The Coffee Connection |

The Coffee Connection

Naomi HavlenAspen Times Staff Writer

One of the ads that Ink! Coffee regularly puts in local newspapers says: How to look like an Aspen local. Get cup of Ink! coffee. Walk around with it.Once you know a little more about Ink! you know that this assertion might be true. After all, this is a company started by locals who saw an ad for an espresso cart, and realized it might be their ticket to making money, working for themselves and continuing their ski-bum lifestyle.Their strategy worked. Ink! Coffee first started peddling java from a 6-foot, stainless-steel coffee cart on the Snowmass Village Mall in 1994. Now, 10 years later, the company is still roasting coffee beans in Basalt. And in addition to a popular shop in downtown Aspen, Ink! has outlets in downtown Denver, in Louisville near Boulder, and in the Denver suburb of Greenwood Village.But this locally based coffee company does a lot more than just caffeinate the masses. This winter Ink!s owners stepped forward to become the presenting sponsor of Aspens 53rd toast to winter, better known as Winterskl.The reason? Its a way of giving back to the locals who have always supported their business, said Ink! co-owner Keith Herbie Herbert.We like to stress that were a local, Colorado company, and we feel like as long as local companies are doing great jobs at what they do, why would you support anyone else? he said recently while manning a shop in Denver. Its how we do things we try to take care of everyone who takes care of us.Ink! to the rescueHerbert and his partners, John Hoss Rose and Andrew Salty Saltonstall, have always tried to sponsor local sports teams and make charitable contributions when they can.But sponsoring an event like Winterskl is another caliber of donation. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association produces the winter festival each year. While ACRA isnt saying exactly how much it takes to be a presenting sponsor of Winterskl, the fireworks alone typically cost around $15,000.Of course securing sponsorships isnt easy these days. The ACRA has a full-time staff member who works on sponsorships at a national level relationships that ACRA director of special events Jennifer Albright Carney said can take years to cultivate. And things have been rough recently in the world of corporate sponsorships: When Audi decided not to return to Aspen last December for the annual 24 Hours of Aspen endurance ski race, the Skico canceled the race. As for Winterskl, American Express partnered with ACRA for three years to put on the celebration. In early 2002, however, Amex decided to pull out of Colorado altogether due to their marketing plan. ACRA officials searched for a new partner, and while no business stepped forward to fund the entire event, Ink! stepped up to sponsor the fireworks in 2003.Theres a lot of talk about Aspen losing its soul, Herbert said. We moved here in 1988, when Aspen was still kind of crazy, and I think we started to see that crazy, freewheeling soulful atmosphere go away little by little. Salty came up with this idea, saying that the fireworks show at Winterskl is the soul of Aspen.So with fireworks courtesy of Ink! and a bevy of local businesses that each donated funds or in-kind goods and services, Winterskl 2003 was a hit. The only question that remained was what to do about 2004.Secrets of successThe smell of roasting coffee drifts across the parking lot at the Midvalley Design Center in Basalt, where beans from around the world (South America, Africa, Indonesia) are roasted to become numerous varieties of coffee blends.Rose handles the roasting at Ink!s Basalt-based wholesale division. Saltonstall helps with the roasting, and handles distribution of the beans. Together they owned Aspen Mountain Coffee Roasting before merging with Herbert, their mutual friend, in 1996 to become Ink!Herbert moved from the coffee cart to an actual retail location at the beginning of 1996, when the guys from D&E Snowboard Shop offered him part of their new location in AspenI think they noticed that people would come into their store in Snowmass with Ink! coffee while looking for snowboards, Herbert said. They got this big space in Aspen and just asked me if Id like to take over a portion of it. Its been a great partnership.Ink! also had a coffee bar in D&Es Snowmass Village location, until the Skico bought the snowboard shop and closed the coffee bar.Herbert said he thinks Ink! caught on fairly quickly largely because of their blended, iced coffee drinks he claims they were one of the first coffee companies to introduce coffee in the form of shakes.They were written up in Gourmet magazine once, he said. We opened in January, and by May the secret was out on our drinks. Theyre still popular.Ink! has continued to grow, opening up three shops in the Denver area. And last November the Rocky Mountain News proclaimed Ink! Denvers best coffee shop.So when ACRA came around asking the successful java purveyors if theyd be interested in sponsoring a part of Winterskl once more, Ink! jumped at the chance to do more.We were so excited to work with them last year that we wanted to offer them the opportunity to come back and work with us again, Carney said. Its a significant contribution. We do have other community partners, but Ink! is definitely the headliner. Their name will be attached to events for four days, and we want to give them as much recognition as possible.Without Ink! noted Carney, Winterskl might not have been canceled, but it would be a lot smaller. Instead, this years Winterskl will include traditional activities like the parade, the fireworks and the canine fashion show, as well as new events like a long row of food booths during a Saturday Winterfest. Winterskl is something that everyone in Aspen looks forward to, Herbert said. The fireworks and Winterskl is a sort of zany, crazy fun where everyone is out on the street, and Aspen is packed with tourists and locals. Thats the community and spirit of Aspen.Our company was founded to try to have a balanced lifestyle between work and play, and thats the continuing spirit of how we do things.Naomi Havlens e-mail address is


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