Ink Coffee is making its mark on the University of Colorado Denver’s Auraria campus.
The RiNo-based coffee chain will set up a 750-square-foot café in the university’s new wellness center, which is set to open next spring. The shop will be open to CU students, faculty and alumni, but not to the general public.
“It’s a natural match. Coffee shops and students go hand-in-hand,” CEO Keith “Herbie” Herbert said.
Besides the café, the wellness center will be a mix of spaces where students can get a massage, use a rock-climbing wall or attend a fitness class.
The addition shows Ink gaining on another Denver-based chain, Dazbog Coffee, which has 25 cafes in Colorado and one in Wyoming. And based on number of cafes, Ink is already larger than other local roasters like Corvus and Novo.
But Herbert said Ink’s size – it employs 160 people and brought in revenue of $6 million last year, according to Inc. Magazine – can be a marketing challenge. At a time when buying local is in vogue, he said, Ink is neither a mom-and-pop shop nor a national chain.
“People today still don’t know we are local,” he said. “You’re either a cool hipster joint or small craft brewer in town, or you’re Coors Light.”
Herbert started Ink as a 6-foot-long coffee cart in Aspen in 1994. After opening the first store in a snowboard shop, he and coffee roaster John Rose moved the company to Denver in 1998.
Herbert doesn’t plan on expanding stores nationally.
“We want to be the best coffee company in Colorado,” he said. “We want to stay local. There is still a lot of potential in Denver.”
The coffee roaster is looking to add stores in Cherry Creek, the Highlands or LoHi and potentially expanding into Boulder with three stores.
Ink also plans to add single-serving coffee cups and bottled coffee drinks to the menu lineup.
It initially will package the cups at its roaster and café in RiNo. For the future, Herbert is looking to find a co-packer. The cups should be available in stores in the fall.
“A lot of people like the convenience of it,” he said. “Only the big guys are doing it.”