Steampunk Coffee Roasters owner happy to be back in areaPublished 12:06am Sunday, November 3, 2013
NATCHEZ — When anyone tells Dub Rogers that Steampunk Coffee Roasters makes some of the best coffee in the country, it validates the leap of faith the Natchez native took to transform a historic building into an espresso bar.
Rogers and his wife, Linda Shehan, will begin their sixth week in business at the High Street location this week.
The journey from restoring the building to roasting specialty coffee is one the couple enjoys sharing with whomever has time to listen — over a fresh coffee, of course.
Rogers has lived and worked — mainly as an architectural and commercial photographer — in 20 countries across the world, but only claims one hometown.
“I lived in New York for 30 years, but I never once called myself a New Yorker — I always said I was from Natchez, Mississippi,” Rogers said. “My dream was to one day come back to Natchez and call it home again.”
His interest in coffee came from working in Italy and admiring the precision and attention the Italians poured into each cup as well as the concept of an espresso bar, which Rogers quickly differentiates from a coffee shop.
“We are an espresso bar, specialty coffee roasters and coffee retail store — not a coffee shop,” Rogers said. “We just want to roast coffee, and we created the espresso bar to show people how to brew it properly and educate people on coffee and the coffee culture.”
After being bitten by the coffee and espresso bug in Italy, Rogers continued traveling to various countries but always kept a house in Natchez.
Rogers met Shehan, who is originally from Minnesota but has lived in Natchez for nine years, during one visit.
“She was my neighbor, and I eventually met and got to know this lovely woman and decided to stay,” Rogers said. “When we were deciding if we were going to stay, we said we would have to create something we both loved and wanted to do.
“We both loved coffee, and I’d been wanting to do something like this for a while, so we said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The couple has spent the last five years researching and learning all things coffee.
“We went to barista school, did all the research and started educating ourselves to do all of this,” Rogers said. “We started practicing a year before we even started anything just to make sure we knew how to do it all.”
The amount of training and research Rogers and Shehan have undergone becomes apparent when asking about any of their 10 specialty coffees or the various devices that help brew them.
From the African and South American blend French Roast, Le Loup Garou, to the Honduran blend with coconut flavor, Coconut Joe, each coffee has a story pleasantly attached at the hip.
Shehan designed all the labels for the specialty coffees giving them each an element to discuss.
“The Le Loup Garou is the very first one we did and the werewolf drawing on the label is after one of our little dogs we had,” Shehan said. “She was very much a werewolf.”
The hardware housed inside Steampunk, however, is the real conversation starters.
A large, golden espresso machine sits behind the main counter right past the entrance. The 25-year-old, Italian made Elektra Belle Epoque not only helps make the espresso drinks that keep customers returning, but it also helped give the venue a name.
“I put up a picture of it on Facebook after we bought it, and one of my friends from New York commented on it and said, ‘That’s so steampunk,’” Rogers said. “A light bulb went off and we had found our name.”
The term steampunk is associated with the industrialized Western civilization of the 19th century and any kind of steam-powered machinery.
“Natchez is a real steampunk kind of city, so much that you could walk around in full steampunk regalia and no one would bat an eye,” Rogers said. “So we named our espresso machine ‘Punk’ and it became our mascot.”
The couple also decided to use a hot-air balloon as an unofficial symbol, besides the espresso machine, to represent their business.
The balloon, Rogers said, not only characterizes the steampunk attitude, but also has sentimental value.
During the 2012 Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, Rogers, Shehan and others set up shop along the bluff in a small, wooden exhibit booth and gave away 600 samples of their coffee.
“That’s when we were able to feel the pulse of the community and see what the reaction was going to be,” Rogers said. “We had an overwhelming response, and that eventually led us to finding this place.”
The building at 114 High St. was previously a house built sometime between 1864 and 1886 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Re-purposing material for furniture and accent pieces inside the business, Rogers said, was important to keep up the historic feel of the building.
The espresso bar is made from sinker pecky cypress and cabinets inside are rebuilt from materials recovered in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
“We were so glad we found this gorgeous building and were able to design it aesthetically with our philosophy of what we wanted to do,” Rogers said. “We claim this building and neighborhood with pride.”
Plans for expansion in the future, Rogers said, include adding panini sandwiches, soups and salads to the menu.
“We want to use the Italian method and keep everything basic and simple — nothing fried, nothing crazy,” Rogers said. “These are things we can make quick and get out quick.”
For those who might not have time to make it in the door, Steampunk has created a mobile barista truck, dubbed the “A-Team Coffee SWAT Truck.”
The truck will soon have the same coffee products available at Steampunk and eventually some additional food options.
“We want to have everything we have here on the truck in a smaller scale with one addition — tacos,” Rogers said. “There will only be a few options, but they’re going to be killer tacos with our own salsas.”
As Rogers and Shehan continue to expand their business — inside and outside the walls of their High Street location — the couple said they’re looking forward to what’s ahead.
“This is now considered our third home, and we’re very fortunate to be here,” Rogers said. “My dream was to find a place in Natchez to restore, and it’s happened.”
Steampunk Coffee Roasters is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
For more information, call 601-870-6882 or visit steampunkcoffeeroasters.com.