Nov 082010
Authors: Vashti Batjargal

McCabe Callahan, a Colorado State University alumnus and owner of Mugs Coffee Lounge, is redefining what a local business means to the community.

“Is (your shop) local because you live here and your paycheck stays here?” Callahan asked. “Or is it local because you’re in your business, representing your business, talking to your customers and active in your local neighborhood?”

Holidays or major snowstorms don’t deter Callahan from opening Mugs for the community; he hasn’t closed his store in eight years.

Yet there was no intention for it to be that way. In 2003, when Colorado was hit with a major snowstorm, Callahan and a friend spent more than two hours shoveling their driveway to drive the desolate path to their newly-opened Mugs store for a cup of coffee. To their surprise, the store began filling up with customers.

Part of this success has lead Callahan to open a new shop, MUGS @ the Oval, just across the street from the CSU campus on the corner of Laurel and Howes Streets.

But at one point, Callahan said his business was spinning out of control. Starting as a small shop on Taft Hill Road and Elizabeth Street, the business grew to include a coffee cart he ran at CSU football games, a Fort Collins gym, a franchise in Wyoming and a shop on the corner of Timberline Road and Caribou Drive within the span of five years.

“I was constantly running around putting out fires rather than interacting with customers, which is what I wanted to be doing,” Callahan said.
After getting seven establishments opened over a five-year period and working more than 80 hours a week, Callahan had an epiphany.

“After growing so big, so fast and not really knowing what I was doing,” Callahan said. “I had created something that wasn’t what I had set out to do.”

The innovation and creativity Callahan put into his first shop by doing much of the woodwork himself was lost in creating what he thought would be the next Starbucks. He said he stopped focusing on what he really wanted to do with his business.

So he decided to sell everything.

By the summer of 2007 Callahan had downsized to his location in Old Town, selling four shops and his coffee cart and closing his Old Town location’s basement bar.

Callahan took his concept and his last remaining shop and delved into making it exactly what he had imagined in a business.

He applied what he learned from a trip to Costa Rica in 2004 about fair trade products –– which offer better trading conditions between developing countries and promote sustainable practices –– to his business by phasing out products he bought from Sam’s Club.

He started hiring people through a stringent, five-step process that includes two rounds of interviews, a working interview, a phone interview and a five-minute presentation given by the potential employee.

The result was a staff with a low turnover rate that creates a welcoming and inclusive environment –– one that enables the business to not have to advertise.

Today, the shop flutters with activity as students study and professors converse in the 2,000 square-foot space.

“My office (at CSU) is not very nice,” said Mike Verone, a third-year graduate student in natural resource economics. “If I’m working here at MUGS, I have windows. I get to see a lot of people I know and I don’t feel so isolated.”

It all goes along with the idea that Callahan has to provide a sense of community, he said –– a spot to showcase the area’s culture and provide an experience for customers.

“It makes it more personal to experience,” Callahan said. “I can come in here and be proud of what I built.”

Staff writer Vashti Batjargal can be reached at

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