Little Bear Coffee Co. has been open for just shy of two weeks when I walk in on a Wednesday afternoon, and it’s packed. The space is brightly lit and welcoming, with a dramatic neon “LB” sign at the back of the bar that draws your eye immediately. There are pastries from Swiss Alps, the Albuquerque-based European bakery, displayed in a glass case and a shelf full of records and merch from Hi-Phy Records, the local vinyl pop-up shop. There’s a man behind the counter making a pourover; he grins and welcomes me warmly.
This turns out to be Isaiah Jaramillo, one of two managers at the new Northeast Heights area coffee shop. One of the owners of the shop, Isaac Fox, is sitting on the other side of the counter, working on a laptop. I interrupt both of them at their work to ask a few questions about the shop, and they’re both accommodating.
Fox and his brother own real estate throughout the Albuquerque area, but bought the 2632 Pennsylvania Street location with a new venture in mind: craft coffee, something they’d both been passionate about for years. But they knew they needed to bring some more hands-on experience into the fold to manage the place, which is where Jaramillo and his co-manager James Harper came in. Jaramillo has years of experience working at Starbucks, and Harper is a Humble Coffee alumnus.
But experience wasn’t the only thing in mind when the team began hiring baristas, Jaramillo says: “We’d rather teach people to be good baristas than teach them to be good people.” In other words, to pass the cut you had to be a people person first, and a coffee person second. It’s a quality that Jaramillo and Fox have themselves—as we sat and talked, people repeatedly approached them for a hug or a handshake. These guys are well-liked.
Their hope is that that lack of pretension will be obvious to the clientele—they want Little Bear to be a comfortable space for people who aren’t coffee nerds, folks who don’t know the difference between a V60 and a Chemex. They also hope to help make them into coffee nerds with classes on brewing techniques and coffee culture in the future.
Other plans for Little Bear’s future? “We definitely want to start roasting our own coffee,” says Fox. Currently they’re brewing coffee roasted by Prismatic, a local roaster and coffee shop, and Corvus, a roaster based in Denver, but they plan to switch out coffees bi-monthly or so until they get their own roastery up and running.
They also plan to host local artists in the space—both visual artists who can hang their work throughout the shop (currently, James Harper’s artwork is on display) and musicians who can play in the back of the shop. More surprisingly, they also want to serve coffee at popular Sandia trailheads on weekend mornings and have camping trips in the warmer months. “We love the outdoors,” says Fox, “and we want to incorporate that love in what we’re doing here.”
Despite the growing number of third-wave coffee shops in Albuquerque, Fox and Jaramillo don’t see their shop as competition to places like Humble and Prismatic. “We love those shops, we want to support them” says Fox, who picked the location partly because it’s miles away from any other similar coffee shops. “The Heights area was ready for this.”
He seems to be right. The sun is going down when I leave Little Bear, and the foot traffic in and out of the shop doesn’t seem to be slowing. But this place is still fresh and novel—after two weeks, the place is largely patronized by friends of the owners, curious coffee nerds and Yelp vultures. Let’s hope that Albuquerque’s seemingly endless desire for good coffee keeps those doors moving.