Gold Bar Espresso in Tempe is the oldest independent coffee shop in the valley.
The “mom and pop” shop is 20-years-old and is owned by Karen and Dennis Miller who bought it 11 years ago.
“We were regulars at it for the first nine years,” Karen Miller said.
While there is a Starbucks across the parking lot, Miller said people choose Gold Bar because of the friendly atmosphere and good products.
“We kept hearing how much Starbucks hates Gold Bar,” she said.
She said Gold Bar’s unique menu and community atmosphere make them fierce competition for the corporate giant.
“We’re independent, we’re locally owned, we have quality products,” she said. “It’s not a cookie-cutter shop. If somebody comes in and they want something that’s not on the menu, we’ll find a way to make it.”
“We always seek out the best vendors and the best products,” Miller said.
As for their clientele, she said professionals and students frequent the shop to work and study. Miller also said they host a variety of weekly events including live jazz music every Friday night and a game night every Saturday.
“Our jazz band has been together for 12 or 13 years,” she said.
Customer Bharani Ravishankar said she enjoys the entertainment and the uniqueness of Gold Bar.
“I just come here on Friday nights for the jazz music, which is really good,” Ravishankar said.
Dennis Miller explains jazz night in the video blow. The pictures are from Friday, April 26.
The Millers also have two guitarists come to the shop and play music on Sunday mornings, which is a draw for customer Nicki Loughmiller.
“It’s a nice place and has live music,” Loughmiller said. “It has a pretty laid back atmosphere.”
The shop also has “Artist of the Month” where the owners select a local artist each month to display their artwork on Gold Bar’s walls, Karen Miller said.
“We have an assortment of artwork on the walls,” she said.
Miller also said the shop’s selection of coffee beans sets them apart from the competition. Gold Bar imports coffee beans from Allann Bros. Coffee in Albany, Oregon.
“The very first Gold Bar opened up in Oregon and the second week they were open some ladies came in and told the owner he needed to talk to Allan Stuart about his coffee,” Miller said. “And they did.
The Miller’s receive fresh roasted beans from Allann’s twice a week. She said they are the best because they are European-inspired.
“Allan Stuart went to Europe out of college and was there for an extended tour,” Miller said. “When he came back, after being gone for so long, he was appalled at the difference between American and European coffee, so he started researching and experimenting and came up with beans that would duplicate European espresso.”
Miller said Gold Bar’s two signature drinks are the Mocha Especial and the Frozen Granida.
“The Mocha Especial is great hot or iced,” she said. “It has espresso, dark chocolate and half and half.”
She said the Frozen Granida is made with frozen espresso, milk and a little bit of sugar. She said it is different from blended drinks, such as Starbucks’ Frappuccino, which are made with ice, powder and a lot of sweeteners.
“Sometimes it tastes kind of strong for people because they’re not used to the pure coffee flavor,” Miller said.
She also said people rave about their chai.
“People come in and say, ‘Gosh, your chai is so much better than any place else,’” Miller said.
Jennifer Boughter, who lives in Phoenix, makes special trips with her daughter just to get their hands on Gold Bar’s coffee.
“This small mom and pop coffee shop has been around for ever and they have the best coffee anywhere,” Boughter said. “We’ll drive over here occasionally to get coffee specifically from here, but always, if we’re in the area, we stop.”
Another thing that sets Gold Bar apart from other local and corporate coffee shops is they are open 365 days a year.
“We do that because there are a lot of people who don’t have family in town or don’t have family, period,” Miller said. “Gold Bar becomes their family in their community.”
For that reason, Miller said she and her husband work on holidays and give their employees those days off.
When hiring employees, the Millers look for people who interact well with the customers.
“Gold Bar has developed an incredible community,” Miller said. “It’s really important to have that family feel with the baristas and the people on the other side of the counter.”
Emma Harrison, a graduate student who has been coming to Gold Bar since she was in high school, said the shop has a comfortable atmosphere.
“I got to lots of other coffee shops, but for me it’s Dennis and Karen that are the draw to Gold Bar,” Harrison said. “The community of it is a wonderful environment to be in.”
For more information and updates on events visit Gold Bar’s Facebook page.
– Erin Roman