How a Utah coffee shop got its start, as an espresso bar on a sidecar motorcycle

Tyler Anderson and one of his sons started Urban Sailor Coffee, and three other sons work for the business.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Urban Sailor Coffee in The Post District, on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

The Salt Lake City specialty coffee shop Urban Sailor Coffee is truly a family business — with five members of the same family working there.

Tyler Anderson and his son Archer co-founded the company. Archer’s older brother, Levi, is the head roaster, and their younger brothers, Canon and Burton, are baristas at the cafe’s locations at, respectively, 1327 E. 2100 South (across the street from Sugar House Park) and 570 S. 300 West (in the Post District).

Starting a coffee shop had been on Tyler Anderson’s mind as far back as about 2007, he said, when he created a Pinterest board full of ideas for a future cafe. And he’s had a passion for coffee even longer, as someone who would frequent coffee shops in his travels, he said.

But Tyler didn’t seriously consider starting a coffee shop until the pandemic, when Archer was furloughed from his job and moved back in with his dad. The two brainstormed ideas and came up with the plan to start a coffee business.

They wanted something mobile that could travel to events. Tyler had seen an espresso machine on a sidecar motorcycle in Portland, Oregon, and that inspired father and son to do something similar.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Burton, Archer, Tyler and Levi, and Canon Anderson, at Urban Sailor Coffee in Sugarhouse, on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

They bought a sidecar motorcycle and built it out, adding walnut countertops and a small handwashing sink, as required by the health department. The sidecar was filled with all of the pumps and water tanks they needed to make the mobile espresso setup work. Archer would ride the motorcycle to different locations, followed by a support vehicle, which would carry the espresso machine, grinder and other equipment.

“We launched it in May of 2021 with our first event, and it was pretty quickly a success,” Tyler Anderson said. “We got asked to do a whole bunch of other events that spring and summer.”

In 2021, Archer often rode the motorcycle coffee bar to Liberty Heights Fresh, where a lot of people discovered Urban Sailor Coffee, he said. The next year, they would frequent the Downtown Farmers Market. They even put the motorcycle on a trailer and towed it to serve concertgoers at a music festival in Montana.

Now, Urban Sailor Coffee employs 10 people beyond the Anderson family, and half of them have been there for more than two years.

‘Canada’s greatest stuntman’

Last year, Urban Sailor Coffee got their name out there in a big way, thanks to two videos they posted on Instagram.

In 2022, Urban Sailor Coffee was invited to serve coffee from their motorcycle espresso bar in Moab. That’s where AMC’s motorcycle-centric TV show “Ride With Norman Reedus” was filming the premiere of its sixth season, with the host, Reedus (one of the stars of “The Walking Dead”), and fellow actor Keanu Reeves.

In the red-rock desert, Archer and Tyler Anderson had a surprise for Reeves. Along with their espresso machine, they brought a replica of the Canadian motorcycle-riding Duke Caboom toy, based on the character Reeves voiced in the movie “Toy Story 4.”

Reeves’ reaction to seeing the toy on the coffee cart is priceless: He excitedly picks up the toy and, after making Duke do a backflip, he turns to face the camera and says (in the character’s voice): “Canada’s greatest stuntman, Duke Caboom.”

A friend got the whole exchange on video, as well as a moment where Reeves holds up his cup of coffee and says “Urban Sailor Coffee” before tapping it against Norman Reedus’ cup.

When the episode of “Ride With Norman Reedus” came out in 2023 and Urban Sailor Coffee was finally allowed to post the videos, both went viral. The video with the Duke Caboom toy got about 5.5 million plays and almost half a million likes on Instagram, Tyler Anderson said.

In the caption for the Reedus video — which has been played just under 2 million times and is still getting views — Urban Sailor Coffee wrote, “This has become the absolute highlight of the year for our humble coffee business!”

Visitors to Urban Sailor Coffee’s Sugar House location can see the Duke Caboom toy that Reeves played with — and later signed — on a shelf behind the register.

Creating a ‘gathering spot’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Urban Sailor Coffee in Sugar House, on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

Urban Sailor Coffee’s Sugar House cafe, which has been open since December 2021, is an inviting haunt that’s perfect for enjoying some coffee and a treat on a rainy day.

In his neighborhood above Westminster University, Tyler Anderson said, “I just felt like there wasn’t what I was looking for in a coffee shop close to me,” so he and his son Archer created one.

Tyler Anderson said he purposefully chose a location without a drive-thru, even though so many coffee places have them.

“Whether it’s Dutch Bros or a Starbucks, they’ve kind of gotten away from some of their sit-down coffee shops and put up a lot more just drive-thru coffee shops, and just trying to pump through more drinks,” he said. “I really wanted to get back to more of a traditional sit-down coffee shop, where it was kind of a gathering spot for the neighborhood.”

The walls, painted dark green, contrast coolly against the warm leather couches and chairs, as well as the wood of the bar and tables. The south side of the cafe is made up of windows, so natural light streams in.

Anderson said he wanted the cafe to have a vibe that’s “moody” but “cozy,” with ceramic cups and good-tasting coffee. “It was like trying to create that experience where I could approach more of the connoisseurs of coffee that appreciate that kind of stuff,” while still being accessible, he said.

In mid-2022, Urban Sailor Coffee bought a roastery, and now they roast all their coffee out of the back of Mountain West Cider in Salt Lake City’s Marmalade neighborhood.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Urban Sailor Coffee in Sugar House, on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

Roasting is where Levi Anderson gets to showcase his talents, Tyler Anderson said. “He’s a very analytical person. And he gets into all the roast profiles, and it’s very data driven,” Tyler said.

The two of them roast together, and as they work, Tyler tastes everything, fine-tuning the flavors. “We’ve landed on some blends that people really seem to love,” he said.

In addition to ordering Urban Sailor Coffee’s single-origin coffees and blends from UrbanSailorCoffee.com, customers can now also find their coffee at Liberty Heights Fresh.

Urban Sailor Coffee opened their second cafe in the Post District in 2023. Sharing space with the leasing office, the Post District location is where Urban Sailor Coffee’s motorcycle espresso bar is parked when it’s not being taken to events.

Tyler Anderson said the community that has formed around Urban Sailor Coffee is “not something I thought was going to be important to me, but it’s become more important to me than probably anything.”

In the beginning, it was all about the coffee, he said. But now, “my passion now is shifting to the fact that I’ve been able to do this with my four sons and spend a whole lot of quality time with them.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tyler Anderson helps a customer, at Urban Sailor Coffee in Sugar House, on Thursday, April 18, 2024.