Jan 292008
Authors: Jessi Stafford

As corporate coffee companies like Starbucks take over the laidback coffee shop culture across the country, cities have become hubbubs of wireless cafes and caffeine junkies.

But in Fort Collins, a healthy mix of local and corporate still exists, creating competition and a thriving locale for resident entrepreneurs.

For Mug’s Coffee Lounge owner McCabe Callahan, the plethora of coffee shops makes for friendly competition and a wide variety for consumers. Yet, he can’t help but think his coffee lounge sits a little higher than the rest.

Or at least a little greener.

Callahan, 29, a CSU alumnus, started his business in 2002 during his last semester of college. And, as his business has grown over the years, he has recently taken a different approach to expansion.

He created his newest project, an in-house garden, in hopes of some day growing up to 75 percent of Mug’s vegetables himself, making his business a more sustainable one.

“We want to vertically integrate as much as we can,” he said. “It’s a unique business model . we want to improve the quality of our product.”

Callahan’s 150 square foot garden has been growing since the beginning of October and now Callahan is showing off his cucumbers and his ripening tomatoes. Mugs is also selling containers of homemade basil pesto alongside fresh wheat germ.

“It’s all organic,” Callahan said. “Because it’s local, it’s better for the environment and it’s just good to know we’re growing our own food.”

Callahan used to focus on expanding by building additional locations until he realized more isn’t always better or easier.

“I was so busy growing my business out that I wasn’t paying attention to detail,” Callahan said. “A lot of little things are better than one big thing, you can’t change the world overnight with one big idea.”

While Callahan isn’t looking to change the world, he would like to somehow change the way Fort Collins does business, he said.

“A bigger goal is a rooftop garden,” he said. “I want to build a 1,500 (to) 2,500 square foot greenhouse and provide vegetables for other places . and help inspire cultural changes.”

He imagines a place that boasts multiple rooftop gardens so many local businesses could tap into the homegrown produce market. This, of course, is years down the road, he said.

“Realistically, it won’t take off until 2009,” Callahan said. “But that’s OK because I want to do it right the first time.”

Garry Auld, nutrition and food science associate professor at CSU, says there is a potential market for locally grown produce, but has not been developed yet.

“The distribution, the infrastructure just isn’t there,” Auld said.

Callahan might be able to develop a working system, but said it will take planning, dedication and cooperation from the community.

And what they have is a system that they say works – there has been a 30 percent increase in patronage since June.

So, for now Callahan is, as he says, “going with the flow,” and learning along the way.

“This project has kind of re-sparked a spark that has always been there,” Callahan said. “I have no regrets . I’m totally happy.”

Staff writer Jessi Stafford can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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