Wake up in Steamboat with locally roasted beans and the best coffee shop in town

Coffee beans are spun by arms in the cooling tray of the coffee roaster, named Hank after Hank Williams, which is located in the back of Big Iron Coffee Co.'s west Steamboat Springs location.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

With mist clinging to the Yampa River and the sun rising over Steamboat Resort, there’s no better way to start a day than with a cup of coffee. Caffeine seekers can stock up on locally roasted beans to enjoy a brew at home, or go to a shop to sip a cup of joe in good company. 

Big Iron Coffee Co. is the perfect mix of both, offering two locations to get locally-roasted coffee in Steamboat Springs. Big Iron is the only coffee roaster in Steamboat that also has a shop, and the only coffee shop that serves its own coffee.

Five years ago, Big Iron was well, less big. Owners Bowen and Nina Rodkey roasted coffee out of a small space at Downhill Plaza starting in November 2017.

The Rodkey’s wanted to brew single origin light roast coffee with as few degrees of separation between the people growing the fruit and the finished product in Steamboat. The plan was to sell it online and maybe gain some local accounts. 

The couple soon started serving coffee to the few people who knew about their not-exactly-secret-but-not-heavily-advertised location. 

“We called it the hidden espresso bar. If you knew, you knew,” Bowen said. 

Bowen said he has long been a “nerd” about the creative process behind the things we love to drink, like beer and whiskey. He said his best job ever was working as a barista at a coffee shop through college, so when he and Nina were plotting to leave Washington and find a place to live and a way to spend their life, roasting coffee flew to the top of the list.

It’s an early morning run for Bowen and Nina Rodkey as they watch the computer that monitors how the coffee beans are coming along at the roasting facility located behind the Big Iron Coffee Co. location on the west side of Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

While roasting on the west end of town, Bowen managed Steamboat Coffee House at Old Town Square at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue. The owner approached Bowen one day asking if he and Nina were interested in purchasing the business. The Rodkeys said absolutely.

A couple weeks later, they reopened as Big Iron Coffee, almost exactly a year after starting business.

“That was a big turning point for us,” Bowen said. 

2022 Best of the Boat Results

Best Coffee Roaster
Big Iron Coffee Co.
Seedhouse Coffee
Steamboat Coffee Roasters

Best Coffee Shop
Beard & Braid
Dusky Grouse Coffee
Big Iron Coffee Co.

Once they started serving coffee to more people, the Rodkeys learned the public wanted blends and dark roast coffee. While he’s not against dark roast coffee, Bowen feels it doesn’t carry flavor as well and it wasn’t what he initially wanted to create. However, in the interest of area coffee drinkers, he made a dark roast that people seem to really enjoy.

He also found a middle ground, which proved to be the perfect combination of what Bowen wanted to roast and what people wanted to drink. 

“We made a blend, Stampede, the lightest dark blend that I was still interested in drinking,” he said. “That has, amazingly, become our most popular coffee by several degrees.”

Bowen said he was happy to check his ego at the door when people were telling him what they wanted even if it didn’t line up with what he wanted. 

Bowen Rodkey, who owns Big Iron Coffee Co. with his wife Nina, scoops fresh beans as he prepares for the roasting process.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

While he is a self-proclaimed nerd that could go on about the details of growing, processing and roasting coffee for hours, he tries to prevent coffee snobbery as often as possible. 

He said he recently enjoyed a fresh cup of 7/11 coffee during a 3 a.m. drive from Denver. 

But still, the details of good “fancy” coffee is what he loves and wants to share with Steamboat in whatever way people are receptive. 

“At the end of the day, making people’s days better is our mission,” Bowen said. “If we do that through nerdy coffee or through dark roast made with lots of love, that works for us too.” 

With so much support and expansion, Big Iron has reached a critical mass. The Rodkeys are anticipating getting a larger roaster to double or even quadruple the amount of coffee produced, but that can’t happen until they find a bigger space to roast out of. Right now, they are in a back room at the west end location they share with Drink Kombucha in which they store beans, roast, package and more. It’s a tight fit for a business that is not only bursting at the seams with demand, but desires to expand. 

A few newer aspects of the business are producing coffee pods for single cup coffee makers, potentially for hotels. Big Iron is also beginning to can cold brew.

“We’re hoping that is going to get us into some places like Storm Peak or The Barley or some bars,” Bowen said. “I know there’s a big nonalcoholic movement these days, which is awesome. Sometimes folks don’t want coffee at 9 o’clock at night, but sometimes they do.”

In the meantime, the Rodkeys will continue doing their best to keep up with wholesale and providing coffee at two locations in Steamboat Springs, which have become Bowen’s pride and joy, even if they weren’t in the original Big Iron blueprint. 

“We’ve developed a really strong community bond, which is awesome,” he said. “And that was not really our intention at first to have that retail outlet where we were face-to-face with people everyday.”

A space to sit and sip

Among a growing number of cafes and coffee shops in Steamboat Springs, Beard & Braid was voted the No. 1 coffee shop in Steamboat less than a year after opening its doors. 

The storefront on Ninth Street has massive windows that allow light to spill into the large seating area. The space to sit and sip for a few hours is just one thing that makes Beard & Braid stick out from some of the smaller shops in town. 

“When people want to go to a coffee shop, a lot of times they want to sit down and that’s not always available here. It’s nice knowing there will be a spot instead of wondering are we going to go there and have to leave? Especially in the winter. That’s something that would stress me out.”

Owner Jess Lindstrom and front-of-house manager Ethan Martin opened Beard & Braid in February and have been humbled and overjoyed to be welcomed and loved by the community. 

The heart and soul of Beard & Braid, though, is the atmosphere.

Jess Lindstrom, owner of Beard & Braid, and Ethan Martin, the front of house manager, stand together inside the renovated space, which will opened to the public in February 2022. Beard & Braid sells coffee, beer, wine and baked goods in a relaxing space.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The coffee is delicious, the staff is exceptionally friendly and the house-made pastries are so popular they are known to sell out by mid-morning. 

“We have a really strong coffee program,” said Lindstrom. “We’re really lucky to work with Sweet Bloom, the coffee we serve out of Lakewood. I make a lot of the pastries in house. Also the space and that you can sit down. I think we wanted to make a space people wanted to come to and that our employees wanted to be at and is fun to be at. I think for the most part, we’re hitting that mark, but there’s always room to grow.”

Already, Beard & Braid is starting to grow, debuting a small retail section with coffee filters and other items.

“Expanding is scary. It’s something we flirt with,” Lindstrom said. “What are small ways we can expand? We just started the retail section where we sell filters and stuff. Soon we’ll have coffee canisters with our branding on it.”

While they would love to continue to grow in small and big ways, Beard & Braid has had to scale back a bit due to staffing issues. 

The shop was initially open until 5 p.m., but not long after opening shifted to close at 3 p.m. Now, Beard & Braid closes at 1 p.m.

“We’d love to be open until three again, that’s what we’re shooting for,” Lindstrom said. “It’s just really hard right now.”

This was originally published in the 2022 Best of the Boat magazine.

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