Bikes, coffee and beer, all at Cranknstein

When Evan Rau opened Cranknstein in 2011 with his partner, Susan Dalke, he combined three passions: bicycles, espresso and beer. The result is a community hub that caters to locals on North College Avenue in Old Town Fort Collins. Before graduating from CSU (with a master’s in English), his short stint in student teaching allowed Rau to realize teaching wasn’t for him and he needed to figure out where he was going next. He and Susan took the leap of faith, borrowed $60,000 from friends and family, and opened Cranknstein after nearly two years of planning. They spent more than six months renovating a vacant auto repair shop into what Cranknstein is today.

Q: What was the catalyst that sparked Cranknstein?

A: An eye-opening student teaching experience during which when I realized the structure of teaching wasn’t going to fit the way I work.

Q: Tell me about your partner/girlfriend.

A: I met Susan through her coffee-roasting business, which was previously located in Loveland. She helped me understand the intricacies of specialty coffee, and she’s been a 50/50 partner since the beginning. She brought a coffee roaster from her Loveland business into Cranknstein where we roast the beans that we use to brew our espresso. She roasts her coffee directly next to where I work on bicycles.

Being both a couple and business partners, and relatively new at both, has been quite a learning experience. We recognize how important it is to spend time together not working, and we give each other space to pursue our own individual passions as well.

Q: What have been your biggest challenges and how have you overcome them?

A: Managing employees when we can’t be here physically. Since we are open 17 hours/day, we can’t possibly be here all the time to oversee what is happening. When we are here, most of the time I’m working in the bike shop. Although Susan spends more time up front than I do, she also spends a lot of time roasting coffee beans and taking care of the essential administrative tasks that keep us up and running.

Q: The biggest rewards?

A: I’d have to say our regular customers. It’s very rewarding to see how much they enjoy being here and in turn, they contribute to the comfort and positive vibe that has become pivotal to Cranknstein’s success.

Q: Biggest surprises?

A: We planned to have live music originally, but it’s turned into much more than we imagined. I’ve been surprised that we’ve become a sought-after music venue. We bridge the bar and the coffee shop atmospheres and the musicians love it.

Q: Future plans?

A: We plan to offer bike-in movies throughout the winter to pick up where New Belgium ends their season of bike-in cinema. We aim to position ourselves as a premier source of ‘high-craft’ espresso and bikes. Susan is a master coffee roaster, and I’ve been hand-building custom bikes, but would like to move into hand-made frame and component fabrication.

Q: Any advice for others in business for themselves, or someone who might be contemplating the entrepreneur path him or herself?

A: Talk to others who have done it. Find a way to apply their advice and experiences to yourself. Do an honest inventory of yourself and ask, ‘Are you willing to do what it takes to make it work?’

Q: What has been the most successful form of marketing for Cranknstein?

A: We haven’t done a lot of advertising. In fact, our marketing has been somewhat passive. It’s resulted in customers finding us – and it turns out that those curious enough to find us love the place and turn out to be exactly the customers we want. They, in turn, bring their friends, which has resulted in the best clientele we could ever ask for.

Q: What do you feel have been some of your other key drivers of success?

A: Not having televisions and keeping the noise level low so people can carry on a conversation. We want Cranknstein to be conducive to communication. Sticking with our vision has also been key. Anytime you open a new business, there’s no shortage of suggestions and great ideas based on what others think you should try, and there’s a tendency to try a lot of the ideas out – but we’ve stuck with our original vision since the beginning and it’s definitely paid off.

Schwartz is an ePublishing consultant and can be reached at KindleExpert.com

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