Business Monday: Felix Roasting Co. brings elevated coffee to Jerome’s historic corner
New York-founded coffee shop expands to Aspen with ‘democratic luxury’ approach to design and caffeine
The specialty coffee drinks at Felix Roasting Co. have upward of a dozen ingredients and a theatrical preparation that’s akin to a magic show. The Hickory Smoked S’mores Latte, for instance, includes a marshmallow that’s flame-toasted to your specifications and graham cracker-infused nutmilk, smoked under a glass viewing canopy with hickory wood, chocolate and cinnamon before it’s served.
It’s all a bit much, yes. But that’s the point at Felix, which opened in the Hotel Jerome for Food & Wine Classic weekend in September and will run year-round here, marking the artisanal roasting company and café’s first location outside Manhattan, where it has two.
Co-founded by Matt Moinan and interior designer Ken Fulk, Felix and its more-is-more concept brings a curated experience to every aspect of the shop — from the fabric on its seats to the wallpaper to the cup in your hand.
“It’s a full experience,” Moinan said over a cappuccino made with the shop’s signature handmade nutmilk. “That’s what we do. We want to control every single part of the experience.”
Felix has hot and cold beverages, including filtered coffee and espressos, draft nitro drinks and tonics along with snacks like bagels and pastries (and an $18 avocado toast, natch). In addition to roasting beans, they don’t buy things like milk and mixers, instead blending their own proprietary syrups and spice blends, their own mocha, chai and milks.
The walls, you’ll notice, have an antique floral-patterned wallpaper — based on an coffee flower — that is reflected in paintings on the walls, covering classics like John Singer Sargent’s portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt in Victorian-era graffiti.
“We built this brand together, and all the patterns that you see on the wall are our designs,” Moinan said.
They’ve hung a series of glass chandeliers from the room’s original tin roof and filled it with custom banquettes and chairs with plush velvet seating.
It suits the Jerome’s design aesthetic — which borrows from Aspen’s 1880s mining era heyday as well as the late Victorian decades that followed — in an act of aesthetic rebellion against the standard 21st century coffee shop experience.
“We created a maximalist, beautiful, anti-exposed brick, anti-college town coffee shop,” Moinan said, adding that they also resisted the pretensions of a minimalism. “We’re anti the whole Japanese minimalist aesthetic everyone is going for. We decided to pair beautiful coffees with a beautiful atmosphere.”
Step inside and it’s evident why Felix’s original location has been marketed as “New York’s most-photographed café.”
The first Felix opened in New York in 2018. It’s been kept afloat there, and now has two Manhattan locations (in NoMad and SoHo). Moinan notes that half of the business’s life in the city was suppressed by the pandemic including an extended closure, but he said the long-run still points to financial and creative success for Felix.
A lawyer who stepped off the corporate ladder to start Felix and follow the passion project, Moinan, 36, has dreamed of roasting great beans, curating experiences for coffee drinkers and spending more time in the mountains.
He has been visiting Aspen for the past 10 years, mostly winter ski trips, building friendships with locals and international snowbirds alike. He proposed to his wife on the Silver Queen Gondola on Christmas Eve several years ago.
Expanding to Aspen was not the most logical next step in the business plan for Felix, he admitted, but it was the right step for him and his business.
“The personal connection was the reason for starting here,” Moinan said. “This is a dream come true to be doing this in Aspen. I say let’s knock it out of the park, let’s be a part of the community and bring a little pizazz to this corner that needed it.”
Indeed, the corner space that the shop occupies has been a bafflingly quiet storefront in recent years. Despite being one of the busiest and most-walked areas on Main Street, it has rarely been open or active during the daytime in recent decades when it operated as The Library Bar.
Moinan and the Felix team are hoping to change that and appear to be doing so as evidenced by the steady customers filling limited sidewalk seating in the past two weeks.
In the mining era and the Jerome’s founding years in the 1880s, this corner space was the hotel bar. During the Prohibition years, it became a soda fountain and remained a popular spot. The bar didn’t move to the other side of the building — where the J-Bar still operates — until 1946 when Aspen city father Walter Paepcke renovated it. During the decades after the silver bust in the 1890s, that corner was the center of Aspen social life.
“It was the only pace to hang out — it was just the Isis Theatre, barn dances and the Hotel Jerome soda fountain during The Quiet Years,” said the Aspen Historical Society’s Nina Gabianelli.
The space is best-remembered in more recent history as Uriah Heap’s, an eclectic gift shop run by the local artist and beloved character Tukey Koffend, who ran it from roughly 1973 to 1984 — a time when the Mill Street side of the Jerome was peppered with independent shops and antique stores. When the Jerome remodeled in 1985, the space became The Library, evolving into a secondary bar and event space for the Jerome and an afterthought for most hotel guests and patrons of the J-Bar.
Felix is making a bid to be a destination for visitors and a regular coffee go-to for locals. They’ll operate through all of the offseasons, Moinan said, operating from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The specialty drinks and showstoppers are the Lavender Honeycomb Latte and the Hickory Smoked S’mores’ Latte (Moinan says of it, “You’re basically getting a campfire in a glass”). At $18, s’more drink is unlikely to be anybody’s everyday cup of joe. But this coffee and dessert event is poised to be a destination treat, much like the Aspen Crud next door at the J-Bar, and it’s also a decadent non-alcoholic option for an après-ski treat that Moinan believes will find a following.
The taste of the coffee at Felix will change regularly, as Moinan and his coffee team buy beans seasonally from various Central American regions. While most coffee companies buy beans consistently from the same growers — to keep flavor profiles consistent — they go by what is best depending on weather and growing, approaching beans with the perspective of a winemaker looking at grape vintages.
“We go by seasonality,” Moinan said, though he noted his buyers have traveled little during the pandemic, instead sampling from overnight shipments (“the FedEx charges are outrageous,” he laughed).
They hope the design of the space combined with drinks worth savoring will make for a slow-paced coffee-sipping and social environment, welcome to loiterers, laptop-tappers and anyone who wants to hang out for a while.
Moinan refers to the vibe as “democratic luxury,” an elevated experience available along with a $6 coffee. At their original SoHo location, he noted, Felix is beside a Louis Vuitton boutique and across the street from Dior (both also just a few blocks away here, too) and has become one of the few hang-out spots for the neighborhood. He hopes to be that kind of sanctuary for Aspen, too.
“Almost anyone can come and buy a cup of coffee and sit and enjoy,” he said. “You don’t have to buy a $600 hand bag.”
The Aspen Skiing Co. announced Tuesday that its Premier Pass, which comes with unlimited skiing and no blackout dates, is now available for $1,699 to chamber members if it’s purchased by the super-early deadline of Sept. 16.
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