Aurora’s south suburbs land cosmopolitan café in Legends

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AURORA | When thinking of Southlands in Aurora’s upmarket southeast corner, artisanal cups of joe don’t exactly jump to the front of that bourgeois mental schema.

But a new specialty coffee shop at 24100 E. Commons Ave. — one complete with white-washed brick facades, tony lighting fixtures and well-groomed baristas — is aiming to bring a cosmopolitan dash of the city to Aurora’s far-flung suburbs.

Legends Coffee, which opened in Southlands beside an AT&T Store and Chipotle April 16, is the shopping destination’s newest and, arguably, hippest tenant. The nearly 1,700-square-foot space is peppered with the trappings typical of the myriad caffeinated corridors spread across the metro region: looming walls of treated wood, funky filaments dangling overhead and, of course, hand-stamped bags of aromatic beans lining diffident shelves.

Started as a mobile operation in 2014, Legends is attempting to bring to Aurora what is common in Denver’s buzzing urban core, according to husband-and-wife owners Tabitha and Jacob Wickline.

“In the Denver metro there’s phenomenal eateries, great microbreweries and phenomenal coffee houses everywhere you turn, but out in the suburbs you have very few,” Jacob said. “You have many franchises, many corporate stores and … a couple mom-and-pops, but not with a whole lot of background in coffee. Coffee is what we lived and breathed and we knew we wanted to make it a full-time gig.”

The Wicklines made their first foray into Aurora’s growing specialty coffee scene two years ago, when they began appearing at local farmers markets with what was “basically an espresso house on wheels,” according to Jacob. Their first ever appearance with the bijou enterprise was at the Southlands farmers market, which takes place weekly from May through September not 100 yards from the couple’s current brick-and-mortar shop.

“We had a two-group machine, ran it off a generator, and we did cold brew, basically every type of espresso drink and made a couple in-house things,” Jacob said. “We’ve progressed quite a bit since then.”

Longtime fans of the Wicklines’ work may remember their outfit as Boomtown Coffee, which was the original name of the espresso cart. But following the rise of and continued confusion with a Houston-based company of the same name, the couple decided to ditch the Gold Rush-era term for the Legends moniker.

Following quick success with weekly trips to Southlands, Jacob said that the couple became inundated with emails asking where customers could grab their coffee during the week.

“We were getting 20 or 30 emails a week asking us when we were going to open a brick-and-mortar, and that seemed so far-fetched to us,” he said.

But after several months of working with the Small Business Administration in Lone Tree, numerous conversations with Southlands general manager Jeff Nemec and a loan from First National Denver later, Legends at Southlands was born, according to Jacob.

The atmosphere in the shop is an amalgamation of Legends’ employees experiences at different coffee shops over the course of the past decade, according to Jacob. He grew up working at corporate shops spread across California and the Pacific Northwest, while Tabitha and bar manager Cisco Gonzalez come from bean houses with calmer vibes.

“We transitioned this thing into exactly what we learned from all three of those backgrounds,” Jacob said.

A longtime Aurora resident and graduate of Cherokee Trail High School, Tabitha met Jacob while attending Cavalry Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, Calif., on the far-southeastern edge of the L.A. metro area.

The shop offers beans roasted at Jubilee Roasting Company in northwest Aurora, as well as blends from Corvus Coffee and MiddleState Coffee, which are both located in Denver. Their staple Legends Coffee blend comes from Jubilee, while espresso comes from Corvus. The Wicklines receive a handful of delicate, specialty roasts from MiddleState.

Now living just two miles away from their new shop with two young sons, the Wicklines said that they’re excited to ride the still-growing wave and educate Aurorans on the intricacies of specialty coffee.

“The more people understand specialty coffee, the more they can appreciate it,” Jacob said. “The more they develop a palate … the more they have an understanding of a cleaner cup of coffee and the more they can appreciate when they come in here and have to pay an extra buck, but they get that mind-blowing coffee experience, instead of that quick, grab-and-go coffee that they’re used to.”

As of December 2015, the retail value of the U.S. coffee market totaled about $48 billion, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America. Specialty coffee, which is defined by slightly more stringent parameters, accounted for about 55 percent of the value share of that total.

“Coffee’s trending and it’s changing,” Tabitha said. “It’s definitely an industry that is evolving.”