McCabe Callahan opened Old Town’s Mugs Coffee Lounge in 2002 during his last semester at Colorado State University. Since then, he has expanded with another location and continued his mission of bringing the Fort Collins community together one latte at a time.
Q: What background do you have with cafés or small businesses?
A: None. I worked at a coffee shop for about six months before I started the process of opening Mugs.
Q: What made you want to open Mugs?
A: I’ll give you the story. I grew up in a small business family, watching both my parents be entrepreneurs. I spent six months in Europe and traveled quite a bit over there while I was going to school, like a semester abroad. I was inspired by this place in Amsterdam called the Soup Kitchen in 2001. I came back looking to do the Soup Kitchen in Fort Collins. Really good quality soups, breads and tapenades, and really healthy salads and such. Having no commercial cooking experience whatsoever, I decided to pull back the idea and just focus on a coffee shop. I had worked at a company called the Wired Bean, which doesn’t even exist anymore, and felt like I could do the same. So Mugs was the first wireless internet café in Fort Collins.
Q: Was it more about opening your own small business than it was about opening a coffee shop?
A: Yeah, I think so. I was a sociology major with no idea of what I wanted to do with that degree. I didn’t want to do social work, and I didn’t want to be a teacher at the time. It sounded fun.
Q: What is your education?
A: I’m from San Jose, California, originally. I went to Regis in 97′ and then transferred to Colorado State University in 2000.
Q: Why did you decide on Fort Collins?
A: I’ve loved Fort Collins since I moved here from California. I very quickly felt something special about Fort Collins. This was 16 or 17 years ago, and I appreciated the focus on community, people’s connections to each other and how they supported each other. That’s where the slogan ‘community through coffee’ came from. I was pretty sure I was gonna set up somewhere and be there for a while.
Q: Is it still your plan to be here for a while?
A: Oh yeah. I have family here and another business I started here five years ago.
Q: What is your other business?
A: We had an event here at Mugs that inspired me to start a technology company called Community Funded. CSU is actually one of our clients. I’m mostly focused on that new company 100 percent of my time, and I have managers that run the coffee shops. I’m not here as much on a day-to-day basis anymore.
Q: Do you source ingredients locally?
A: The whole goal is to look for local ingredients and organic ingredients whenever possible. It’s one of those things that can be harder to do than it is to say sometimes, but we always try our best to source what we can from local places. I think when we added it up last, about 75 percent of the products sold from Mugs was local and organic. It’s hard with coffee, you can’t buy locally, but our coffee roaster is local.
Q: How is Mugs different from the other coffee shops in town?
A: I think Mugs has always prioritized the community first. That really has to do with the people we hire and the engagement we encourage with the customers. Just really trying to build authentic relationships and hiring real people that actually care about the customer.
Q: What do you find most challenging about being a small business owner?
A: That’s hard to answer because it’s been 15 years of different challenges. I think the biggest challenge right now is owning two businesses with a family of three young kids, a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a newborn. Juggling all those relationships and trying to be everywhere at once can be tough.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about being a small business owner?
A: I think the most rewarding part is just knowing that we’re positively impacting people’s days with quality products, good values and smiles on people’s faces. We’re providing a welcoming environment with free internet where people can sit and work while they build social capital. Businesses have started here at Mugs and partnerships have been formed with people who didn’t know each other. There’s been marriages and babies, all kinds of stuff that has come from people gathering here at Mugs. It’s been a cool thing to witness, especially with some of the people that didn’t know each other, met at mugs, got married, had a kid and now their kid is old enough to be drinking coffee. It’s pretty crazy.
Q: What are the future plans for this company as far as products, locations, ideas?
A: Because I’m running my other company right now, it’s hard to be thinking about expanding any new shops. I think if I were to have future plans for Mugs right now it would be to continue to do better on what we already do well. To look at all the products we sell and ask how can we do it better? How we can source more locally? To continue to provide an environment that cultivates happy employees who feel appreciated. I think it’s more about taking what we’ve done for 15 years and continuing to make it better. It’s what Mugs has always been about.
Q: What do you want readers to know about Mugs?
A: I want readers to know that Mugs is an authentic experience that represents the values of Fort Collins.
Collegian reporter Anna Nixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.