No coffee in the house
PROVO - There is a new coffee shop in town, but it's no Starbucks.
The entry is framed with little white Christmas lights, there are half-a-dozen couches to go along with a few tables, and the walls are yellow, red, green and purple. Opposite a faux-brick wall there is a wall dedicated to nonsense.
"Girls are like ladders," one customer wrote. Another scribbled: "I love yellow people."
It's all the same to owner Christin Johnson. She's just happy the people who jotted down the messages wanted to stick around in her Vermillion Skies De-cafe and Lounge long enough to pen them.
"I like to call it a little bit of ownership without paying taxes," she says.
But what makes Johnson's new-for-2005 cafe unique is not the decorating. The upstart Provo hangout serves coffee-type beverages without the coffee.
Posers, as they are called, feature Pero instead of ground coffee beans, and they are among a handful of menu items you won't find at any other java joint.
Johnson, a 22-year-old English major at Brigham Young University, started Vermillion Skies to give Mormon students - who don't drink coffee or alcohol - a place to hang out and experience pop culture without going against their religious beliefs.
"It's not about seeing how close to the line you can get without crossing it," says the Arizona native. "It's more about how much you can enjoy without compromising."
The drinks are only part of the lure.
What was once a Pentecostal church at 236 N. University Ave. is now the locale for Bad Poetry nights (every Wednesday), live local-band concerts (Friday and Saturday), Pirate Nights, Cranky Hour (from 5 to 6 p.m.) and harmless late-night lounging.
The hole-in-the-wall shop is quickly becoming an A-list weekend hot spot for those of the predominantly LDS student body in Provo who know it's there.
On Thursday afternoon Vermillion Skies was the site of an amateur film shoot, while on Saturday night, 75 people shuffled in and out of the joint and sipped non-caffeinated Coconut Ice Mochas to live music and the creativity of several art pieces hung for a one-night art show.
Whitney Mower, who does acoustic guitar shows at the lounge every so often, says the laid-back, clean Vermillion atmosphere is what makes it one of a kind.
"It's pretty, there's all these nice little classics on the bookshelves, and they've got good drinks," the Utah Valley State College student says. "But it's not like you're going to go there and feel strange and feel like people are drunk."
"There are not a lot of places that give you this type of environment," adds student Emily Gibson.
July 31 marks six months since Johnson opened the doors, but just last week she celebrated the first anniversary of Idea Day, the day she decided to start the small, quirky business.
She says she came up with the cafe while in Arizona for the birth of her nephew, and the name came to her while she was eating at Denny's late one evening.
Thanks to some family members willing to invest, her idea got feet last fall.
Johnson admits there have been struggles and she's learned how she could have done things better - like not overstaffing and not opening three months before students leave for summer - but she thinks she's filled a need that will keep the crowds coming.
"It's a living-room atmosphere outside of the home," she says. "This feels more like my house and living room than my apartment does."
The young owner is happy to give students a relaxed hangout past BYU Honor Code apartment curfews, but sees more in the future.
There are plans for weekly workshops on anything from painting to martial arts, possible movie nights to promote local amateur films, and the potential basement expansion for a larger music venue.
For now, it's simply survival until fall semester brings more students back to Provo.
Until then, Vermillion Skies will run from 1 p.m. to about 3 a.m. instead of the regular 24-hours-a-day operation.
But, says Johnson, "If people are here and want to stay, then we don't kick them out."
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