Three Pines Coffee and District Coffee Co.: Preserving Community in the COVID-19 Era
Food: Interviews & Features
This year posed wild hardships on a global scale many of us have never witnessed. In March, when initial “stay safe, stay home” mandates dropped into our collective laps, the doors of most beloved coffee purveyors clamped shut out of conscious responsibility. Since those initial shocking days, many have adjusted to new ways of existing. Locals love coffee—that is certain. What’s less certain is how we can continue to love it by sustaining small shops that provide during a pandemic. With sweet ounces of one such beverage fueling this very narrative, the story of two Downtown bean merchants comes to the fore.
“During my time at Handsome [in L.A.], we were bought out by Blue Bottle Coffee. The transition from a homegrown independent coffee roaster to a multinational corporation was eye-opening. I saw the life get sucked out of a place that felt like home to me,” says Nick Price, founder of Main Street’s standout coffee shop, Three Pines Coffee. “When I moved back to Salt Lake City in 2015, I knew I wanted to replicate what was so special about Handsome.” Price’s bean business began as a coffee cart making rounds at the Farmer’s Market. Now, in a storefront surviving the pandemic, there’s constant adaptations needed. “One of the biggest [adjustments] is banning inside seating, which certainly takes away from the community aspect of a coffee shop,” says Price.
The challenges of small business survival in the first year are enough without a pandemic virus. Another one-off downtown shop, District Coffee Co., opened in the thick of COVID with altered expectations from the very birth of the business. “We were only halfway through with the construction when the pandemic hit. Opening a food business in the COVID age brought a lot of feelings of uncertainty and anxiety,” says Co-founder Scott Adams. “It has definitely shaped our menu of what types of foods we would offer. I have always been very strict about food safety, but an airborne virus that doesn’t show symptoms for so long is an unknown variable to a lot of food-service professionals!”
“Opening a food business in the COVID age brought a lot of feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.”
Such sentiments are equally felt by patrons of Three Pines and District, as customers cautiously collect in socially spaced lines outside the shops most mornings, willing to brave the incoming winter chill for that sweet, house-made almond milk or local loose-leaf tea. Price, Adams and their fellow milk-frothing ilk have had to find ways to make products accessible and unique with a new level of public safety in mind. Gift cards, different selections of specialty beans, new seasonal beverages and other innovative proprietary products are helping skate the tiny margins food purveyors exist on, which are shrinking even more during this pandemic. Both shops have sourced from fellow foodies in the valley to expand their inventory an co-support other struggling service-industry colleagues.
There have been bright spots in the looming darkness of 2020, especially in the human (albeit often distanced) interactions with staff and customers of these thoughtful shops. “When the pandemic first hit and we had to close down for a couple of months, some of our regulars put together a ‘barista stimulus’ in which customers and supporters could donate. The response was overwhelming and we were so grateful,” says Price. District’s locals in the charming Marmalade area have also brought a warmth and adoration for their new coffee shop. Adams agrees that “feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It has been a joy to meet our neighbors and get to know all of their personalities,” he says.
Standing out is especially salient for small businesses, and creativity is key in crafting something special that can soothe bedraggled customers seeking the small and fleeting comforts amid chaos. Three Pines already offers a number of delicacies to meet such needs. “We have an incredible, 100%-organic apple cider topped with vanilla whipped cream and cinnamon as our seasonal special. We’re currently experimenting with a peppermint and dark-chocolate mocha. We’re also planning to expand with seasonal pies, cookies and bars!” says Price.
“It has been a joy to meet our neighbors and get to know all of their personalities.”
The future seems hard to grasp for most of us these days, and focusing on it is a daily challenge. Three Pines and District are doing their damndest to weather the struggles, leaning in to what a post-pandemic existence could hold. “I’m excited to expand Three Pines when the pandemic is over, and look forward to giving back to those who are really supporting us during these times,” says Price. Adams is equally encouraged by the forecast. He says, “When we started this shop, we had hoped to become a friendly neighborhood hangout. I believe that process began with the hiring of our inviting staff. We will continue to grow after the pandemic is over!”
Especially as the cold sets in and COVID cases amplify our anxiety, perhaps the simplest aspects of life are more vital today than we realize. A silky, foamed latte with a flowery flourish or a freshly toasted treat may be the tether we hold in a tornado of tough news and existential threat. Our beloved local coffee shops have become more than a small indulgence a couple times a week: Maybe they are a little lifeline and a recognition that community, joy and simple pleasures are an act of social support and sanity preservation. This necessarily scarce holiday season, let’s show-up for these shops and share the love they roast into every bean and bake into every edible delight.