Sugar House Coffee and Bob Evans are inextricably linked in the minds and hearts of Sugar House residents. So when Bob died in 2013 at the age of 69, the community was hit hard. Bob had been a fixture in the neighborhood, looking after his customers and other local businesses in the area. As a member of the Vest Pocket Business Coalition, he’d helped artists and musicians find a place to express themselves, and he’d been instrumental in starting the July 4th celebration along with so many other events that celebrated Sugar House as a gathering place for all walks of life.
Today, Bob’s legacy lives on through his wife, stepchildren and their families who are bringing the lessons they learned from him along with some new ideas of their own. They admit that even their new ideas are based on things they picked up from Bob.
In 1999, Bob took over the business of coffee roasting from Rimini’s founder. The company supplied coffee to cafes and restaurants in the region, including a small neighborhood establishment in the old Granite Block called Blue Cats. It wasn’t long before Bob was also the owner of Blue Cats, and its name was subsequently changed to Sugar House Coffee. The coffee shop moved a few times before it landed at its current location on 1100 East and 2011 South.
Sugar House Coffee has always gotten its beans from Rimini Coffee, and Mark Wilson, Bob’s son-in-law, is keeping the roasters going. At first, Bob talked Mark into joining him at Rimini on the weekends to learn the roasting process. He apprenticed on a 150 pound peanut roaster Bob got from Western Nut. “That’s where I learned how to roast. It was a huge, intimidating roaster,” Mark said. That roaster now sits outside the entrance of Rimini as a piece of public art.
Mark is one of three carrying on the roasting traditions at Rimini, and now they’re joined by Mark’s wife, and Bob’s stepdaughter, Elizabeth Bradley. She’s been doing the books for both Rimini and Sugar House Coffee for years, but recently left her position of nearly two decades as the assistant director of Utah Preservation to join the family business full-time. Even Bob’s oldest granddaughter, Aspen, has picked up the torch. She’s been a barista at the shop since she was 16; she’ll be 22 this year.
Emily, one of Bob’s stepkids, runs Sugar House Coffee. She had been a barista there before Bob got sick. Emily remembers that everything changed one day when Bob told the staff during a meeting he thought he needed to go to the hospital—he never came home, and Emily became the manager literally overnight. She knew it was important to keep the business going, lots of people were depending on it, but she didn’t realize it would become her passion until one fateful day when the toilet broke.
She spent the day resisting the urge to call a plumber and tried to fix it herself. She knew Bob would be disappointed if she broke down and called a plumber. “He did everything himself,” she said. After hours of trying, Emily went outside, upset that she hadn’t been successful and, in tears, vented her frustration to several band members who were playing at the cafe. Seeing how upset she was, they returned to the café with the right tools and fixed the problem. “The customers loved Bob and loved the community he created here,” Emily said. “You just don’t get that anymore. That was the moment I knew I would keep doing it.”
Bob seemed to have that effect on everyone. “He’d show you how to do something like framing a wall or sweeping a floor but then he’d say, ‘you’re doing it wrong,’ and he’d finish the job for you,” Mark said. Elizabeth added, “he was notorious for that.” Martha Bradley, Bob’s wife, noted, “Every one of us has a story like that. Everything was a teaching opportunity to Bob.”
Both Elizabeth and Mark said, “He gave people a lot of chances. He let people screw up and learn from it.” Bob always had a deep respect for people with a strong work ethic, including his kids, and everyone just needed time and enough chances to get it right.
The family thought about walking away from the businesses after Bob’s death. They knew that was an option. But as Elizabeth put it, “Bob made us feel so invested in his work,” and almost in unison, everyone echoed, “his investment in this community.”
Bob’s wife and kids are continuing his commitment to making Sugar House Coffee a safe space for everyone, regardless of life’s circumstances. They talk about how the coffee roasting business is changing and how Sugar House is changing, but feel strongly about the future of both. They all agree, people come here to support the community and to support local businesses. That has never changed. What is changing is the sheer numbers of people who are drawn to that philosophy of commitment to community. The bottom line is: Sugar House Coffee is getting busier, and the mentality that draws people here is getting stronger.
Sugar House Coffee is located at 1100 East 2011 South, Salt Lake City. 801 883-8867
Mark, Emily, Aspen, Elizabeth and Martha in front of Sugar House Coffee.