By Rebecca Briesmoore and Hannah Zimmer
Photos courtesy of the Coffee Lab.
Nestled between the Tomichi and Colorado dormitories on the first floor of the ICELab building, the Coffee Lab offers a study and event space for students. Open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Coffee Lab sells beverages and along with food items like smoothies, burritos, and bagels.
The Coffee Lab started in Crested Butte in 2016 as a bicycle cart with an espresso machine built in but moved into the Historic Town Hall in Gothic after its initial summer season. Later on, the company opened a shop in The Lodge within Mountaineer Square up in Mount Crested Butte.
Then in 2019, when the IceLab approached CoffeeLab manager Dewey Overholser about starting a shop in the downstairs portion of the ICELab building, a third location was opened on the Western campus.
The ICELab is a business resource center that partners with Western students and the Gunnison Valley community, serving as an incubator for entrepreneurship and innovation. The ICELab rents the first floor of Escalante Hall to the CoffeeLab. Despite having a similar name, the businesses are separate entities.
Thanks in part to its on-campus location, the Gunnison Coffee Lab operates as more than just a coffee shop. A convenient place for group meetings, socializing, and studying, the Coffee Lab also hosts campus events and classes visiting for coffee and a change of scenery. For co-managers Brandon Ramberg and Madison Patton, this is an important part of the Coffee Lab.
“[It’s] been a really big push, making it a welcoming environment. We have [Jam Club’s] open mic night on Thursdays [and] we are doing a book reading on Monday. The things you can do in this space become endless. We are really flexible,” says Patton.
For Patton and Ramberg, both juniors at Western, the Coffee Lab has been an integral part of their college experience. Both started working for the Coffee Lab their freshman year while living in Dolores Hall. Patton, who had worked as a barista in Colorado Springs at Dutch Bros. Coffee, applied to the Coffee Lab first. “[Dutch Bros. Coffee] was crazy, fast paced. It’s a very different vibe [at the Coffee Lab]. It’s a cool place,” says Patton.
After accepting the job, Patton told Ramberg he should apply. Ramberg, who had never held a job but was looking for his first, was enticed by the location – he could see the Coffee Lab from his bedroom. “I really could not imagine my college experience without the Coffee Lab. [During] our freshman year we would come in every night and do homework on the patio. Even the days I’m not working, I sit here and do homework and get a drink,” says Ramberg.
Being located on campus makes the Coffee Lab an accessible study spot for students, but Ramberg laughs while pointing out that customers must walk up a hill to arrive. “The big hill is the biggest downside of our location. Otherwise, it’s a great location. We have our whole patio area that coffee shops on Main Street don’t have,” says Ramberg.
However, there are other challenges from having a customer base of mainly students. “I think the big challenge of having so many of our customers being college students is [that they have] other options [and they] cannot always afford it,” says Patton. Ramberg hopes that the Coffee Lab’s status as a registered as a nonprofit organization that donates all proceeds go to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) will encourage students to choose the Coffee Lab.
“We give all the money we make to RMBL. We hope that inspires people to come in and get some coffee, knowing the money they are going to spend is supporting science,” notes Ramberg.
RMBL, located beyond Crested Butte in Gothic, Colorado, is a renowned biological research hub that specializes in studying high-altitude ecosystems. Along with raising funds for the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, the Coffee Lab’s coffee and kombucha are sourced from Crested Butte.
The coffee comes from First Ascent Roasters and the kombucha is from Crested Bucha. Even their cups and plates have a local connection. Elizabeth Overholser, an artist who spends half the year in Austin, Texas and the other half in Gothic, makes the plates and cups used for lattes and cappuccinos at the Coffee Lab.
After two years of working for the Coffee Lab, Patton and Ramberg were promoted to assistant managers during the 2021 fall semester before being promoted to managers in January of this year. During those two and half years, the Coffee Lab has continued to be an important part of their college experience. As managers, Patton and Ramberg oversee the three student employees at the Coffee Lab: Luke Linville, Kallie Klein, and Corrine Ryan.
“We work with great employees. This shop is run by us and [the] three other students,” says Ramberg. However, when the shop is open, there is only one person on shift at a time. “It’s given me a lot of confidence in working by myself. Being here, you either Google it or you call somebody, but if they don’t answer, you must figure it out and do your best. It requires you to have a lot of integrity,” says Patton.
Patton, a Political Science and Business major with an emphasis in marketing, hopes to use her experience at the Coffee Lab in a marketing career, and maybe open her own coffee shop someday. “This place has given me tools, soft skills like customer service, but I’ve also learned hard skills [like] how to count a cash register. Everyone should learn how to count a cash register,” says Patton.
In her last year at Western, Patton would like to see the Coffee Lab grow. “I really want to see this place flourish. I want it to be bigger and better than [when] we left it. Having it grow more and stay successful is really important,” says Ramberg.
Ramberg has greener goals for the Coffee Lab. “I love plants, I would like to see it have more plants. Plants are so good for studying; they really do have benefits besides looking pretty. It would make it more exciting [for students] to come in,” he says.
Ramberg, a Psychology major with a minor in Biology, wants to take the skills he has learned at the Coffee Lab to work in the psychology field in Colorado Springs. “I want to work with people, [and the Coffee Lab] is a starting point for working with people. It shows me it’s something I want to do when I graduate,” he adds.
The Coffee Lab will be open through Friday, April 29 before closing for summer break. It will reopen the first week of classes of the fall semester. To learn more about the Coffee Lab or upcoming events, visit the Instagram or website.