Copperas Cove couple to open coffee shop, offer gluten-free baked goods
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Stephen and Crystal Bardowell have faced struggle after struggle as they try to make their dream of opening a coffee shop in Copperas Cove a reality.
The couple are renovating the storefront currently painted green at 107 W. Avenue D and hope to open their doors to the public by this October. The coffee shop’s name will be Last Drop.
For the Bardowells, coffee is more than just a caffeinated beverage. It has become a passion.
Stephen Bardowell served in the Army as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist for nine years until getting out last month. Crystal co-owned Crafty Finds before branching off to start her own seamstress business. The two made the decision to start their coffee shop journey after Stephen returned home from Korea last September.
While in Korea, the Bardowells would visit the local coffee shops all the time, Crystal said. One day during October 2019, the couple and their three children needed to get out of the house for most of the day and wanted to hang out at a coffee shop but came to find out their only option was the Starbucks on the other side of town.
Crystal said they stopped by the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation before the end of the day to discuss the possibility of them opening up their own coffee shop.
“I’m working on my degree in physics, and in one of my first physics classes, my professor said ‘You don’t need to study; you don’t need to do your work. You don’t even need to listen in class. You can sleep. All you need is coffee. You drink enough coffee; you pass the course. That is how physics works,’” Stephen said. “And he was right, by golly. I’m in my last year, and he was right. Copious amounts.”
Stephen said that whenever he travels, he likes to focus on coffee shops and Thai places.
“Going to Korea, he took me to like every single coffee house that we could, and they were gorgeous and amazing, and it was an atmosphere that I’d never experienced before,” Crystal said. “That was like the inspiration for the desire to create it.”
The idea behind roasting their own beans sprouted purely from looking at the cost. The Bardowells found it would be much cheaper to buy their own beans and roast them.
At the beginning of this month, the Bardowells set up as a vendor at the Copperas Cove Farmer’s Market, where they sell coffee brewed in a vacuum siphon, served either hot or over ice.
“Coffee might be one of the most complicated things ever,” Stephen said. “I read somewhere that wine has 74 flavonoids and coffee has over 2,000. It is insane, and there’s so much that you can spend your entire life playing with one specific bean from one specific plantation, and you’ll never taste all the variations that you can do with it.”
Stephen added that coffee at its core is chemistry and is about balancing the acidity of the bean with the carbon, water and sugars.
This is why he chooses to use a vacuum siphon to make the coffee they serve at the Farmer’s Market.
“The thing I love about it is the different tastes that you can actually taste out of it just makes the experience so much more fun than just your normal drip maker,” Stephen said.
He added that he discovered that cheap Maxwell House coffee is better tasting than gourmet coffee when made through the vacuum siphon.
“The actual bean, it has layers and layers of different sugars that are trapped in crystalline form and when heated, go through different levels of change until they burn,” Stephen said.
The vacuum siphon prevents the sugars from burning and holds the water at the perfect temperature to pull out the flavors of the bean.
The Bardowells plan to continue using the vacuum siphon when they open in October. They also plan to partner with local businesses, like other vendors at the Farmers Market, to source fresh fruits and vegetables and meat once they have a fully operational kitchen. Until then, they hope to source keto-friendly and gluten free items from other local vendors and offer them to customers.
Stephen is allergic to gluten, which is why the Bardowells are so passionate about making their business gluten free and allergy friendly.
Stephen said the whole process of starting their own business and renovating the building has had its ups and downs. He added that the biggest hiccup was the COVID-19 induced delay in receiving disability benefits from the V.A. after he got out.
“About of the quarter of the money we were planning on using for this has to be reallocated to keeping us afloat until my disability pay starts,” Stephen said.
The couple has also come to realize that everything costs more, especially during a pandemic.
The city of Copperas Cove requires an architect for any work done on a commercial property, which can be expensive.
The first architect the Bardowells could find quoted them $20,000 to $30,000.
“That’s more than the plumbing and electric combined and over half of what we paid for the actual building,” Stephen said.
They managed to find another architect who quoted them $7,200.
“That’s more than the espresso machine, and I thought that was going to be the most expensive thing,” Stephen said.
The couple had applied for a startup business loan but were denied as a result of the pandemic, so they set up a GoFundMe to try to raise funds to help them keep their dream moving forward. They have also received help from friends and family.
As a result of the pandemic, Last Drop has had to source their coffee beans from another local distributor. The couple made plans to roast their own beans and sell both the coffee and the beans, but due to the pandemic, they are still waiting on their shipment of beans from Guatemala. The beans were supposed to have been delivered in May. The Bardowells had signed up to be a vendor at the Rabbit Fest, with the expectation that their green beans would have arrived by then.
As of Monday, they had received notice that their beans had finally shipped.
The original plans for the layout of the shop’s kitchen had to be changed when it was revealed that there was actually a concrete floor, with a ramp, underneath the rotting wooden floor. As a result, the Bardowells will have to run the pipes for plumbing along the wall, rather than underneath the floor. A positive is that this will fit into the steampunk theme they hope for the shop.
To account for these changes, the Bardowells have come up with a plan for opening and adding in the needed kitchen appliances.
Phase I of their plan is focused on the coffee side of the business, and restrooms for the customers. Phases II and III focus on acquiring and installing stoves and ovens to be used for when they begin making their own gluten-free and allergy-friendly treats.
“By reducing our installation down to just the coffee stuff, we’re kind of almost halving the cost of all the installation,” Stephen said. “It’s still a poop-ton but it’s at least doable now.”
The Last Drop has a Facebook page as well as a website: http://lastdropllc.net
The link to the Go Fund Me for The Last Drop, LLC is: www.Gf.me/u/w7thg5.