Local coffee company releases artist series 

click to enlarge Eric Starkey operates a roasting machine as Kari looks on at Leap Coffee Roasters in Oklahoma City, Monday, Jan. 16, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Eric Starkey operates a roasting machine as Kari looks on at Leap Coffee Roasters in Oklahoma City, Monday, Jan. 16, 2016.

A new initiative from Oklahoma City-based Leap Coffee Roasters will sell coffee blends designed with help from local artists to sustain their art.

Leap partners Kari Hirst Starkey, Eric Starkey and Gary Hargrave started the artist series coffee blends to help give back to a community they care deeply about.

Big questions

At some point in the life of every couple, there comes a question: What are we even doing?

Eric Starkey worked as an accountant for 20 years. Kari Hirst Starkey worked at City Arts Center, now known as Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. The couple was involved in arts for years, putting on a children’s theater show in the evenings and when they had spare time.

“We know how it is as an artist trying to make a living doing your art,” Kari Starkey said. “It’s so difficult to get grants as an independent artist.”

The pair was always trying to come up with money to put on shows to sell tickets to put on the next show.

Then the Starkeys asked themselves, “What are we doing? What is important to us?”

They wanted to leave a legacy for their daughter, but they also wanted to live their lives in a way that is fulfilling.

The answer was coffee with a shot of art.

click to enlarge Militant Optimist artist series coffee at Leap Coffee Roasters in Oklahoma City, Monday, Jan. 16, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Militant Optimist artist series coffee at Leap Coffee Roasters in Oklahoma City, Monday, Jan. 16, 2016.

Leap first

The first step was doing something they loved. Coffee has been a part of the Starkeys’ lives since they met. Kari owned one of the “second wave” coffee shops in Oklahoma City, called Yippie Yi Yo Cafe. In fact, it’s where the couple had their first date.

“We both love coffee,” she said. “One of our passions is tasting it, enjoying it and experiencing it.”

But the business of running a cafe was hard enough 20 years ago before they had a daughter. Instead, they moved earlier in the process, buying Leap Coffee Roasters from Prima Cafe co-founder Hargrave, who continues to work with the company.

“We want to be in this coffee world,” Kari Starkey said. “I love where it comes from, from seed to cup.”

She remembered visiting coffee roasters in California decades earlier and learning how she wanted to be treated and how she wants to treat their customers.

But a new career also led to an opportunity to help the artistic community they both love.

“When we were thinking about starting the business, we were looking at ways to give back that are sustainable and self-propelled,” Eric Starkey said. “We wanted it to be more than just a donation.”

They decided to work with artists to develop products they can all be proud of and use that as a starting point to create partnerships in the community.

Brewing art

The first participants to create artist series blends with Leap are Romy Owens and musicians Mary Reynolds and Louise Goldberg of the folk and jazz duo Miss Brown to You.

“Kari and I have known each other a while. She helped me with [The Unbearable Absence of] Landscapes in Tulsa,” Owens said. “We were seaming it together, and she would come up once a week for a couple of hours. During that time, you get to know someone pretty well.”

They shared stories about the struggle to create art and pay the bills, she said.

“When they bought Leap, she and Eric said this is something they want to do and give back to the community,” Owens said.

Participating in the artist series means artists receive essentially the same commission a coffee seller would, Eric Starkey said. Every bag of coffee sold, whether to an individual consumer or to a restaurant serving her “militant optimist” blend, sends money to Owens.

That’s not enough to set her on easy street, but Owens said any money can be a huge help.

“Oh my gosh! It makes a tremendous impact,” she said. “Even if it’s $100 a month, that can help buy supplies or pay the electric bill or put gas in the car.”

Goldberg had been getting her coffee from Hargrave for years before Leap told her they wanted to collaborate.

“They really want to support the art,” she said. “We plan to save the proceeds and apply it to the next CD we record later this year.”

It’s hard to make a living as a musician, Goldberg said. Miss Brown to You has been doing it for a long time, and that involves trying on different hats — playing shows, selling albums, teaching music lessons and performing in the theater pit.

“It’s a huge business outside of the art that happens,” she said. “So it really, really lifts us up to know that somebody is pitching in.”

Owens said if more businesses could find a way to support individual artists, it could make a huge difference in the community.

“I love that it’s multidisciplinary. This has the capacity to reach painters, singers, actors and writers and have a significant impact,” she said. “I love how that sets a model up. There’s no reason every business shouldn’t be benefiting the charity or cause of their choice.”

Owens said the process was fun and informative and taught her more than she ever thought she’d know about coffee.

“I’m not a coffee expert, but I have certainly become a coffee snob,” she said. “I tried almost everything they have, and they came up with some pretty inventive options for me.”

She said “militant optimist” is an all-day, every day sort of coffee.

Kari Starkey described Miss Brown to You’s blend, “Nightingale” as more rounded with notes of chocolate.

Leap will release Goldberg and Reynolds’ blend with an open warehouse party 5-8 p.m. Friday at the roastery, 44 NE 51st St. The event is free, all-ages and open to the public. Miss Brown to You will perform, and there will be coffee, tea, wine, kombucha and snacks.

Call 405-602-5800 or visit leapcoffeeroasters.com.

Print headline: Artfully roasted, Leap Coffee Roasters reinvests in Oklahoma City’s creative class with its artist series coffee blends.

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