Fairpark neighborhood in Salt Lake gets new coffee shop

Though he grew up in Rose Park and still lives on Salt Lake City’s west side, Isaac Atencio said opening the area’s first brick-and-mortar coffee shop was never an “aspiration.”

“It wasn’t, like, something that was on my radar for the last little bit,” Atencia said. “But between my business partners and I, we just realized that there is a lack of that kind of space here — the offerings for that in this neighborhood.”

The west side has the Buzzed Coffee Truck, parked most mornings on Victoria Way (about 950 West) near 1000 North, and Mestizo Coffeehouse at 631 W. North Temple, near where the west side meets downtown.

But, Atencio said, if one uses Interstate 15 as a delineator, Culture Coffee, at 285 N. 900 West, is the only “freestanding” coffee shop on the west side.

“There’s just a lack of coffee in the area,” Atencio said. “It’s been a desert.”

Culture Coffee sits next to one of the two locations of The Salt Lake Barber Co. that Atencio owns with his business partner and co-owner of Culture Coffee, Eric Stone. Mike Tuiasoa is the coffee shop’s manager.

The name of the shop reflects, Atencio said, the aim “to really highlight the diversity of Salt Lake City’s west side, and infuse the multicultural element [in] everything, from aesthetic to menu to flavors.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Culture Coffee, on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.

A decal on the shop’s front window reads: “Grab a cup, catch a vibe, share some culture.” The shop’s logo features a familiar west side symbol — a rose — even though the shop is technically in Fairpark, not nearby Rose Park.

“Between ownership [and] management of Culture Coffee, we are Black, Latino and Pacific Islander,” Atencio said.

That blend of cultures is reflected in the menu. For example, the Lolo Caramel Sauce — one of Atencio’s favorites, he said — is a family recipe of Tuiasoa’s. “A coconut-based caramel that’s naturally vegan,” Atencio said. (It also includes vanilla bean, organic cane sugar and sea salt.)

Also on the menu are such housemade, and vegan, flavors as the Cafe de Olla (made with piloncillo sugar, orange peel, cinnamon, clove and star anise) and a Peruvian chocolate flavor made locally by The Chocolate Conspiracy (featuring Peruvian dark chocolate sweetened by coconut sugar).

It’s important, Atencio said, to put BIPOC origins and flavors in the menu. “It’s kind of funny to see how sterile coffee can be sometimes, and how even the core of a shop can be very Scandinavian and very stark,” he said. “[At] the bottom of it all, coffee is colonized and coffee is brown, when it comes to where it comes from and who is providing it.”

Culture in the decor

Atencio and Stone, who did all the design work and built some of the shop’s furniture themselves, weren’t going for Scandinavian minimalism. The shop is open, calm and spacious — with tabletop benches against one wall, and a bar table against the window that’s made from wood reclaimed from a bowling alley floor.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Culture Coffee, on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.

Smock and Roll, the female-owned Utah mural-making business, created a mural to connect the coffee shop to the barber shop. The mural in red, orange, yellow and green has, Atencio said, a “sound wave meets lava lamp” design — an indicator of the vibe they were trying to create in the shop.

“We were like, ‘OK, imagine listening to Curtis Mayfield, and A Tribe Called Quest comes on,’” he said. “The design inspiration is hip-hop meets funk and soul.”

Behind the counter, there’s a Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel poster. Elsewhere, there’s a wall for local artists, as well as a stack of games and books, and two classic arcade video games. There are nods to comics and superheroes, such as Black Panther, with figurines both in plain sight and hidden. (Tuiaosa used to own Watchtower Coffee and Comics, near the Salt Lake Community College South City campus.)

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Culture Coffee, on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.

Even the bathroom is well thought-out, with a graffiti wall design, featuring a quote in neon from rapper J. Cole: “It’s beauty in the struggle.”

The shop’s main attraction is the custom-painted espresso machine.

The technicians who installed the machine, Atencio said, asked if they wanted it painted. When they said they use automotive paint, it set off a “fire alarm” in his brain, Atencio said.

“I grew up around and loving lowrider culture, and so it was just a fun opportunity to utilize my cousin, who does some auto body work,” he said.

The machine resembles the tail end of a red lowrider — including chrome-accented tail lights and a mini Utah license plate that reads “Culture.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Culture Coffee, on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.

Big plans ahead

As the shop gets going, Atencio said, they have plans to bring in food options from local minority-owned businesses, such as Sagato Bakery & Café and James Gourmet Pies.

They’ve also teamed up with a local clothing line to make merchandise, and will carry records from Diabolical Records in the shop. They also plan to work with the Food Justice Coalition to carry retail meals to support the nonprofit.

Atencio said people have been excited for the coffee shop to open, which he said has been “impressive.”

“We have people dropping by constantly, asking when we’re going to be open and then through social media,” he said. (Two people dropped in during this interview.) He said they also have received between 50 and 60 applications for barista positions.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Culture Coffee, on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.

Culture Coffee’s hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week. Eventually, Atencio said, they hope to create a backyard patio space — and, possibly, acquire a liquor license so they can expand and become a nightlife spot, too.

Ultimately, Atencio said he hopes what he and his team are doing with the coffee shop and barbershop on the west side can be a “catalyst” for “more community-oriented businesses to make their way to the area.”

The status quo on the west side, he said, is “rent-to-own furniture, check-cashing vape shops and fast food.”

“Having to travel outside of our neighborhood to go to a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, … there’s not many places that you can go sit down and do some work or hang out,” he said. “It’s high time that we have more things like this in the neighborhood.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Culture Coffee, on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.

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