Chrixtian Fyffe and Brent’Lee Williams, the proprietors of Old Cuss Coffee, are actually young guys, and the name is a hat tip to their grandfathers — though it also could apply to the determination, perhaps stubbornness, that kept them going through many setbacks as they opened their business.
Fyffe and Williams were working at Trader Joe’s when they met in 2020, near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. They soon decided to go into business together, to sell coffee under the Old Cuss name from a trailer — with Fyffe leading the building efforts, and Williams developing the food and drink menu.
Both men were inspired by their grandfathers. Fyffe’s grandfather taught him carpentry and inspired him to be an artist, making everything from tiny copper sculptures of mushrooms to a 25-foot-tall guitar made out of pumpkins. Williams said his grandfather — who cooked “high south” food, such as succotash, in his home state of Missouri — inspired him to become a chef.
The men spent the summer of 2020 building the trailer in Fyffe’s driveway. “The joke was that we were just working in an Easy-Bake Oven because it was so hot,” Fyffe said.
While the building was going on, Williams was hit by a minivan while on his motorcycle and suffered a spinal injury. Fyffe kept working on the trailer while Williams recovered. In September 2020, they opened the coffee business, often using Nomad East (1675 E. 1300 South, Salt Lake City) as a base of operations.
In March 2021, while towing the trailer to Sugar House, Williams hit some black ice.
“I re-injured my spine and had another head injury,” Williams said. “My wife’s car got totaled because she was driving behind me. My truck got totaled, and the trailer got flipped.”
Between Williams’ recovery and the damage to the trailer, the end of Old Cuss seemed likely. Then a regular customer organized a “Give a Dang for Old Cuss!” GoFundMe campaign, raising $12,616 in less than 24 hours. Much of the money paid Williams’ medical bills, Fyffe said — but it also covered the damaged and lost equipment, the debt on the trailer rebuild, employee wages, and a storage unit to keep the remaining equipment safe until the pair could start again.
“Old Cuss 2.0,” as they call it, wouldn’t be a trailer, though. Fyffe and Williams decided to open in a brick-and-mortar location. They dug deep into their own pockets, and drew on their own talents, to make it happen.
They found a space in South Salt Lake — at 2285 S. Main St., a block or so north of Interstate 80. Fyffe went to work on the interior, using salvaged and repurposed materials and his own ingenuity. The doors his cousin donated became the coffee counter. Other doors that were headed to the trash were turned into shelving. The only thing they bought new, Williams said, was the oven.
Their inspiration was a well-known old cuss: The novelist and environmental activist Wendell Berry, now 87 and living in his native Kentucky.
Berry’s writing has deeply influenced Fyffe and Williams. It’s why the two saved everything they could from the landfill when they built out the space. It’s also why they don’t serve animal products.
“If I eat meat once a week, it’s a very small impact,” Williams said. “But if I serve 500 meals a week with meat, that’s like a whole cow that I’m serving. And I cannot justify serving 500 meals a week that are unsustainable.”
The focus, though, isn’t on what Old Cuss doesn’t serve, but about centering and celebrating plants, Williams said.
“Our plan is by this summer, we’re going to be 100% farm-to-table with the exception of jackfruit and tofu,” Williams said. “Everything else will be from a local farm.” (Jackfruit, mostly grown in tropical Asian countries, is a staple in plant-based cuisine since it’s a great stand-in for meat. Old Cuss uses it for a barbecue sandwich, among other dishes.)
The pair also aim to harvest from their front patio. By the end of April, they’ll be planting tomatoes, herbs, and sweet potato plants — “a lot of people don’t realize how beautiful sweet potato plants are,” Williams said — and Fyffe will start growing microgreens indoors.
Old Cuss maintains a local connection in as many ways as it can, beyond produce. It makes a “Mock-E-ato” that uses caramel sauce from Watchtower Coffee & Comics, and is topped with Sweet Hazel & Co.’s Snix candy bars.
“We are all about collaboration,” Williams said, “and this is sort of the drink version of that.”
Fyffe and Williams aim to support the community, and the community has supported them. Employees, customers, suppliers, and collaborators responded after Williams’ accident, and after other setbacks.
Last fall, just as they were ready to open, city inspectors discovered the grease trap in the sink had been installed improperly. Old Cuss had to postpone its opening — and broadcast a quick message via Facebook Live to tell people about the delay. They also had to tell their newly hired employees not to come to work.
After a few more emergencies — including losing power when someone stripped their cables for the copper — Old Cuss opened in late December 2021. All but one employee was able to wait it out until then, Williams said, adding, “my crew was so patient.”
After three months of serving customers, Fyffe and Williams feel like they can start trying new things — like rolling out a menu largely inspired by Williams’ Missouri roots.
They also aim to make sure their oat milk has zero waste. “We’re getting a horchata machine that keeps the milk moving, so we’ll use a powder that’s 100% oats, no additives, nothing,” Williams said.
Williams is also organizing the Riot Coffee Coalition, a group of local roasters that will have its first meeting this month to plan ways to collaborate and support each other.
“Utah is not our competition,” Williams said. “It’s about making each other better, and not bringing each other down. Watchtower down the road makes our caramel sauce, and I want them to succeed. If our landlord opened a coffee shop next door to us, I’d welcome them with open arms. It would make us busier. With Apex [Brewing] coming in, to me that’s just another friend. We’ve got a taco restaurant coming in. The guys at Beehive [Distilling] come in three times a week.”
That kind of mutual support, Fyffe and Williams said, is why they believe Old Cuss will still be around in 30 years.
“South Salt Lake is progressive,” Williams said, “and we want to progress with them.”
Cooperative in every sense
In addition to serving food and drink, Old Cuss Coffee dedicates several micro-spaces around the cafe to small businesses, inviting them to sell clothes, art, pottery, books, food and other goods. Here is a list of some of the local businesses they either host, or use in their menu:
Lavender Luck • secondhand and remade clothes.
Clara Wear • vintage clothing.
Second Chance at Joy • vintage housewares.
I Remember When • vintage items.
Pot Dealers • houseplants and pots.
Sticks and Bones • metal and wood design.
Mims • bakery.
Sweet Hazel & Co. • vegan candy and baked goods.
Salsa Del Diablo • salsa.
White River Designs • refurbished goods.
Hexeh • skincare, perfumes, etc.
Salt Lake Baking Co. • bakery.
Livgreen Candle Company • candles.
Tenderheart Embroidery • embroidered items.
Olive & Oak Apothecary • skincare, tinctures, etc.
Better Foods Farm • produce.
Powder Peak Sweets • bakery (cronies).
Fig Treats • in-house baker.
9th and 9th Book and Music Gallery • bookstore.
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