In 2015, they decided to give a no-frills, honest coffee cart a shot, and moved back to Utah with little more than a deep well of knowledge and skill, and a lot of positive whispers. They built their own handsome wooden cart and began serving espresso selections from Portland’s Heart Coffee Roasters. These were the early days of Three Pines.
Not long after they began, a buzz traveled through the growing Salt Lake coffee scene about a nomadic pair out on the streets serving euphoric espresso. They serve Heart? Are you sure? That’s amazing! (I remember visiting on an early morning once; I ordered an espresso and thoroughly geeked out.)
In late summer of 2015, the wandering coffee cart began serving at its first anchored location outside a niche grocer in a neighborhood near the city center. Having already grown faster than planned, Nick and Meg soon faced another opportunity to settle their business in a downtown brick-and-mortar starting in January of 2016. It was a risk, but if anything is clear, it’s that Nick and Meg are risk-takers to the core.
“When I feel like something makes sense, I want to jump on it and go. I don’t like to overthink it, I don’t want to over-analyze,” Nick says. “I expected the cart business to go on for at least two years before we even opened a shop.”
Just six months after they opened, Three Pines made the next jump and moved into their current space in downtown Salt Lake City.
Nestled within the city’s urban center, Three Pines’ current location sits on a small side street bordering Gallivan Plaza, a city square dotted with memorabilia from the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. A sign hangs over the shop, beckoning customers with a string of white neon letters shining the word “COFFEE.”
A steady stream of traffic wanders in and out of the café, a delightful mix of customers old and young, of coffee enthusiasts and first-time explorers. Customers are welcomed at the walk-up counter of the 100-square-foot café where they order from a selection of Heart coffee and, refreshingly, not much more.
Varying shades of light wood make up the counter, a product shelf, and a four-seat bar. Powerful, isolated pops of color come from a matte teal La Marzocco GB5 two-group and the sharp color-blocked packaging of Heart’s retail bags. Behind the bar is a Fetco XTS brewer with Mahlkönig EK 43, K30 Vario, and Nuova Simonelli Mythos One Clima Pro grinders. Various tools and customizations—most notably the Levy tamp and a nifty dose distribution tool called the Shot Collar—are supplied by Saint Anthony Industries, another pioneer of coffee technology based in the mountains of Utah. A few small streetside tables allow for more seating outside.
In a city where high-end coffee is relatively new and cafés struggle to sustain business after six in the evening, coffee programs are often buoyed with substantial food offerings and specialty drinks. However, Three Pines’ menu clearly establishes coffee as their focus. From the start, their offerings have been oriented toward simplicity and education, departing from foggy words like cortado or cappuccino, instead listing each espresso-and-milk beverage by its ounce size.
Townshend’s matcha, Bhakti chai, and Red Blossom iced teas are available in addition to cold-brew and espresso classics. Customers choose between Heart’s Stereo Blend and rotating single-origin espresso options.
Even more exciting news: consistent regulars and increased popularity have opened another growth opportunity for Three Pines. This month, they’ll relocate to a larger storefront just around the corner on the much-more-trafficked Main Street. Nick and Meg hope to expand their offerings in both beverages and food options, and to provide seating for up to eighteen customers in their new space.
As I sat with Nick in Gallivan Plaza beneath a left-behind piece of the Olympic décor, we discussed Nick’s feelings about the shop, his customers, and where it was going.
“We’ve gone from cart, to small shop, to now bigger shop in less than two years,” Nick relays. When asked what he hopes to gain from the new location, he responds, “I want to see people meet up on a date, or for meetings. . . I want to have a space where community is able to happen, and the vibe is good.”
No doubt, Three Pines’ future holds a long list of risks well-taken and plenty of good vibes for the Utah coffee community.
—Austin Wright is a photographer, writer, and veteran barista based in Salt Lake City.