While working for Trinity Baptist Church just off Classen Boulevard, Kyle Duncan would often look to the vacant white building across the street and fantasize about what it could become.
The church has owned the white building since the 1960s, when it was first a doctor’s office and then became a hand-painted sign shop, but the church had mostly used the space for storage until Duncan and business partner Robin Palesano struck a deal to rent the space from the church.
The space is now Classen Coffee Company, 2515 N. Classen Blvd., which opened Aug. 21, but the journey to get it open was anything but smooth. Duncan and Palesano signed a lease in Oct. 2016 with the intention to open for business by February.
Renovation delays pushed things back a few months, but just before they were ready to open in May, Duncan and Palesano were informed that under state law, any restaurant with two stories must be retrofitted with a sprinkler system.
“All summer we spent arguing [with the city], and they weren’t going to let us do anything,” Duncan said, noting that it would take $50,000 they didn’t have to install the sprinkler system.
Eventually, the partners and the city reached a compromise: The steel door leading to the basement, which Duncan and Palesano eyed as a conference space, would have to stay locked.
What they thought would be a four-month process turned into a year and half of hurrying up and waiting. Today, Duncan is able to put the frustration of getting the business open behind him.
The inside seating area at Classen Coffee is separated into two rooms: a front bar area where coffee is made with small tables perfect for people working on laptops and a back lounge area with comfortable couches and plush chairs.
“It’s still very surreal. I’ll sit and look from this room so I can see the whole place,” Duncan said while seated in a big, black, puffy chair in the back. “I’ll come here and study in a place that for so long I just dreamed about. Now people talk about how they come here all the time and see a lot of the same faces. That’s really cool because that’s what I hoped would happen.”
Customers at Classen Coffee Company are greeted with the venerable building’s original brick, wood ceiling and finished cement floors complete with paint stains that are remnants of its time as a sign shop.
“People pay a lot of money to have their walls look like this,” Duncan said, referring to the exposed brick.
The renovation worked around the building’s existing materials but added new electrical outlets to charge computers and devices.
“This would’ve never worked had people wanted it to look brand-new,” Duncan said. “It would’ve been easier to bulldoze it and start over, easier and cheaper. These old buildings are worth saving, and you get a clientele that loves that kind of stuff.”
In addition to making sure there were plenty of available outlets, Duncan said he wanted Classen Coffee Company to stand out from other locally owned coffee stores by offering a drive-thru and staying open as long as possible. They’ve actually scaled back the hours to 7 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week.
“We found the Oklahoma City coffee culture is not as late or as early as we originally tried,” Duncan said.
Approximately 25 percent of Classen’s Coffee Company’s business comes from the drive-thru window, where customers choose from a streamlined menu — it’s mostly coffee and a few teas. It offers a few prepackaged snacks and pastries from Ingrid’s bakery, but Duncan and Palesano have no desire to open a kitchen, preferring to rely on cross-promoting with other local businesses.
Its coffee is supplied from Bethany-based roaster Grounds 4 Compassion, a for-profit business that donates a large portion of its proceeds to world charities. Grounds 4 Compassion supplies many churches and offices with coffee.
Owner Bradley Carter hooked up with Classen Coffee after being introduced through mutual friends.
“When you put like-minded people together, you can see how one dollar a person might spend will impact multiple lives all over the world,” Carter said of the relationship with Duncan and Palesano.
While Classen Coffee Company is a for-profit, just like Grounds 4 Compassion, its landlord is the church, which will establish a food pantry in the other half of the building not occupied by Classen Coffee. Duncan said the fact that the coffee shop’s rent is helping the church is a positive.
“We wanted to leverage business opportunity with a community mindset,” Duncan said. “We loved the idea of coming in with the church. We’d represent them in their building, but it’s for-profit. It’s almost a hybrid.”
Classen Coffee Company’s outdoor patio space features nearly as many outlets as its interior and has been transformed to host three concerts, which Duncan said he wants to host with regular frequency.
He still hasn’t given up hope of opening the building’s bottom floor without having to install the sprinkler system.
“It’s got 12-foot ceiling and lots of natural light. One of these days, it will be a cool space,” Duncan said.
Print Headline: Hurry, wait; Classen Coffee Company opens after a lengthy delay over the sprinkler system.