No average Joe: Differences set new Iliff Ave coffee shop apart

Along with 27-year-old co-owner Pacharej “Pop” Nuntanavooth, husband and wife Julia Minayeva and Ernest Minayev, both 26 years old, officially opened Sonder Coffee & Tea at 9731 E. Iliff Ave. on Oct. 1. Since then, the shop has lured a growing crop of caffeine fiends to the Denver/Aurora border

AURORA | Suburbanites need their coffee, too.

And there’s no reason the Joe has to be relegated to burnt cups of mud bearing a certain green emblem or an alliterative, pink-and-orange logo.

That’s partially what spurred the owners of one of the area’s newest specialty coffee shops to jump into the increasingly packed ecosystem of merchants hawking opulent lattes topped with foamy rosettes and airy tulips.

Along with 27-year-old co-owner Pacharej “Pop” Nuntanavooth, husband and wife Julia Minayeva and Ernest Minayev, both 26 years old, officially opened Sonder Coffee & Tea at 9731 E. Iliff Ave. on Oct. 1. Since then, the shop has lured a growing crop of caffeine fiends to the Denver/Aurora border. (The shop, technically, has a Denver address.)

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Sonder Coffee & Tea owners, from left, Pacharej Nuntanavooth, Julia Minayeva and Ernest Minayev, pose for a photo and pause for a cup of Joe Dec. 31 at their East Iliff coffee shop on the Denver-Aurora border. The group said they believe their success in the crowded coffee market will come through grassroots social media efforts and by serving niche demographics. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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A shot of espresso is brewed Dec. 31, 2016 at Sonder Coffee & Tea. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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Sonder Coffee & Tea at 9731 East Iliff Avenue has been open since Oct. 1. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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Julia Minareva, part owner, prepares a drink for a customer Dec. 31, 2016 at Sonder Coffee & Tea. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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People sit down a table Dec. 31, 2016 at Sonder Coffee & Tea, a new coffee shop on Iliff Avenue in Denver. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

Julia, who moved to the U.S. from Romania at age 2 after her father gained asylum, and Ernest, who moved to the area from Russia with his family at age 6, decided to open a coffee shop about two years ago, shortly after Julia finished getting her degree in business management. The idea germinated throughout the spring of 2015, when the young couple traveled to nearly 30 coffee shops throughout Europe on a combination investigative business trip and final vacation before diving into their fledgling venture.

The trip led to a string of discoveries throughout the remainder of 2015, when the young couple began exploring the local ecosystem of specialty coffee roasters, including Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters, Huckleberry Roasters and Corvus Coffee Roasters. A swift infatuation with those brands quickly turned into a desire to spread their work.

“It kind of blew our minds,” Julia said. “So we really wanted to join that scene.”

The vast majority of coffee-based drinks at Sonder come from Corvus in Denver, though the owners said they’re open to expanding their offerings in 2017. The shop also serves Happy Leaf kombucha on tap, select hot teas and Italian sodas. On the weekends, they offer Glazed & Confuzed Donuts, and other baked goods from Denver-based La Fillette throughout the week.

And although their Denver location is just a few hundred yards from a Starbucks, and just a bit farther from a Dunkin’ Donuts, Ernest said he doesn’t view his company as a competitor with larger chains — largely due to a different clientele. He even went so far as to tip his cap for Starbucks’ role in growing the prevalence of coffee in America.

“I don’t think we’re competing with Starbucks because they’re doing their own thing and we’re doing our own thing,” Ernest said. “It’s a bit of a different demographic, and we have to thank Starbucks for where they brought coffee.”

Ernest added that part of what separates his shop from larger corporations is that the Sonder team used social media to slowly build an audience years before opening its doors. Julia began blogging about the process of opening a coffee shop — from crafting a business plan to signing the lease — in March 2015. She detailed the process of designing a logo with a graphic designer in Portland, Oregon, and nailing down a company name from an entry she found in “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” by John Koenig.

“Having a blog already gave us support and a following before we opened,” Julia said. “Most people hear about us through social media and Yelp and Instagram.”

That loyal band of suburban specialty coffee drinkers has continued to grow in Aurora in the past year with the opening of two other upscale coffee shops in the city’s far southeast and northwest corners, with Legends Coffee and Jubilee Roasting Co., respectively.

Familiar with the owners of both shops, Ernest applauded the pervasive cohesion in the specialty coffee scene, saying it’s a group constantly tethered to collaboration — not competition.

“It feels like none of the specialty coffee shops, especially here in Denver, are competing against each other — it’s more a community of people,” Ernest said. “It’s more of like we’re lifting each other up.”

And despite a growing number of both large- and small-market coffee shops in recent years, the industry remains poised to proliferate in the coming decade. Industry revenues are expected to jump from $12 billion in 2016 to $46.2 billion by 2021, according to industry reports compiled by the Small Business Development Center Network.

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