Artist of the Week: Returning to the Grassroots of Coffee


By Erin West

Utah Eat Local Week, an event encouraging people to eat food from local companies that runs now through Sept. 17. If you’re new to eating local or have accepted the Eat Local Pledge, you may find yourself asking what exactly are these local companies you’re pledging to? A great place to start is La Barba Coffee Roasters, a local grassroots company based right here in Salt Lake.

west_barba-2The roasting company is the brainchild of Tim Walzer, Sam DuRegger, and U alums Levi Rogers and current CEO Josh Rosenthal. Its philosophy is in calling people to slow down and make a push back to the “old ways” of making fine coffee.

“Part of the challenge here in Utah is simultaneously having a market, but also creating a market,” Rogers said. “We have some higher-end specialty coffees that are a little more expensive with a little more nuance flavor to them or just bright bold [roasts] too. It’s kind of a different style of coffee than people may be used to, so our challenge has been in educating people.”

You may recognize the La Barba label from its first retail shop on campus – Cafe Madsen, in the Spencer Eccles business building.

“At the U, it was a good chance to introduce people to good coffee,” Rogers said. “A lot of times, it’s people who just want something quick and fast. But I think we fit somewhere between the pocket – good, quick service and also a really good product […] and when the opportunity came with the U, we wanted to [take it] because [when we were students] we couldn’t find any good coffee.”

west_barbaRogers and Rosenthal are not the only Utes who call La Barba home — its staff includes U alumni with a variety of backgrounds from degrees in business, English and rocket science to theater student and La Barba assistant roaster, Gabbi Lemanski.

“My first encounter with coffee was when I was very young,” Lemanski said. “I remember smelling it, sneezing into it and then getting it all up in my face. I hated coffee from that moment. Then as I got older [I found] a wonderful sense of community, warmness and openness [in the coffee business].”

In a perfect world, Lemanski would “do coffee roasting by day and theater by night.”

west_barba-5“Balancing the two can be difficult sometimes, though,” she said. “If nothing else, the skills I’ve learned from my acting degree are helpful within the coffee world because it’s a lot of focusing on communication. It’s really helpful, in a different sort of way. I use different elements of my degree at work all the time.”

Since its founding in 2012, La Barba has widened its reach fast. The locally roasted coffee can now be found at specialty food stores, Whole Foods and, eventually, Harmons.

“We have a lot collaborative places,” Rogers said. “We have our downtown location with Finca and [Café Madsen with the U, Caputo’s, High West and Rose Establishment, among others]. Our next goal is to have a central place, where we can just have our own thing — not a shared space.”

[email protected]