for example, meeting friends for coffee in the morning then returning to the same place for a glass of wine in the afternoon.

"I really do wish we had an easier time creating spaces like that because it benefits the community," she said. Besides bolstering the profitability of local social hubs, she reckons, it also gives people who don't want to drink for whatever reason some solid options.

Westell ought to know. She's the owner of Zendo, the coffee shop on 2nd between Lead and Coal in the Downtown core. A few years after she opened, a variation of the hybrid model dropped into her lap in the form of Sidetrack Brewing, which opened up next door. 

"It wasn't a planned thing," she said, but "we definitely benefit from being next door to each other." 

The two businesses even share a back patio. Sometimes customers go back and forth depending on what they're in the mood for.

"I don't know anybody myself that doesn't like to drink coffee and doesn't like to drink beer," said Dan Herr, the co-owner of Sidetrack. "Synergy is the perfect word. It may be cliche but that's the perfect way to describe it."

But if the hybrid model has a bright near-term future in greater Downtown, it will need more than the happy-coincidence-of-real-estate strategy employed by the Sidetrack-Zendo pair.

Enter food halls.

The recently-opened Sawmill Market features a coffee shop (Plata, formerly of the Raynolds Neighborhood) and a taproom (Paxton's) under the same very large roof. And while - apart from Humble Coffee - tenants have not yet been announced for the forthcoming food hall at 505 Central, a floorplan released a few months ago did appear to include a bar. That food hall is slated to open this spring.

That would bring the number of hybrid-or-close-enough locations in greater Downtown to at least four. And despite the challenges, Westell at least is optimistic that this is just the beginning.

"The two are just so similar," she said, "that it's natural to expect those two things to kind of progress into this all-encompassing business model."

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