Will the COVID-19 pandemic permanently change coffee culture in San Antonio?

'We built so much culture and community in San Antonio through the cafes,' owner says

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Whether you prefer a flavored latte or a pour-over, there are seemingly endless options to satisfy your caffeine craving around San Antonio. Over the past decade, several new coffee shops and trucks have opened around the Alamo City, feeding a growing interest in specialty coffee and coffee culture.

But the appeal of coffee shops isn’t just the beverage. It’s also about the community aspect. The complimentary WiFi and easy access to caffeine have become a major draw for both professionals in need of a place to work and friends looking for a spot to hang out. Now local coffee company owners fear the COVID-19 pandemic will do permanent damage to that business model.

Robby Grubbs, the owner of Local Coffee, says he thinks it will be a long time before people feel comfortable in a dining room setting. He worries about the vulnerability of places like coffee shops in a time when people are being asked to keep physically distant from others.

“Eleven years into this, and we built so much culture and community in San Antonio through the cafes and our spaces,” Grubbs said. “And now all of the sudden, I don’t know.”

Local Coffee has pivoted to a to-go model. Even on a good day, the shop is bringing in 50% of the business it once did.

Local Coffee is just one of several locally owned coffee shops dealing with the uncertainty brought on by this pandemic. But amid the uncertainty, some coffee business owners say they’ve been blown away by the support they’ve received from their customers.

“It’s not as busy as it was, but people are showing up,” said Shotgun House Roasters owner Eddie Laughlin. “I think people are learning now, more than ever, that it’s important to support these local institutions that you’ve grown to love.”

Jason Tantaros, the owner of Gold Coffee Company, was concerned that his cafe would lose some of its appeal when it began limiting service to to-go only. But his loyal customers continue showing up. He thinks that Gold has helped them keep some sense of normalcy during these weird times.

“It meant a lot that they were able to get this small thing,” Tantaros said. “They could get out of their house and come and be greeted by someone with a mask and get a cup of coffee.”

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