A Utah couple open a cafe, aiming for ‘a West Coast vibe and East Coast efficiency’

Boston transplants Jake and Hermie He say they’re trying to create an ‘experience’ at Loki Coffee.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hermie He, left, and Jake He stand in their new coffeehouse, Loki Coffee in Salt Lake City, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.

How busy is Loki Coffee, a new cafe in Salt Lake City? Sometimes the owners, Jake and Hermie He, have to wait to find a place to sit.

The couple, who met while working at a Boston coffee shop, say their business at 325 E. 900 South aims to reflect their shared philosophy that a good coffee-shop experience depends on the people making the drinks as much as the beans used to brew them.

“You can make the best cup of coffee in the world,” Jake He said, “but if you serve it with attitude, the person drinking [it] may not feel like it tastes any good.”

“The whole entire experience,” Hermie He said, “starts off, yes, with the product — but also the place and the people.”

Since the Hes officially opened Loki on Nov. 11, Hermie said, the place has been pretty packed, except on Mondays, which are usually slow. (The shop is open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. — and they’ve also started hosting coffee-themed events.)

People cloister around the booths and standing tables, working away or chatting softly. Natural light pours in from the long windows, catching the palette Hermie carefully chose — terra cotta colors of orange and pale green. The colors, and the natural woodwork of the benches and shelves (created by hand by Jake’s father), tie the place together.

Jake said their goal for Loki “is to build a space for the community, a space where people can gather, host an event. We believe having a wide-open space like this [will] encourage people to get out of their house and then just work here, or meet up with a friend and catch up.”

They’re going for “a West Coast vibe and East Coast efficiency,” Jake said.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jake He, co-owner of Loki Coffee, pours milk into a latte at his new coffeehouse in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.

Bonding over coffee

Hermie He described herself as a “Folgers baby,” who didn’t get into specialty coffee until later in life.

It was Starbucks, the behemoth of America’s coffee culture, that inspired her to create her own space. “Right when you step foot into a Starbucks, you feel kind of oddly at home,” she said. “That cozy feeling, that whiff of coffee. It’s very calming.”

From her high school days onward, Hermie said she knew she wanted someday to have her own shop. As she learned more about coffee, particularly specialty coffees, her interest only grew.

When she was 21, she pursued that dream by moving to Boston, and spent eight years in the industry — at such Boston-area coffee chains as Thinking Cup and George Howell Coffee.

Jake grew up in Queens, where he drank deli coffee. Like Hermie, Jake didn’t get into specialty coffee until his early 20s.

“I’m the type of person who, when I’m interested in something, I go full on,” Jake said. “After college, I knew that I didn’t want to work in the office space. I knew that I would like to be a little bit more hands-on with my work.”

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hermie He, left, and Jake He sit in a corner booth at their new coffeehouse Loki Coffee in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.

He worked as a manager in a Boston coffee shop, which is where, he said, he fell in love with the craft of coffee. He worked for George Howell Coffee for seven years, and traveled to such places as Guatemala and Antigua, visiting farmers and understanding how beans would “go from crop to cup.”

Hermie and Jake met while working at the same coffee shop. They said they liked talking to each other, and eventually started dating — which is when they learned they shared the same dream and passion: To open their own shop.

They don’t call their visits to other shops “coffee dates” — Hermie referred to them as “research” — but they do like to try coffee together in every city they visit.

The Hes chose to move to Utah because of their shared love of the outdoors, and the ability to work and enjoy life, Jake said. It also made sense to start a business somewhere the density of coffee shops isn’t as strong as on the East Coast.

“[There’s] a lot of potential for growth out here, too,” Hermie said.

The name of their shop is tied to their relationship: Loki was a cat, their first pet together.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Patrons sit inside Loki Coffee in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.

Finding a roaster

With their combined experience, the Hes say they aim to make strategic choices — from the equipment to the menu — to give their customers, and their employees, the most unique experience possible.

“We kind of built the space to be a playground for the baristas,” Jake said about their equipment.

The menus vary, and include both daily drip, pour-over style, signature and seasonal blends, espresso and coffee-free drinks (such as matcha, chai, tea and hot chocolate). The food menu focuses on toast, but they’re working on broadening the options.

The pour-over menu — where the hot water is poured directly over the coffee grounds — is Hermie’s favorite, because “it’s a rotating pour-over menu, so it’s not going to be the same every time,” she said. “When you get it [to drink in the shop], you get the whole experience: The board, a double-wall cup and a little postcard that has more information about the coffee. I feel like that really elevates the experience of it.”

The Hes also are committed to partnering with other local businesses — such as getting their pastries from Tomodachi Bake Shoppe, The Dang Bakery and Bedlam Baking Co.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bags of coffee for sale are seen on shelves at Loki Coffee in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.

Loki also partners with Salt Lake City-based Idle Hands Roasting Company for coffee beans. Hermie said the couple discovered the company one night on Instagram, when the company was hosting a public cupping. They went to the event, and got to know the company — and realized their goals aligned.

“They’re a local roaster that focuses on single-sourcing all the beans, and having a direct relationship with the farmer,” Jake said. “[It’s] a mutually beneficial relationship, instead of going yourself to a third party and having them take the cut.”

The Hes, Jake said, want to make sure the coffee industry is sustainable in the long-term.

“We believe the more consumers are educated, the better the industry will be, because then they understand what makes a cup of coffee,” Jake said. “Why pay for a $5 cup of coffee when you can get it at a gas station for $1.99? What is the difference?”

Everything about coffee, he said, goes back to the farmers who grow the beans.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jake He, co-owner of Loki Coffee, pours milk into a latte at his new coffeehouse in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.

“If we’re willing to support and sustain that, then the farmer can have a valid living wage. They can continue to work on the farm that’s been passed on to them from their ancestors,” Jake said. “By focusing on quality over quantity, [we can] raise that awareness.”

Idle Hands — launched by three Australians who got together during the COVID-19 pandemic when their old employer’s U.S. operation shut down — works with producers all over the world, said co-founder Ricky Dyson. That includes growers in Colombia, El Salvador, Brazil and Ethiopia, and they work with an intermediary in Tanzania.

Dyson said when the Hes came to the company’s cupping, and then came back the next day to chat more, he saw their shared principles and values — particularly in their attitude about sustainability.

“It doesn’t take a big commitment for us to go that extra mile to find recyclable packaging or trading coffee,” Dyson said. “There’s a lot of things that people can do that don’t take a lot of effort, energy or expense.”

Dyson said it’s important to build up equity in the industry, from producer to barista — and partnering with Loki takes that idea downstream, from the barista to the customer.

“At the end of the day,” Hermie He said, “coffee is subjective. Some people have different palates … so coffee can be different for everyone. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the experience.”

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Patrons sit inside Loki Coffee in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.