by Cecilia LaFrance
“Yes, we’re a coffee shop, but we’re a community space.” Aurora Hendrix washes a dish behind the counter at Mint & Serif Coffee House at 11500 West Colfax. The congregational atmosphere inside the small shop contrasts with the impersonal six lanes of traffic just outside its doors. Filling most of the occasional chairs and tables, a good mix of gender and age appear engrossed in ideas behind computer screens or in conversation with someone else who wanted to get out of the house or office to meet. Local artists’ work spreads the length of the walls inviting a closer inspection, a stark comparison to the dated and deteriorating landscape of the city block outside. In a neighborhood where Sears, Marshalls, and Big Lots couldn’t attract customers, Mint & Serif owners finally get a lull after the Monday morning rush. Aurora bids a customer goodbye, by name, and a new song starts on a handpicked playlist in the background.
In an area where large-scale multi-family developers capitalizing on the metro’s housing shortage are the only evidence of rejuvenation, Mint & Serif’s gamble of establishing an independent coffee shop beats the odds. The drive of the owners seems to be the wild card.
A Fresh Cup
In 2016, a friend who bought a building with available lease space suggested Aurora open a coffee shop. The logic was the shortage of independent coffee shops in the area. Aurora, a 41-year-old mom of three children, took on the cause. “I wanted something to do and to be involved. . . . I want to interact with people.” Along with the help of her husband and two cousins, Mint & Serif became a reality, despite a grueling permitting process. “It’s been pretty incredible ever since.”
Business grew steadily, and Mint & Serif has a loyal customer base, she says. “I thrive on creating spaces people feel comfortable in. I want anyone coming through the door to feel welcome.” All of the coffee house’s owners are Wheat Ridge High School graduates and familiar faces in the community. The coffee shop fills a void, Aurora says, in a society where people are starving for meaningful connection. “Some of our customers are like our family now,” Aurora says. One regular, who helps out most mornings in exchange for coffee and a bite to eat, even came to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Two of her customers, introduced to each other at the coffee shop, recently married.
“I love it. I absolutely love it.” Aurora’s wide eyes beam out from her fair complexion. “I’m not making any money yet, but I would be devastated to close our doors.” The variety of people she meets is the best part being a business owner, she says, along with all the experiences they create. The early mornings and late nights required to run a business are worth it. When she first took on the coffee house, Aurora worried if it was the best move for her three girls, not having the traditional situation of mom at home. “But they are here doing different things.” When in the store, her older girls help with dishes and taking out the trash.
Recently, leasing turbulence threatened Mint & Serif’s future. A large vinyl “For Sale” banner hangs over the building, dwarfing the coffee shop signage. “People think we’re closed and gone.” Sales suffered, and future leasing options became uncertain with the building on the market. In a move to gain stability, Mint & Serif’s owners made a bid for the building, which was rejected.
After a roller coaster of emotions, Aurora was approached by a broker for a new space. While she describes her future location, her eyes drift up and her cheeks lift as though she’s transported herself there momentarily. By the end of the summer, Mint & Serif will relocate to the former Campus Cyclery building on Colfax, east of Wadsworth, less than a five-minute drive for her customers from the current location. “They all said they are going to follow us.” In fact, some are going to help paint and move them in. “Now we get to grow and expand.” The space triples their square footage, allows preparation for more food items, keeps an outdoor patio seating option, and lands the arts supporter nearby the 40 West Arts District.
“We have so many ideas and dreams that we’re going to get the opportunity to do over there.” Aurora’s voice chokes with emotion and her eyes pool with tears. She talks through a smile as she wipes at a tear. “We want to be a community staple in the arts district.” Already hosting a monthly art exhibit opening each first Friday of the month, Mint & Serif is poised for inclusion in the district. “I envisioned people creating or writing, and this will be the space for them.” Aurora points to the front of the store, where a book written within their walls is available for purchase.
The high-pitched whirl of machinery precedes a fresh blast of rich aroma. Aurora calls goodbye to a customer as the morning crowd thins. The next cup she prepares is for herself.