Building from Here: Publik Coffee Roaster

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Leta Baker

Building from Here: Publik Coffee Roaster

Written by
Leta Baker

Building from Here: Publik Coffee Roaster

Written by
Leta Baker

Quality over quantity. Community over corporate. Planet over profit. It’s all right there on Publik Coffee Roasters’ home page — speaking volumes about the foundation of Salt Lake City’s most magnetic gathering space.

Publik’s dynamic owner, Missy Greis, is a community super-connector who spent over 20 years working for local nonprofits before creating her very own place for people to connect. She named it Publik after a Dutch word that loosely means community. It lives up to its name every day of the week.

Back in 2012 when Missy originally found the 13,000-square-foot building at 975 West Temple, she didn’t know anything about coffee roasting or payroll processing or janitorial sanitizer.

She just knew that if the space was right and the coffee was good, people would come. And stay. Which they certainly do today. For tea and toast. Coffee and co-working. Blind dates. Marriage proposals. Wedding celebrations. Yoga classes. Film sessions. Photo shoots. Fundraisers. Floral design classes. Birthday parties. There was even a mechanical bull at one event.

Getting the Publik space just right called for a team of local architects who could catch Missy’s vision. She found a natural fit with Lloyd Architects.

The team discovered that the building had deep roots in the printing industry. Constructed as a warehouse in the 1940s, it was occupied and expanded in the late 1950s by Wheelwright Press before operating for over half a century as Jensen Reprographics, an iconic family business run by Niels and Margit Jensen.

“There was a real nostalgia of place,” said Warren Lloyd, “We decided from the beginning that everything we found here that could be reused or repurposed would be. And that we’d bring in whatever else we needed from local sources.”

Warren and his team walked away from their initial site visits with armfuls of newsprint and Mylar donated by  Niels. In fact, the Jensens ultimately donated a six-foot-tall stack—rolls upon rolls—of paper, construction drawings, vellum, etc. to Missy, who in turn donated it to various arts and education organizations throughout Salt Lake City. As a nod to the building’s rich history, Niels’s treasured desk lives on in one of the upstairs offices at Publik, and his briefcase sits atop a shelf in the roastery.

Missy wanted Publik to offer spaces of many shapes and sizes, remaining as open and flexible as possible. And step by step, she and Lloyd Architects transformed elements of this 1940s-era framework into a spacious, industrial-modern warehouse with personality throughout.

Today, the main-floor café area includes both individual and communal tables. Upstairs you’ll find a wall of staff offices, two large meeting rooms and a generous balcony lined with café tables for those who prefer a bit more privacy. Then there’s the 4,000-square-foot event space on the west side that fits up to 300 guests. And finally, the remarkable roastery.

“We wanted to open everything up and share the process of roasting with people—so they could see where the coffee came from,” said architect Anna Friend.

Along the way, Warren and his builder-partner Chris Nielson of Evergreene Construction repurposed a stack of large metal-lined fire doors and some massive windows being discarded at the site of another project.

They reglazed the windows and installed them all around the roastery, allowing customers to watch the roasting process unfold.

“The biggest growth involved in the creation of Publik I owe to my employees,” said Missy, “Those sixty-plus people are making it all happen every day. I’m just watching.”

Joe Gee is the general manager Missy can’t do without, and Ethan Hill as the equally indispensable roaster and director of coffee. These two oversee the original Publik Coffee, as well as Publik Avenues and Publik Kitchen that opened in 2016 in Salt Lake City’s popular Avenues neighborhood and the Ninth and Ninth district within a month of one another. Now Missy and her supporting cast of characters have just announced another venture: Publik Ed’s, located next to the University of Utah campus. Honoring the 50 year tradition of Big Ed’s, they will be serving the Publik version of burgers & beer & breakfast &… of course coffee. Along with the coffee and the food, it is the people of Publk that make the magic happen.

“Come down to Publik at 6:15 right after we’ve locked the doors. The music changes. The whole vibe changes. Everyone is dancing with mops and singing to each other, having their own little concert from upstairs to downstairs,” said Missy. “Just good, good people. Brilliant, amazing humans, so many of them artists and dancers and musicians and such.”

Sounds a lot like the fascinating array of customers who walk through Publik’s doors every day. Looking for coffee. Some conversation. Space to think. A connection to their community. All finding a refreshing environment that’s uniquely welcoming to everyone.

So, customer by customer. Employee by employee. Conversation by conversation. Connection by connection. The Publik brand continues to expand.

“Maybe that’s the story: The people of Publik,” said Missy, “All people are connected. And Publik is a common ground for everyone.”

Read more about Publik Coffee
An AIA Utah Honor Award winner