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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Central City Opera Perks Up: Gift Shop Now Sells Cholua Brothers' Coffee

Central City Opera patrons are used to the gift shop’s usual souvenirs. Homemade fudge, jewelry, and t-shirts with the summer's shows printed on them comprise the habitual goods. There are even some ornate and educational coffee table books, from Opera in the Rockies to Theatre of Dreams, yet there has never been any coffee. This year, the 2014 Festival is finally getting a little more caffeinated.

Brothers Dave and Anthony Cholua never meant to kick-start a coffee business. “Coffee roasting was just a hobby,” spokesman and co-owner Dave Cholua said. The brothers and their family always enjoyed crafting homemade coffee liquor, a creamy recipe gleaned from their ancestors, but their business never went farther than gifting the liquor to friends at Christmastime. Well, until they started experimenting with coffee roasting.

Brothers Dave (left) and Anthony Cholua display their
Naturally Flavored, Medium Roast and French Roast coffees in their store.
“People would tell us, ‘Do you realize you have the smoothest, boldest taste in the coffee business?’” Cholua said, and so the brothers considered opening their own company. Anthony had enough saved from bartending in Black Hawk, which also allowed him to perfect the liquor recipe, and Dave had the marketing know-how as a graphic designer. The business idea percolated into Cholua Bros. Mining Co., their fully realized and self-owned coffee store located in a centurial barn in Black Hawk. The brothers also enjoy recreational mining – their family emigrated from Poland in the 1800’s searching for gold – and often sport helmets and Western attire reminiscent of the gold rushes, hence the company’s title. “We get people trying to sell us mining equipment,” Cholua humorously lamented, “so we subtitled the business, ‘An Old Time Coffee Store.’”

The brothers’ rather spontaneous career shift became an even quicker reality. “The city of Black Hawk welcomed us with open arms,” a grateful Cholua said. The brothers had been selling their products online since last May, but when Black Hawk approved their lease they put the business in the barn, opening their doors on October 20.

Cholua Bros. Mining Co. is located on 470 Gregory Street in Black Hawk
in a historic barn that is more than one hundred years old.
The coffee beans hail from Brazil, but the brothers credit their natural flavors – vanilla, hazelnut, and pure caramel – and the high altitude roasting to their steaming success. The mountainous elevation and cool Rocky air are ideal for roasting as it produces a quicker coffee at a lower temperature, which prevents scorching. “We started roasting at 10,000 feet,” Cholua said. At such a high elevation, the brothers may be making coffee at the highest altitude in the United States. “That was our ore,” he smiled.

While Cholua Bros. Mining Co. also sells local barbeque sauces, pickled green beans, and even gold canning kits made by a professional geologist, the brothers emphasize that they run a coffee store and not a coffee shop. There are tables to sit at, but coffee is only sold in bags. If a customer wants to sample a flavor, however, the cup is always on the house. By this fall, one year from their grand opening, the brothers also hope to sell their famous coffee liquor. “It makes Kahlúa taste like cough medicine,” Cholua joked. Perhaps this will be another treat sold in the Central City Opera Gift Shop for the 2015 Festival.

“Two of the things I’ve heard we needed are ice cream and coffee, and now we have both,” said Wanda Larson, Central City Opera’s Office Administrator and Gift Shop Buyer. “We love having local vendors in the gift shop; I’m very excited to have them.” Larson also added that 100% of the gift shop’s proceeds always return to the Opera.

Stop by the Central City Opera Gift Shop beginning June 28
to buy some of the Cholua brothers' coffee!
Larson heard about Cholua Bros. Mining Co. in a newspaper and has since seen the pair around Gilpin County at various community events, from the Black Hawk Block Party to Madam Lou Bunch Day in Central City. “Hammond’s Candies [in Denver] is also selling our product, and they’re going to try out our liquor for their fudge. It’s a pleasure working with Central City Opera and Hammond’s Candies; these are two vintage landmarks,” Cholua said.

The brothers look forward to appearing at Central City Opera on June 28, the 2014 Festival’s Yellow Rose Ball and opening night of The Marriage of Figaro. They will also be present at each opera performance to sell their product at intermission and meet local patrons.

More than caffeinating, the brothers’ fresh coffee is also rejuvenating. “A little while ago I got a message from a woman in Michigan while in the Indianapolis airport on my way home from a friend’s wedding,” Cholua shared. “She said her husband has Stage IV esophagus cancer and hasn’t been able to drink coffee in two years, but she bought some of our coffee while out here. ‘He’s gone through half a bag!’ she told us and then ordered three bags online. Maybe it’s less acidic…we’re not coffee experts, but that was a pretty cool story.”

For now, the brothers are just happy to have satisfied customers and a uniquely crafted product. “It’s the most labor of love we’ve ever had,” Cholua said. “If we can make enough to retire, we’re the luckiest guys. And maybe that’s why it’s been so successful, because we love it so much.”

The Central City Opera Gift Shop is located in the historic Teller House just downhill of the Opera House in Central City. For The Sound of Music our gift shop will be located in the lobby of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

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