It’s all about connections at new El Jebel coffee shop

Unique space sharing agreement helps owners get started

Keith Gabel (left) and Heather Short (right) opened Coffee Connections Monday after arranging a space-sharing agreement with Arik Sananikone at his El Jebel restaurant, Thai House Co and Sushi.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

Heather Short and Keith Gabel met in a coffee shop, fell in love and eventually married, so it’s only fitting they have opened their own shop called Coffee Connections.

The Basalt residents have been searching for the right opportunity for the past six years and finally a door opened.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Short said. “I have a very extensive coffee background, but we could never quite find the perfect space.”

Until now that is.

“It’s kind of a dream come true for us,” Gabel said.

Gabel and Short ate at Thai House Co. and Sushi in the El Jebel plaza earlier this year when they met chef and owner Arik Sananikone. They instantly liked him.

“I felt the vibe that he had, the culture,” Short said.

Eventually, she told him about her dream to open a coffee shop. Since Thai House doesn’t open until 5 p.m., they forged a creative space-sharing arrangement. Coffee Connections will operate out of the space at unit 103, near Breakfast in America, from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m., seven days per week. Thai House will continue to operate from the same space starting at 5 p.m.

Sananikone said he was embraced by the Roaring Fork Valley when he moved here three years ago and opened the restaurant one year later. Customers were incredibly loyal during the pandemic, so he gave back to the community by giving meals to those in need.

He wanted to make better use of the space he rents and give someone else an opportunity, so he was interested when Short and Gabel approached him with their idea for the coffee shop.

“I just believe my prayers were answered,” Sananikone said.

He doesn’t foresee any problems sharing the space with another establishment. There is plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The hours are different enough that there won’t be overlap in the kitchen.

“Everything is manageable,” he said.

Coffee Connections motto is, “Connecting people through coffee, culture and community in the Roaring Fork Valley.”

Short guaranteed the business will be known for its excellent, personable service. They also want to take environmental consciousness to a higher level with everything they use, down to the spoons being compostable or recyclable. They also will lean heavily on locally sourced items — from Wild Coffee Roasters in Silt for their coffee to Louis Swiss Bakery at the Aspen Business Center for their pastries.

“We want to keep things as close to home as possible,” Gabel said. It’s a way to reduce their carbon footprint.

They plan to start slowly at the shop, with coffee, tea, pastries and Italian sodas. The breakfast menu will expand with time. They plan on making a name for themselves with their coffee.

“We know coffee,” Short said. “Celebrity baristas” she met during her decade in the business will be popping in to help occasionally.

They feel their site in the El Jebel plaza will help lead to their success. It’s home to a local-oriented collection of businesses. The midvalley keeps growing. The landlords at Crawford Properties LLC have embraced them. And the site has high visibility from Highway 82 and easy access.

Customers can text in their order. Though they don’t have a drive-thru window, Coffee Connections workers will meet motorists outside.

Just as they met in a coffee shop where Short was working in Colorado Springs while Gabel was working out at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in 2014, they feel their shop will be a place that enhances community. They call the shop CoCos, for short.

“Everybody makes a connection through coffee at some point,” Gabel said. “Coffee is what brings everybody together. I was fortunate enough to meet my wife through coffee.”