Publik. It’s a Dutch word that translates to ‘community,’ and in this particular case ‘warm design and coffee fuzzies all over.’ Publik also happens to be SLC’s new, delish, green-as-hell answer to “Where should I get my cup of brew this morning?” It’s perched on the fringes of downtown, and before you can enjoy your first cup, you’ll have to take a moment to digest your fantastic surroundings. It’s hovering somewhere around 13,000 square feet, and it’s been refinished to a delightfully high set of standards. Spacious and stylish without being elitist–this is precisely the kind of spot where you’ll want to pull up a chair and settle in for the whole damn day.
Obviously, Publik provides the crucial basics to those who frequent these hot beds of internet activity and warm drinks. You can get fully caffeinated and get productive, thanks to thoughtful lighting, dependable wifi, communal and private tables both upstairs and down, and more outlets than most airport terminals employ. Require a private meeting? Not to worry, professional adult; customers can shell out a few bucks for a private, modern, well-appointed [see for yourself below] meeting room.
It’s not a small operation–or space–but it’s managing to be smart at most every turn.
One can assume that Publik has an array of coffee flavors up for choosing…and one would be correct. But they also boast an alluring toast menu with delicious combinations, from avocado to goat cheese with heirloom tomato. And the ‘green’ features we mentioned? They’re here in spades. All of Publik’s coffee roasting activities are completely offset by the 65 solar panels that span the giant roof. Stellar. The Diedrich roaster’s afterburner [the only in SLC] filters out nearly all of the particulates that could contribute to air quality issues. Spectacular. This, combined with energy-efficient lightbulbs, a full line of eco products, and some aggressive recycling practices makes Publik one of the greenest roasteries in the West. Count us in. It’s not a small operation–or space–but it’s managing to be smart at most every turn. Sniff around the gigantic warehouse of a building and you’ll find the fingerprints of local talent everywhere…and plenty of integrity. Lloyd Architects and Evergreene Construction [both out of SLC] served as the backbone for the team who took the 1940’s structure and transitioned it into a smart, open zone that would accommodate everyone.
Founders, Matt Bourgeois and Missy Greis, have a second fab location up and running at the Kimball Art Center in Park City [where we stopped in for a moment here], as well as plans for a third, Avenues location [yes!]. Missy [who this author will refer to as ‘Greis’ throughout the interview below] is a longtime friend and confidant, and a connector of good people throughout Utah and beyond. Matt completes the equation with an impressive resume in the restaurant world, a finely-honed appreciation for sarcasm, and some seriously discerning taste in everything from music to Converse. And–of course–coffee.
"I love our community and the ease with which you can collaborate and make great things happen."
Matt, you have an extensive background in restaurants–and Greis, you in philanthropic work and real estate development. So why coffee? Matt: My interest in coffee came from two places: First off, my love for this crazy hospitality industry and the people that become your family and the daily battles fought together. Secondly, I fell in love with the coffee house concept while spending time in them trying to decide what to do next. I didn’t want to do a full-blown restaurant yet, so I started looking at coffee and wine. I didn’t resonate as much with wine people, and loved coffee people. Then I learned about and loved the process: craft from farm to roaster to barista. Greis: For me, it was the actualization of creating a space that attracted people from all over our community to gather. I love our SLC community and the ease with which you can collaborate and make great things happen. Our splash page says, “We believe that coffee breeds community and coffee houses are the anchors that ground them.” If that’s happening, then we’ve done well.
How do you describe Publik Coffee? What sets it apart? Matt: The care we take in sourcing, using direct trade when we can, and developing a relationship with a small broker, Bodhi Leaf, that is on the ground all over the Coffee Belt working with farmers. The care we take in roasting, tracking our roasts, cupping, working with different brewing parameters, etc. are unique. The other things that set us apart are our commitment to being as green as possible and building a space that can be used by the entire community…where they want to be. Greis: Matt is understating the science behind the care that he & Gee take compared to other roasters who just turn “green beans brown.” There is a true integration of art and science in their roasting techniques.
How did you find this building? And for those who haven’t been yet, describe its size and history. Greis: We found it while scouring the internet at 5am one morning after finding out that the first place we loved was not a good fit. So, we landed on West Temple with 13,000 square feet of concrete, brick, wood and glass that felt right the minute we saw it. Built in the 40s and then enlarged in the 60s, it was a lithography house turned blue printer. The couple we purchased it from, Niels and Margit Jensen were, ironically, Dutch. Niels left Matt his desk & briefcase as a closing gift. Such treasures.
You have a boatload of solar panels on your roof. Chat with us about your commitment to being green…and tell us where else patrons may or may not notice your allegiance to environmental integrity. Matt: There was never a question for Missy and me. We were going to be as green as our budget allowed and thanks to help from the RMP incentive, that now includes solar. Our Diedrich roaster and after burner prevent us from contributing to Utah’s air quality issues, we recycle with Momentum Recycling, we use porcelain, glass and stainless dishware and eco-products (cups and utensils for to-go), a Big Ass Fan was incorporated with a well-thought-out HVAC system, reclaimed wood for all of the bars and counters and some of the tables. The sink in the roastery was originally onsite and put back into play. Greis: All of our railings are made from salvaged stem pipe from the Duchesne oil fields. We repurposed the original staircase handrail into a table base for one of our meeting rooms. My office has a cedar plank wall that was pulled from the wall of one of the old offices. We did our best during construction to salvage and donate everything possible. This included original doors and hardware, lightbulbs and scrap sheetrock … and literally THOUSANDS of pounds of paper, of every variety, intentionally left behind by the Jensens so we could “use or sell” it. Every sheet ended up in the hands of a multitude of schools and nonprofits.
Greis, I’ve known you for many years…and I can clearly see your style and Matt’s both conveyed in here. How did the two of you approach the interior design of the space? The vibe of Publik? Greis: Matt and I both love simplicity of color and of texture, but we also love “weird” and unique. After the demolition we had plenty of time, due to permitting delays, and spent hundreds of hours sourcing lighting and plumbing fixtures and finish materials. It usually came down to what WE liked and what we knew we would want to see everyday. We agreed on 99.9 percent of every aspect of the buildout. We had incredible input from our architect and our contractor (Lloyd Architects & Evergreene Construction). Both teams had a great sense of how Publik should feel and look. It was a seamless 17-month collaboration and they all just “got it” right from the outset. We also had a big piece of input from our friend, John Bell, who came up with the idea of adding a bit of color. If you look around, the palette of the entire building is very neutral, but there a shock of color, called Hugger Orange, just along one of the beams. It’s the color of the ’69 Camaro and a tribute to the coffee side of Publik, which was built in the 60s.
You two work like magic together. Who brings what to the table in this setup? Greis: Matt is the food and coffee genius. He has a tremendous gift in operating and hiring, and Publik reflects that. I’m a little bit of a community connector and love creating collaborations between people. I also love marketing everything Publik. I bring ‘em in and he makes sure you have the best coffee (and toast) experience in Utah. Maybe even beyond. Well…that’s the hope.
What kind of an environment are you trying to create? Matt: One of the biggest compliments that we receive is when people tell us that they feel like they’re in SF, Portland, or Seattle. Those places have been big inspirations for Missy and me.
And the beans? Where are they coming from? Why is the coffee here so good? Matt: The beans come from all over the world. We are not looking for a particular region; we are looking for what we love, and we bring it in. We are sourcing now from about 17 different regions throughout the world (from Sumatra in Indonesia to several African regions). By partnering with other small craft roasters throughout the country (who are now friends), we are able to find quality products from great farmers that before may have only been available to bigger operations. We roast in more of a craft, light roast style. It takes us about a month to experiment with a bean to determine the best way to get the flavors out. In the industry this is known as a small batch craft or third-wave approach, and then we go from there. We sip, slurp, spit, and scrutinize.
Publik isn’t just about coffee, though. This event space is the kind of rustic, blank palette planners dream of. Tell me more. Greis: We call it Publik Space. The venue is whopping, wide open, 4,000 square feet of renovated 1940′s brick walls, with a barrel roof that was so pristine it needed only a light coat of clear varnish. We’re hosting weddings, workshops, symposiums, yoga classes and fundraisers. We have full AV capability and a nonprofit rate…it’s a touchstone when we talk about the idea of community.
So, the FBI hangs out here a lot. Cool. I can understand why they love your meeting spaces. Do tell what’s available for those folks who are gathering on business, but need some privacy. Greis: Yep. A lotta guns and brass in the house on any given day. Those guys are hard-core and they love our coffee! We have two meeting rooms with whiteboards, Apple TV and free Wifi. One seats up to 8 people, and the larger seats up to 16. The smaller one we call “Fraszer”, named after our non-profit heroine, Fraser Nelson. We razzed her throughout construction about the meeting rooms being built specifically for her to do her incredible community work…and also for our IT buddy, Patrick Frasier, who spent countless, pre-opening hours troubleshooting and getting our internet running at lightning speed.
Your menu is toast-centric [my personal favorite being the avocado on toast]. Why that? Matt: We wanted coffee to be the star of the show but I don’t like the idea of just offering the standard coffee shop pastries. We loved the idea of using a local, artisan baker (Red Bicycle Breadworks) and local, artisan jams (Amour Spreads).
So, everyone is asking: “What’s happening with the Avenues location?” When will it be open, and how will it be different from your other locations? Greis: We get so many questions about it. We promise, it is coming and we’ve gone through the proper channels with the city. We now are waiting for permitting and we’re so excited. It will have more outdoor seating. It will have the same vibe: industrial, simple and of course, weird. We love that building. It’s such a special little gem in the Avenues, which is where we live, and we’re as anxious as our neighbors to open the doors.
What’s does the future hold for Publik? Beans worldwide? Greis: More locations and slight variations on the concept, for at least one unit, are planned for the future…but those are secrets for now. I hope no one asks me that question, because I want to spill it all.