At this time last year, the Utah Pride Center’s café and all-purpose performance space was just opening its doors, firing its ovens and priming its espresso machines to feed downtown residents their first bruchtta, scones, Italian sodas and, of course, coffees.
Today, the café is all grown up. In twelve months it has expanded its ever-evolving menu and become a hot venue for local poets and musicians, including Bronen Beecher “The Fiddle Preacher”, lead singer of local Celtic fusion band Salty Frogs. Not to mention the house drinks.
Co-founder Kim Paulus ticks them off. There’s Strawbutterscotch Fields Forever, Butterscotch Behemoth, Goodmorning Bluebird, Peaches and Screams (“that has to be cold, you can’t make it hot”) and Caramel Zombie.
“That was a good one,” she remembers. “You’d think we would run out of ideas, but we’ve had [different] signature drinks [regularly] for several months now.”
Paulus and business partner Bob Evans of Sugarhouse Coffee won the bid for the Center’s new café last May. In setting up the new business – named Café Marmalade in honor of the gay-friendly Marmalade district nearby – the pair faced a challenge: the Center was the home of Stonewall Coffee in the 1990s, and many in the community fondly remembered the old café. How would they draw old customers back while creating a unique business?
The answer, says Paulus, was to be “as consistent” with the old shop as possible in creating a scrumptious menu on the following principles: instead of Coke and Pepsi, Italian soda; instead of potato chips, gourmet cookies. Or as Paulus put it in an interview last year, they don’t do “nachos and other crap like that.” The café encourages its employees to be creative when dreaming up new dishes, to experiment and try new things. There’s even a “cheepie section” for the hungry West High School students who drop in for lunch.
“I’m getting teenagers hooked on cucumber sandwiches,” Paulus laughs.
“It’s cultivating that kind of clientele,” she explains. “It’s hard sometimes because some people really want their Coke or their chips, but we’re not going to do that. But the ones who keep coming back are the ones who really want the Italian sodas, who really are looking for that experience in a coffee shop.”
The pair also opened up the café for Friday concerts. Recent musicians include Beecher, Samson and Goliath, and Joey Cougar and the Starfish. They also sponsor regular poetry slams.
“People come in with a piece of poetry and next week they come in with it polished off because people say, ‘Why don’t you try this?’” says Paulus.
Whether they’re helping each other draft the perfect poem, rocking out to Bronan Beecher or just dining together, Paulus says watching people come together in the Café has been astounding.
“When I come in I see these groups who you’d never usually see hanging out with each other playing Uno,” like older gays and teenagers, she says. “That’s exactly what I want. This isn’t ‘the gay coffee shop,’ either. People just come and do their own thing.”
And looking back on the past 12 months is also astounding.
“I can’t believe it’s been a year. It makes sense, but it just floors me,” she says. “If you asked me what I’ve been doing all year, I couldn’t even tell you. It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of fun.”
To celebrate its first birthday, the café will host a night of bands and, of course, great food on July 5 with Beecher and the Utah Pride Festival’s All-Star Band headlining.
“We’ll get the grills going. I don’t know, but I might have a couple surprises up my sleeve, if you know what I mean,” jokes Paulus.
Happily, it’s also her birthday.
“People should bring me presents,” she shouts. “Just kidding. It’s going to be an awesome day and we’re really looking forward to it. We want to thank the community for keeping them open this long.”
For a list of upcoming bands and events at the café visit myspace.com/cafemarmalade.