Words: Katie Lew
Photos: Becky Kyle
My husband and I first moved to the Old North End neighborhood of Colorado Springs several years ago, and we immediately fell in love with the area. The charming old houses (even the ones that are a little shabby) add character and texture that can be hard to find in newer neighborhoods. We also loved that the neighborhood is far more walkable than many areas of town. We can walk our daughter to school, walk to the grocery store, parks and our favorite bookshop. However, there was no independent coffee shop within easy walking distance of our house. We were delighted then, 3 years ago, to discover that an old garage just down the block was being renovated into a cafe and even more excited once we stepped inside Stir coffee shop.
Stir has a bright, relaxing atmosphere perfect for meeting friends, working, or (most importantly to us) hanging out with kids. Owner Sabrena Soong says the décor was inspired by the surrounding neighborhood. “It’s an older neighborhood and a lot of people have lived here for a very long time and I wanted those people to feel comfortable here without it being too modern or unapproachable. I wanted the space to have a comfortable, vintage feel to it,” Sabrena explains, although she adds, “I was also guided by budget. I couldn’t afford to buy everything new so probably 90% of the décor is recycled or vintage. It was kind of just luck, whatever I could find in antique stores or auction houses ended up here.”
If the cheerful, eclectic décor drew us into Stir, the fantastic coffee and pies are definitely what keep us coming back. Stir’s homemade pies are some of the best in town, and they were always part of Sabrena’s vision for the shop, “When I was doing coffee sales, there was a woman I would deliver coffee to who had her own café, her name is Jackie Conway, and she always had a pie out and I’d always try a piece because it looked amazing”, Sabrena remembers, “It just blew me away. The simplest, classic apple pie, which I don’t usually get excited about, was just mind-blowing. She was probably the first person I called after this shop became official because I really wanted her on board and wanted to have her pie here.” From pies and coffee, Stir has expanded their menu to include breakfast burritos, pastries, and salads, most of which are made at Stir. “We do almost everything in-house”, says Sabrena, “A lot of coffee shops get their coffee roasted somewhere else, get their pastries somewhere else, which I have done until recently. But this year, we’ve pretty much started doing all our own pies, cakes and cookies from scratch and also roast our own coffee.”
With such a focus on quality food and coffee, it is a little surprising to hear that Sabrena’s original vision for the space had more to do with art than food. In fact, she explains, “I wanted to start an art gallery, that’s where it started. I was looking around at old garages because I loved the idea of having a lot of light and being able to open the doors and I wanted to actually have a working space and have a studio/gallery.” But that vision quickly changed as she began to think through the practical issues of running an art gallery. “Coffee is really what I felt more confident in, so I decided I’d do both”, she explains, “I can do coffee and that’s a pretty solid, dependable, bread-and-butter business, and then I can add the art aspect later or do it on the side. But coffee keeps the doors open.” However, this doesn’t mean that Sabrena has abandoned the idea of supporting local artists. Stir features a constantly rotating display of local artists’ work on its walls and frequently hosts art shows and concerts for local talent.
Sabrena credits the growing local arts scene in Colorado Springs for inspiring her in her business. “One thing that Colorado Springs has to offer is that it’s sort of in this place where it’s moving from being a kind of bland town, to something more than that,” she muses, “It seems to be in this place where the culture is expanding and the community feels like a blank slate. It’s an exciting time to start a business here because there’s so much that isn’t being done yet. If you get out there and do something that’s new and creative, it seems to be pretty well received.” And she has advice for anyone else looking to start a creative, new business in our community: “Do the things you’re really good at and you love, and delegate the other things. You can’t go wrong that way; it shows if you love the things you do and focus on the things that are more natural to you.” Certainly her passion and talent is what sets Stir apart as a warm, creative environment that draws so many loyal customers. That, and the pie.