Merlene Davis: Partners creating a community at new coffee bar

Chris Ortiz, left,  and Salvador Sanchez opened A Cup of Common Wealth on July 1, 2013.
Chris Ortiz, left, and Salvador Sanchez opened A Cup of Common Wealth on July 1, 2013. Herald-Leader

When you walk through the door of A Cup of Common Wealth, you sense that you have walked into an alternate universe.

Well, maybe not.

Maybe you have simply walked into what this universe is supposed to feel like. Regardless, it is a very pleasant place to be.

The coffee shop, at 105 Eastern Avenue, across from Thoroughbred Park, is owned by best friends Chris Ortiz and Salvador Sanchez, two transplants from Oklahoma and Michigan, respectively, who love Lexington and making their customers feel special.

"Our mission is 'embrace community, serve others and create culture,'" Sanchez said.

One big draw for the shop, which opened July 1, is the "pay-it-forward" board. Customers can buy a drink for someone else and designate the parameters for the recipient. The gift is then written on the "board," which is a large roll of brown paper.

One gift of coffee awaits an attorney who has a wrecked silver BMW. (Make sure they tell you the story behind that one.) A mother who comes in with children will be the recipient of a free latte. And one customer bought 100 drinks for Gray Construction employees.

"We have more givers than takers," Ortiz said.

The board seems to be good for business.

The friends had hoped that the coffee shop would catch on by Christmas. "We could skim by till then," Sanchez said. "If we didn't take off by then, well, ..."

"We could not have forecasted it moving this quickly," Ortiz said. "Not in a million years. Did we have enough capital? No. Did we have confidence in what we could do? Yes."

How do they measure success? The 12th day after opening, the friends were able to hire their first employee. And word of mouth has brought in a steady stream of customers, Ortiz said. He also credits the shop's bright-blue door.

The two men, both 30, met in Amarillo, Texas, where they worked for Hastings Entertainment Inc., a company that sells new and used CDs, books, magazines, video games and electronic equipment and that has store space for coffee bars, reading and listening stations, and children's play areas. Ortiz managed a store, and Sanchez managed the coffee program.

"We met and became friends because we were the only two guys in Amarillo in their mid-20s at the time," Ortiz said, jokingly.

Ortiz traveled a lot for Hastings, stationed at one time for a year in Lexington. Sanchez would visit, and they both loved the area.

The friends moved on to Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas, but Sanchez longed to get back to the Midwest. And the friends wanted to open a coffee bar of their own.

In March, Ortiz came back to Lexington to search for a location for the coffee bar. He found the Eastern Avenue spot. In May, Sanchez gave his notice, and the dream was on.

Several friends helped them paint, remove tile and set up the bar, Ortiz said.

Sanchez is the genius behind the coffee products, which are mostly from Water Street Coffee Joint, a company founded 20 years ago in Kalamazoo, Mich. He has worked in the coffee business since he was a teenager, and he knows the science behind the blends they offer, which range from extremely dark Italian roast to a light Colombian roast.

"We have a good variety for anyone," he said.

"He knows the technical side," Ortiz said. "It is kind of a craft coffee, which is why we thought it would be a good scene for here.

"We are coffee snobs, and we love to be able to geek it out on coffee with customers," he said. "Or we can flavor it up for you and make it whatever you want to drink."

Although he has been schooled on the technical side, Ortiz is the people partner, happily interacting with customers, calling each one by name.

"We have the perfect blend," Sanchez said.

The coffee bar added treats this week, including scones and maple cinnamon butter breakfast cupcakes, baked by Alicia Morlote of Sweet Creations in Danville.

The coffee bar will soon host a "Penny University" series of events that will include an art gallery, open-mike nights and time to talk politics, Sanchez said. The idea is based on 18th-century coffee houses in England that charged a penny for patrons to come in and mingle with others.

They also offer coffee for $1 if you bring your own cup, and they have a tip jar for the purchase of a jet pack, because Ortiz said if one comes available, it would be fun to have.

"We pull 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, and it doesn't feel like anything," Ortiz said.

The eclectic mixture of a good product, community engagement and a friendly smile seems like the perfect recipe for success. People don't seem to mind spending money where they feel welcomed and appreciated.

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