by Brian Kalish
Starting a small business of any kind is a risky proposition. Starting a coffee shop on the East Side, a neighborhood dominated by heavyweights like Alterra and Starbucks, seems fatalistic. However, newcomer Roast Inc., located just south of the UWM campus on the corner of Locust and Maryland Streets, is poised to emerge as one of the neighborhood’s premiere destinations for coffee lovers. Owner Ryan Mason, 25, acknowledges that starting a coffee shop in the East Side’s competitive market is a risk, yet he believes his business can thrive by targeting an underserved population. “It’s all about location,” Mason says. “Obviously there are a lot of students here, and UWM doesn’t really have a coffee shop.” Roast Inc. will no doubt benefit from its proximity to the university and the area’s abundant student population. Mason is also optimistic about the fact that the shop is highly visible to motorist and pedestrian traffic, hemmed in by two of the campus area’s busiest streets. Once patrons make the initial visit, Roast Inc.’s carefully designed interior will keep them coming back. Mason maximized the building’s existing features, including large windows and genuine cream city brick. He managed to balance the building’s charm with industrial-modern touches: stylish lighting, silver ceiling fans, and exposed ductwork. There is ample seating, generous amounts of natural light, candles atop each table, and background music played at a reasonable volume. The walls display samples of local artists’ work, which will rotate monthly. With such amenities, Roast Inc. is an ideal place for students to study or just unwind with friends. And because it conveys a slightly upscale feel, it figures to attract customers from outside the campus who are looking for a comfortable spot to enjoy a great cup of coffee. Says Mason, who opened Roast Inc. February 3, “We’ve experienced a lot of success in the first month… people have already come in from the surrounding residential community, so it’s not just students.” Roast Inc. offers patrons all of the usual caffeinated staples. Mason notes that espresso drinks are its specialty. One of the more intriguing espresso drinks, appropriately dubbed “The Keith Richards,” appears to be the coffee house equivalent of weapons-grade plutonium. It consists of four espresso shots, brewed coffee, and chocolate. Those less inclined to pump high octane coffee into their blood stream won’t be disappointed. Bottled water, Sprecher Root Beer, and an assortment of other sodas are available, as are bakery items. Roast Inc. is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Roast is a smoke-free establishment.