Thursday, May 10, 2012 | midnight
Everybody says they want to open up a coffee shop, but nobody actually does it. Same goes for summering in Europe, learning Chinese and keeping the weight off. We all talk the talk, but we never walk the walk.
So when Holley Steeley told me that she was going to open a coffee shop, I didn’t believe her. This conversation took place four years ago, right after I moved to Las Vegas. At the time, Holley, a friend of my former roommate, was working the coffee stand at the Palms food court and performing in Le Rêve.
“I’d get home from the show at midnight, get four or five hours of sleep, and then wake up and open the kiosk,” Holley says. “I learned a lot about inventory, register, products, tea and coffee.”
You could say that Holley was well equipped to open up her own shop. Or, if you’re cynical like me, you could say that she had no experience actually managing a business. Well, Holley’s Cuppa opened up a year ago, on Blue Diamond and Cimarron, so now I’m forced to eat my thoughts. Maybe I’ll wash ’em down with a light roast.
“At any given time we have 10 roasts ready to go,” Holley says. “Right now, we’ve got beans from Indonesia, Ethiopia, Brazil and a couple other regions. The beans go bad after three days if you grind ’em, so we keep ours whole and never have them longer than 10 days. That’s why we don’t always have the same beans in: We rotate to stay fresh.”
Holley is passionate about coffee, but she’s more passionate about people. She’s passionate about bringing them together. Take her Open Mic Thursdays.
- Holley's Cuppa
It’s 6:30 p.m. I’m drinking that light roast—higher caffeine content in the lighter blends, Holley says—and I’m wandering around the store. There’s a wooden sign on the wall that says, “Wish It, Dream It, Do It!”—easy to dismiss as meaningless self-help crap if it weren’t for the fact that Holley has followed each one of those steps herself. A second sign reads, “Coffee! If you’re not shaking, you need another cup.” Who am I to disagree? Time for cup No. 2.
The surrounding walls are filled with posters of Le Rêve, The Lion King, Love, O, Phantom and Zumanity, each signed by its entire cast. Plus paintings, including many of the store. They depict Holley’s Cuppa as a quaint European shop, nestled behind potted flowers and trees that wouldn’t actually grow in Las Vegas and positioned next to boutique businesses like “Les Vins de France.” Perhaps this is how Holley’s regulars see the cafe.
To my left, a pile of board games: Apples to Apples, Bananagrams, Life, Monopoly, Scrabble, Jenga. To my right, a 9-foot-high coffee bean-backed bookshelf, which Holley built herself. It’s connected to a table with a half-completed old-fashioned Coca-Cola puzzle.
“The pour-over takes two and a half minutes,” Holley explains, “so a lot of customers put a piece or two in while they wait. We have this one guy, Troy, from Papa John’s, who always steals one piece so he can come in later and finish the puzzle himself.”
Between the board games and the puzzle, two guys with guitars adjust the knobs on amps. One of the guys has long hair; the other’s clean-cut.
“Check. Check. Check,” the long-haired guy says into the mic. “Wait. What’s that word they used in Wayne’s World?” “Sibilus,” I say.
The clean-cut guy calls his girlfriend up to the impromptu stage. They run through the intro dialogue from David Bowie’s “Magic Dance.” The song is from Labyrinth and is about how a goblin king can cheer up a crying baby. Which is ironic because the two babies in the audience are suspiciously well behaved.
“You remind me of the babe.”
“The babe with the power.”
“The power of voodoo.”
“You remind me of the babe.”
And then they go into the song.
“They met two weeks ago,” Holley tells me. “The guy on the right used to dance in Le Rêve and the guy on the left is a headbanger. They met here at the shop.”
That’s Holley’s specialty, bringing people together. Of course, some people come to the shop already together. Like the Patriozeb Folk ’n’ Blues Family Trio. Mom, dad and son. The mom, a blue-haired woman in sunglasses and neon green floral print, danced in Folies Bergère from 1967 to ’78. She married one of the stagehands, and they had a kid. Now, the three of them play folk music: paid gigs, assisted living homes and open mic nights.
Toward the end of crowd favorite “Homegrown Tomatoes” (pronounced “tomaters”) Holley looks out the window and shouts, “That’s him!”
It’s the Papa John’s puzzle thief.
“This is his third time today,” Holley says.
“I’ll handle this,” I tell her. “So,” I begin my interrogation, “Holley here tells me you’re a fan of puzzles.”
“Yes …” the guy says, tentatively.
“Did you steal Holley’s puzzle pieces?!”
“I look at it like this,” he replies, “Everybody can use a little mystery in their lives.”
That’s a weak defense, if you ask me. But Holley is fine with it. She tells me, in so many words, that when a guy comes into your shop three times a day, he earns the right to take a puzzle piece or two.
And Holley can set rules like that. After all, it’s her world.