Talking coffee with owner Pam Hegel
1. Tell us about The Urban Bean Coffeehouse Cafe.
The Urban Bean Coffeehouse Cafe is first and foremost a craft coffeehouse serving specialty coffees. We look, smell, and feel like a coffeehouse. With that being said, we have an amazing food line up as well as a lot of other beverages. We’re a very unique, local gathering place, designed for larger groups and families as well as couples or singles.
2. What sets The Urban Bean apart from other coffee shops?
There are many things that make us unique. Our ambiance is one. We have gone to great lengths to make The Urban Bean atmosphere as "hand-crafted" as our coffee and food. All of the tables, bench seats and espresso bar and service counters are handmade by our contractor and came from one 150' pine tree that he cut down from his property. My husband and I have done all of the finish work ourselves, including some very unique finishes such as hand-troweled concrete walls and counters in the bathrooms, hand-troweled plaster walls in the dining area, and the faux-brick wall along the back bar. Being environmentally friendly is one of our core values so we have re-purposed many items, like reusing pallets for our vertical gardens along the patios, building our front patio furniture from an old loading dock, and re-purposing flooring joists from a torn down house for our window trim and baseboard. We have planted hundreds of succulents in our cinder block planters and vertical gardens because succulents are so chic and eco-friendly. They need very little water to thrive.
The building of course, is just the beginning of our uniqueness. Our coffee is absolutely some of the best coffee available anywhere. We are extremely proud of our coffee and are so excited to share it with people. The world of Specialty Coffee is really so new and we get very excited to educate people and share that great coffee experience with them. I think another thing that makes us unique is that although we are totally passionate about coffee, we are even more passionate about people. We are very down-to-earth people and we want to make hand-crafted specialty coffee accessible to everyone, including those who have never had an opportunity to experience it. We want to take the intimidation out of ordering by having written drink explanations to help educate people and assist them in choosing a beverage. We have put a lot of hard work into creating an amazing environment and offering the highest quality coffee, tea and food, but at the end of the day it's people we care most about. We love people and that's why we do what we do.
3. Can you describe the ambiance at The Urban Bean?
We are definitely designed as a gathering place. We have large tables to accommodate groups as well as having square bistro tables that can be pushed together. We have lounge chairs around a fireplace for comfy seating. There is a stage with a digital baby grand player piano which adds incredible ambiance! Our overall design is industrial. A little modern industrial, a little vintage industrial. Lots of pipe, wood, and metal to create our own chic industrial vibe. We’ve added a lot of warm elements too so that The Urban Bean is very inviting and not a cold and barren feel that can easily happen when using an industrial design. We have two patios because we love sitting outside and have found it difficult to find many restaurants that have outdoor seating for us to enjoy our beautiful Florida weather. One of our patios has tables and chairs and is covered by a huge canopy with beautiful Edison bulb lighting. It has a vertical pallet garden that is filled with beautiful succulent plants that divides the patio from the parking lot and makes it a very cozy and warm environment. Our front patio is open and has a maze of bench seating with coffee tables. It’s a great hang-out spot for groups. There is a huge cinder block planter filled with more succulents and a pallet vertical garden to help give a little privacy from the street. The ambiance is so crucial to us. We’ve thought of a lot of very unique things and have created a place that we would want to come and hang out in.
4. Do you also serve specialty tea?
Yes, we are so proud of our tea as well. Rishi Tea has the finest organic fair trade tea available anywhere. They do direct trade with the farmers and the quality is so evident. We will have a nice assortment of Green, White, Black and herbal teas. We are also offering a few very unique drinks such as Matcha. Matcha is a green tea that is ground very finely and has been used for centuries in Japanese Ceremonies and has recently become very popular among tea drinkers. It's a potent drink, kind of like the espresso of the tea world, and is served as a 2.5 ounce drink. We serve lattes and frappes made from Matcha powder too and people are really loving them. Another very unique drink we are offering is organic African Red Rooibos lattes and frappes. Red Rooibos is naturally caffeine free and has 10 times more antioxidants than green tea. It has the richness of honey and is amazingly smooth and sweet. We handcraft these lattes with our espresso machine and froth the milk just like our coffee based lattes, which produces a tea-based latte that will rival our coffee based lattes. We also serve organic iced teas and tea-based smoothie drinks as well.
5. Do you also serve craft beers?
At this time we are not offering any alcoholic beverages.
6. Can you tell us about your food?
We have a really fun and exciting food menu. We wanted to hit that ‘sweet spot’ of uniqueness and yet offer familiar items that people will enjoy every day. Our food philosophy is pretty simple: 'familiar food with a gourmet twist'. We want people to feel comfortable and recognize the ingredients in their food but we try to make everything very unique with our house-made sauces and jams, such as our sweet onion jam, fig spread, pesto mayo, etc. We choose the freshest and highest quality ingredients we can find and we have a lot of very healthy food but are definitely not the obscure 'sprout place'. We use organic when possible and we are using many products from local companies. Our menu consists of gourmet sandwiches, soups, salads, flatbreads, appetizers, breakfast items and of course, delicious bagels and baked goods. We do not serve fried foods but have instead created some amazing baked goods such as gourmet baked donuts, baked potato chips and kale chips. Other than our coffee and tea offerings we have a great variety of hand crafted sodas, smoothies and non-alcoholic cocktails.
7. Can you describe some of the specific food items that you offer?
Some of our most popular items are Waffle Boats, which are about the size of a hot dog and are concave to hold ingredients. We have an Empty Boat, which is served with our house-made caramel butterscotch syrup and whipped cream; the Banana Boat, which has Nutella and bananas with syrup; Strawberries and Cream Boat, which has fresh strawberries on a bed of strawberry yogurt sauce and The Scrambled Egg and Cheese Boat. Two very popular breakfast sandwiches are The UB Sandwich and The Bird. The UB Sandwich is served with your choice of a gourmet English muffin or one of our fresh baked NY bagels with scrambled egg, cheese, and your choice of applewood smoked baked, chicken apple sausage, turkey, or Black Forest ham. The Bird has scrambled egg, fresh deli turkey breast, provolone, cheddar, strawberry jam and is pressed on ciabatta bread. We offer many other breakfast items such as a Black Bean Burrito, Scrambled Grits bowl, South of the Border Rice bowls, Yogurt Pots and Steel Cut Oats.
Two of our most popular salads are the UB Signature Salad - filled with lots of fresh fruits, pecans, and grilled chicken breast with poppyseed dressing, and our Mediterranean Salad with romaine, spinach, grilled chicken breast, feta, and kalamata olives with a balsamic vinaigrette. We have both hot and cold sandwiches, one of my favorites being The Park Avenue made with Black Forest ham, housemade sweet onion jam, and melted cheddar cheese on an artisan Asiago bread. We have a great selection of Shareables, which include a fresh fruit and cheese plate, house-made salsa and blue corn chips, house-made roasted red pepper hummus with marinated feta and served with warm pita points, and our house-made guacamole served with blue corn chips. We have vegetarian options such as our Black Bean Burger with spicy orange yogurt sauce and our gourmet PBJ with organic peanut butter, banana, granny smith apple, and mango chutney served on an artisan white bread. We have tofu available as a substitute for meat in any of our salads. We also have a few vegan options. We are very proud of our kid's menu too and we think parents will be thrilled with the quality and selection of healthy options that we think will appeal to their children.
8. Do you offer gluten free items?
Yes, we offer gluten free bread and are working on offering some pre-packaged items in the near future.
9. Will you host events at the Urban Bean?
Yes, we're presently hosting a nine week workshop for a group on Thursday evenings entitled "Why Work?”. We've hosted a book signing, and invited our first musicians (two great jazz guitarists) in last week. We've have many people contact us for various events and we are so excited to be a gathering place to bring people together for a wide variety of special happenings in our area.
10. Will you have a drive thru?
Yes, we have a drive-thru which we are working on opening very soon. We expect a lot of morning traffic with our location and we are working hard to prepare for that. It is a bit of a challenge because people expect 'quick'. We will definitely do our utmost to serve people very efficiently, but we are not 'fast food' and we have no 'super automatic espresso machines'. Maintaining our integrity of hand-crafted food and beverages is something we won't waver on, so we are working hard at the moment to make sure we have an efficient system in place before we open. We hope people will appreciate the convenience of the drive-thru and at the same time not expect the same speed as other fast food places.
11. Who's the audience for the Urban Bean?
One of the basic tenants for creating a business is that you can not be ALL things to ALL people but in our typical go-against-the-flow natures we truly believe that we have such a great venue and varied offerings on the menu, that everyone will be able to enjoy The Urban Bean.
12. Can you tell us more about your coffee? Will you roast your own beans?
We very briefly considered roasting our own beans. It sounds cool to do that and it’s definitely less expensive. However, as we began looking into it, we soon learned what an incredible skill it is to do it correctly and consistently. It takes years to develop the skill and experience to gain the quality that we wanted. It was much more important to us to be able to serve our customers the very best coffee available. We spent 8 months searching for the best coffee - the coffee that would 'wow' us. We visited roasters throughout Florida and Georgia before discovering Counter Culture Coffee in Atlanta. Let me just say that tears flowed during my first sip as I knew we had found what we were looking for! Counter Culture has been on the forefront of the specialty coffee movement and has been a pioneer in establishing direct trade standards for sustainability, fairness, quality, and transparency in the coffee chain. Each batch is roasted to our order, bagged and shipped the same day. Our customers are receiving the very freshest and highest quality coffee available in every cup.
13. How do you select your beans?
We have taste tested each bean to determine our favorites for each style of brew. Counter Culture has a motto of 'any bean any brew' and all their coffees are really delicious, but we definitely have our favorites. We have chosen two very different offerings for daily brewed coffee but we always have some very interesting and delicious single origin seasonal coffees available for our various hand brewing methods such as pour overs and French press. We are very excited about the bean we use for our espresso. It has notes of caramel, nuttiness, and dark chocolate and makes some of the best espresso we have every tasted and it pairs beautifully with steamed milk as well. We have amazing decaffeinated beans which is very exciting to us because both my husband and I have to avoid caffeine past about 3:00 in the afternoon. Finding a good tasting decaffeinated coffee is a huge challenge. Unfortunately, decaffeinated coffees have been relegated to secondary status by most coffee roasters, who use low-quality coffees and cheap chemical processes to create their decafs. Counter Culture instead buys the highest quality coffees and uses the much more expensive and natural Swiss water process to meet their demand for quality. The Swiss water process is certified organic, kosher, and 100% chemical-free and you will not be able to tell it’s decaffeinated. In fact, one of Counter Culture's baristas won the national barista championships using a decaf bean, of course without telling anyone at first!
14. You have some pretty amazing technology in-house. Can you tell us about it?
We are super excited about our espresso machines. Our main machine is a three group Victoria Arduino Adonis. It is both super elegant and ergonomic. The push/pull steam levers and the cool wand increase barista safety. It has a high efficiency extraction system with PID thermal stability. It is also one of the only machines on the market that has an auto wash feature which simplifies the cleaning and sanitation process. The Adonis is also equipped with LED barista lights, which is very helpful, and the LED lighting across the back just looks really cool. To our knowledge, there is only one other Adonis in the Southeastern U.S. It’s an absolutely stunningly beautiful machine. The other machine we have, which will service our drive-thru, is the very iconic LaMarzocco GB5. It is also a three group machine. We were pretty stoked to find this particular machine as it is the 77th one made. Although it is an older machine it was only used for one year and we love the vintage look it provides. The GB5 is a dual boiler system with saturated groups and also has PID thermal stability. It is simply one of the best and most reliable workhorse machines around!
We do pour overs in a Kalita Wave brewer as well as the more traditional Bonmac. Each brings out a little different nuance in the coffee and we’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with these. We have press pots for one or two so that somebody can share a French press at their table. Our press pots are made of double wall insulated stainless steel, which will keep the coffee hot for a very long time, especially compared to glass presses which cool down way too quickly. Our press pots also have a very unique double microfilter system so that you still get that deep earthy textured body that French press lovers love but without the over-extracted bitterness and grit of the typical French press filter.
We have two styles of cold brewing. We have a Yama brewer which is just an exquisite piece of art along with making amazing cold brewed coffee. It is a drip system which is made from ice melting and passing through the ground coffee one drip at a time. It takes about 12 hours to brew one gallon of concentrated coffee. We also have a Filtron Pro System which is an immersion cold brewing system, meaning that the coffee grounds sit in the cold water for 12 hours. Both methods are far superior to brewing hot coffee and then icing it as cold brewing produces a very nicely balanced flavor, increases sweetness and eliminates the acids and bitterness.
The other really cool new ‘techie’ item we are using is our Nuova Simonelli Mythos Clima Pro 1 espresso grinder. It is brand new to the market and is the only grinder with temperature regulation of the beans. One of the biggest problems in grinding beans is the creation of heat. After grinders run for an extended period of time, they tend to heat up, which in turn, will heat the bean. This can dramatically taint the flavor profile of the espresso shot. With the Clima Pro 1, there is a fan which cools the grinding burrs and beans as the temperature rises.
Finally, one other tech thing I’d like to mention is how robust our free WiFi is. We have a separate WiFi account for our customers instead of sharing our in-house WiFi system. This will give our customers a much greater WiFi experience!
15. What’s an Affogato?
It’s an incredibly rich and delicious drink from our dessert menu. We take a scoop of our gourmet vanilla ice cream from Luke's Ice Cream in Florida and pour a fresh dopio shot of espresso over the top and finish it off with drizzled chocolate. Amazing!
16. Do you have a favorite drink?
Oh… for sure. One of our favorite drinks is our Sparkling Long Black. It’s a carbonated espresso drink that is cold, sweet and soooo refreshing. The carbonation creates this amazing head of sweet foam from the crema of the espresso. It’s so unique and like nothing else you’ve ever tried. We also love the Cubano shot, which is espresso and Turbinado sugar put into the portafilter together before pulling the shot.
17. Do you have a favorite tea?
There are so many, but the Pu-erh Bordeaux is a really amazing and different tea that has quite a sophisticated flavor profile. It’s quite complex and very, very interesting. And my all-time favorite is an African Red Rooibos Honey Cinnamon Latte with almond milk, created from pulled shots of finely ground Red Rooibos and our locally sourced organic creamed cinnamon honey. It’s sweet and creamy and naturally caffeine free!
18. Can you tell us about your background?
We are Pam and DuWayne Hegel. We have been married for 36 years and were high school sweethearts. We have talked about starting a coffeehouse many times over the years but never too seriously. We have always been coffee lovers and thought we knew a lot about coffee until we began this process two years ago! Ha ha. The more we began studying the more we realized what a lifelong pursuit this is. There is so much that goes into making incredibly delicious coffee and we continue to study, learn, and practice every day. It's so exciting! DuWayne is the food expert. He worked for a contract food service company for the last 22 years. He assumed he would retire with that company, but, two years ago he was laid off. We knew right away that this was God giving us the opportunity to do something really important with our lives and we took the leap of faith to start The Urban Bean Coffeehouse Cafe. We are a Christian based company, which simply means that we operate with Christian principles and values - honesty, integrity, respect and love. That is our guiding force for how we treat our employees, our customers and our vendors. We simply love God and love people and do our part to take care of the environment by using a lot of eco-friendly products. We are also passionate about giving and give as much of our resources as possible to our community and it’s varied organizations.
19. Have you owned a food business before?
Yes we have. We were basically kids! We were only 25 years old when we purchased a small business in North Dakota that was like a 'mom and pop' version of Chuck E Cheese. We had 150 video games, pool tables, bumper cars and miniature golf. We had a small snack bar too. We owned that until DuWayne began working in the contract food service industry which is where he really honed his food management skills.
20. Why Orange Park?
We live in Orange Park and we LOVE Orange Park. We really felt that Orange Park needed a craft quality coffeehouse and a place for people to gather together and hang out. We really built The Urban Bean to be the place that we are looking for personally. We love to go out and have coffee and hang out with friends but there is not a coffeehouse very close by. We looked at many locations in the Orange Park and Fleming Island area and once we stopped and got out of our car at this location we realized right away what a great opportunity this was. We are really in the heart of Orange Park with Town Hall across the street. It's where the town does business - the Library, Police Department and Fire Department are all right here. It’s where the community comes together for different events. There are fall festivals, farmer's markets and art in the park activities going on across the street all the time. We also chose this location because there are not many restaurants on this stretch of Park Ave/Hwy 17 so we felt that this area really needed something. We think the commuters will love to have a great cup of coffee and a bagel on their way to work in the morning.
21. What appealed to you about the building itself?
Well, the building itself was not the appeal, the location was! The building has been here for a very long time and we knew we would need to really give it a new life for our new business. We racked our brains for a while trying to determine what design we could come up with that would be super unique and appealing using the current roof and building design. We are very proud of the design both inside and out and are absolutely thrilled to see people enjoying themselves so much. It has made all of the hard work we put in so worth it!
22. Can you tell us a little about your journey from start to opening? Why did it take so long to open up?
Gosh... that is a great question! And there are many reasons. Starting from the very beginning it took a while to just get the property lines redrawn. Both our building and the building next to us were owned by the same people and the property lines were not dividing the property evenly. Then we were required to do soil sampling because there may have been a gas station on the property years ago. After we did an initial sample, they required us to do the second phase of sampling. In the end, everything turned out fine but it was a huge expense and took time. After purchasing the building, we began demo-ing. Thank God for all of our friends who helped us in the demolition of both the interior and the exterior. Both were a huge job! We gutted the entire place and took it down to basically four cinder block walls. We ended up having to cut out about 1/4 of the concrete slab and replace that too!
We were held up by permitting for quite some time. And little did we know how much would be required of us simply because the building stood vacant for so long. Once a building is vacant for this period of time the requirements are to have everything up to code. That meant replacing windows, replacing air conditioners, getting energy audits, redoing our sidewalks to make them ADA compliant, and putting two new roofs on! We had to replace all the rotten wood on the existing roof, which we knew going in, but then ended up having to build an entirely new roofing structure on top of that which would be sloped, as flat roofs were no longer being allowed by code. The city of Orange Park was in the middle of writing codes which made it a challenge for us because codes were changing on us and we couldn't always get an answer as to what we were allowed to do. It’s nobody’s fault, it was just bad timing to be in the build-out process. Our front sign was initially approved and we had it designed and then the code changed and we had to come up with a different plan.
Most of our subcontractors were awesome to work with but we had a few whom we had to really push to come back and finish their work. One subcontractor, after ten months of basically begging him to come and finish, we finally had to let go. When we found a new subcontractor to finish his work, we found out the hard way that most of his original work had to be redone. Live and learn! Once we were finally able to hook up all of our kitchen equipment a few weeks before we were going to open we found that none of it worked. We had to repair the walk-in cooler and put a new compressor on the freezer and had to have all of our cooking equipment repaired. We were having major water-pressure issues even though all the plumbing was replaced. After having the backflow preventer and the water meter checked, we finally decided to go ahead and replace the water lines out to the street, assuming that would take care of the problem, but it didn't. We still did not have adequate water pressure. We ended up having to put a pressurized tank in the building and then we finally had enough pressure. I don't think any part of the construction went as planned or easily. We seemed to hit a hurdle at every corner and it seems to be unending. In fact, just the week before we opened we were contacted from the DOT and found out that they too have requirements that we were not aware of. We were originally told that if we did not touch the boulevard or the driveways that we would be fine with the DOT. However, we just found out that we need a permit to allow people to turn into our driveway and we need to change our driveway curbing as well as closing off the existing unused driveway. So, as hard as we tried to complete construction, it seemed more and more just kept getting added to our plate, which made it very difficult to determine an accurate opening date. I know people were wondering what on earth is taking so long?! DuWayne and I, with the help of our kids, have done all of the finish work as well as building all of the vertical gardens and planters outside. We've designed our own menus too. We've created the food and beverage menu and all of the training materials. In a nutshell - between the permits, inspections, construction problems and doing so much of the work ourselves - that's what took so long. We don't feel so bad though as we've talked to other business owners who say they have taken almost as long as we have and haven't had near the construction work that we have had.
Although we never dreamed that the construction would consume us like it did, we enjoyed the hard work and putting so much of our own handiwork into our little place. We are glad we didn't cut corners to get open any sooner as people have really appreciated all of the details that have gone into making The Urban Bean special and we hear over and over from our customers how much they appreciate all of our hard work to bring such a unique gathering place to Orange Park.
23. Is there anything you'd do differently if you were doing it again, that you can share as lessons for others?
Absolutely! Get EVERYTHING in writing. We already knew this as we've learned this lesson many times in the past, and yet we still failed on this point. We basically trust people so it's very difficult when people are 'throwing things in for free' to say "put that in writing please". We had all the big stuff in writing but there were a lot of small details that didn't get written down because they seemed so obvious that it didn’t seem necessary. Those items came back to bite us over and over. Sometimes it was a misunderstanding of what those details were, but most of the time it was details that were forgotten. We weren't really thinking about how far out some of the work would be done from the time we originally talked to the subcontractors. So, many things were not remembered over the course of several months. Even though we had written them down for ourselves we didn't have them written in the contract. Also, we learned that we should have given very clear deadlines for completed work. We found that we were constantly getting put on the back of everyone's list. And by nature, we just are not very aggressive or pushy people, so in hindsight we probably should have gotten tougher earlier on. It didn’t seem urgent months ago, but over the course of this last year the amount of stress and time wasted trying to get people to show up to work ended up costing us dearly.
24. Anything else?
Someday I would love to become part of a city development committee or urban renewal committee to try to encourage an easier process for local business owners, especially for those like us, that have purchased property. If there is anything I could do to help another owner avoid the mistakes and missteps that we’ve had I would love to be able to do that. This is definitely not for the faint of heart! I would love to help bridge the gap between the government process and the business owner. New business, and especially small business, is at the heart of economic stability and growth for a healthy community. If there were a list of all the government agencies that a business owner has to deal with, along with a list of the steps involved, that would be very helpful. It would be very nice if there could be some type of help or incentive to purchase an existing building that has been vacant for a long time. The requirements are so steep and the financial drain is huge! The last thing we want in our city is for buildings to remain vacant, but for an average business owner, purchasing those vacant buildings is more than most can afford to do. Also, making the process quicker would really help ease the financial burden. It would have helped us tremendously to have been open 6 months ago and making money. I'm very thankful that we've been able to withstand the stress and the financial burden of this two year process and we are so excited to have finally opened our doors on March 2, 2015! It’s all been worth it and we are ready to serve the community of Orange Park and the surrounding area some amazing coffee and food. We look forward to building wonderful long-lasting relationships!