Resourceful Café Build-Outs


Editorial Policy

Published on

Last updated on

Workers construct café tables from reclaimed materials at L!VE Café in Chicago, Illinois.

This post is part of a special section on buildouts for the contemporary café. Read more posts from the section here.

[I]n January 2014, California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency to address three consecutive years of drought. The lack of recent rainfall had lowered reservoir levels and perpetuated wild fires.

As the government scrambled to mitigate the damages, one particular scourge flourished: bark beetle populations increased exponentially in California forests, killing millions of drought-ravaged trees.

As an entrepreneur in the middle of a café build-out when the beetles struck, Troy Carle decided to spin a serious negative into a small positive. As local fire departments worked around the clock to chop down the dead trees—at one point offering to drop off free loads of infected logs to homeowners in the area—Carle took home as much of the wood as he could.

Union Hill Café in Sonora, California makes use of reclaimed and repurposed materials.
TOP: Workers construct café tables from reclaimed materials at L!VE Café in Chicago. (Photo: courtesy of L!VE Café.) ABOVE: Union Hill Coffee Co. built seating from drought-ravaged and bark beetle–infested trees. (Photo: courtesy of Union Hill Coffee Co.)

“We were really excited to get our hands on it, because it’s interesting to look at and beautiful,” says Carle, who used the wood to build bench seating in Union Hill, his new café in Sonora, California. “We thought it was cool, but we’re also putting it to use—otherwise it’s just getting chipped up and rotting around here.”


As interest in sustainable living gains traction and recycling, re-sourcing, and repurposing building materials becomes increasingly popular, new businesses arise to serve growing demand. L!VE Café, which opens this month in the Oak Park neighborhood of Chicago, procured used tables, shelving, and supplies for its bar from local re-distributors of materials that would have gone to waste in decades past.

L!VE CEO Reesheda Washington says they went to places like ReUse Depot and ReStore to pick up metals, woods, and electrical supplies that had been thrown away or rescued from demolition projects. “We were able to capture the industrial look that we were looking for in our space without having to purchase a lot of new material,” Washington says.

L!VE Café highlighted their build-out by repurposing scrapped materials from construction projects. (Photo: courtesy of L!VE Café.)

Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that builds housing for qualified, low-income families in almost 1,400 communities nationwide, sells scraps from construction, used materials, appliances, supplies from teardowns, and donated items in its ReStore facilities at a fraction of retail costs. Ten such retail stores serve the Chicago area alone, and hundreds more have sprung up across the country and exploded in popularity as more and more business owners look to repurposed materials for less-expensive build-outs.


As the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers, so relying on second-hand stores alone to supply low-cost materials doesn’t always cut it—especially when you have a specific aesthetic in mind. Those looking to outfit their café with re-sourced and recycled materials should also look to the community they’re going to serve.

Brick Coffee Co. opened in Norwood, Ohio—a small town just north of Cincinnati—in December, in a small section of a local church that had gone unused for a decade-and-a-half. The café partnered with the church pastor to install its own entrance, and acquired many free or low-cost building supplies the old-fashioned way: by interacting with other community members and building a local network. Co-founder Zach Clark was even able to find someone to help him bend pieces of leftover steel he’d salvaged for Brick’s bar.

“We asked our friend Rob—who’s from here—and he said, ‘Yeah I’ve got a buddy who could do that for you,’” says Clark. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing a person who knows a person.”

Union Hill Café in Sonora, California makes use of reclaimed and repurposed materials.
Union Hill found a balance between old and new by pairing reclaimed lumber with zinc countertops. (Photo: courtesy of Union Hill Coffee Co.)

Building a café with sustainable and recycled materials necessitates patience, a willingness to pivot, and an ability to embrace the unexpected.

Recycling original building materials isn’t always realistic; sometimes new materials are the only answer—especially when abiding by construction codes. Brick Coffee Co. discarded plenty of old cinder blocks and scrap metal that couldn’t be repaired. Union Hill struck a balance between old and modern by juxtaposing zinc countertops and Italian espresso tools with reclaimed lumber.

“In my mind, I split the space into modern and old, and we were able to do that,” says Carle, who provided the majority of the design layout and construction for Union Hill after years of planning. “I don’t know how to say that we did it, except that we did it.”

Chris Lucia is Fresh Cup’s associate editor.

Contemporary Café Build-Outs

Resourceful Café Build-Outs | Irving Farm Coffee Roasters | Spotlight-Stealing Espresso Machines | Go GreenHenry’s House of Coffee

Share This Article

Chris Lucia

Join 7,000+ coffee pros and get top stories, deals, and other industry goodies in your inbox each week.

Other Articles You May Like

Fund It: How To Navigate Small Business Financing for Your Café

A café owner’s guide to debt and equity financing.
by Samantha Novick | July 26, 2022

Crunching the Numbers — Creating a Budget That Works For You

Five entrepreneurs share their best financial practices.
by Janae Easlon | April 25, 2022

Coffee Marketing, Part 3: Building Out Your Coffee Brand

Achieve success with your new coffee business by intentionally creating your brand.
by Emily McIntyre | December 21, 2020

Coffee Marketing, Part 2

Emily McIntyre of Catalyst Coffee Consulting continues her Coffee Marketing series with Part 2: More Offers = More Sales
by Emily McIntyre | December 14, 2020