Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
Thirsty, COVID-wary customers won’t find apathy tucked away in a modern, outdoor-inspired corner of the brand-new RoKC climbing facility in the heart of Olathe — even if the world at large has shuttered and upended the business plans of Cory Stipp at their peak.
“That’s the scary part — closing before you even opened,” said Stipp, founder of Apogee — a new coffee shop and draft concept that was set to open just as Stay at Home orders went into effect across the metro.
A product of Stipp’s exit from Quay Coffee in 2019, nearly every cent he earned from the sale of the River Market-based coffee shop sits in the newly constructed cafe space attached to RoKC.
Click here to check out Apogee’s current curbside menu, which features pizza, craft cocktails, beer to go, and cookies.
“Some days were harder than others. Some days I’d come down here, pour myself a drink and sit on the patio and just think, ‘Man, I need this place to open,’” he said.
And though the last two months have brought their fair share of bad days, the community still found a way to rally around Apogee — even though they knew little about it, Stipp said.
“Honestly, I didn’t know how to respond. I probably froze a little bit,” he said, explaining the challenges of a pivot to curbside service during a time when Apogee needs to be building brand awareness.
“I was planning on opening the door and doing a pizza party for senior groups and classes and stuff like that — then the schools and everything else closed down. I was like, ‘Well shoot, there goes that way to connect and build some name recognition.’”
With shattered plans and furloughed employees, Stipp remained optimistic and slowly but surely, the power of social media got customers as close to the doors of Apogee as social distancing would allow them, he said.
“I went and bought some bottles, made some labels and started to do our cocktails, a little mystery six pack of beer to go, pizza and cookies,” he said, noting inventory became a challenge because Apogee donated much of its stock to its staff and Crossroads Community Kitchen at the start of the pandemic.
Click here to read more about Chef Howard Hanna’s transition of The Rieger to Crossroads Community Kitchen.
As the Kansas City area begins its phased reopening, Stipp is hopeful even more customers will embrace the atmosphere and offerings of Apogee — which aims to bring a touch of the downtown Kansas City culture to the suburbs.
“I think what we’ve got here is so different and unique,” he said, specifically noting the convenience of and opportunities that come with being joined with RoKC. “There’s also not a lot of craft beer places in this specific area and [we’re] providing something completely different with draft cocktails. I think those are opportunities in themselves.”
With lattes and craft cocktails like the Alpine Breeze — gin, vodka, vermouth, sherry and citrus — Apogee is ready to welcome its first round of customers who will get the full experience Stipp spent two years envisioning alongside partners at RoKC.
Click here to read about RoKC co-founder Andrew Potter’s COVID-19-inspired People Count app, which tracks the number of customers in a business in real time.
“When we do open up, we’ll be wearing our masks. … I’ve already got the table set up with six feet separation,” Stipp said.
All that’s missing now is an official opening date, Stipp added.
“We’re trying to look at what next week looks like. I know RoKC is going to be opening up their doors to a certain percentage of people and so we may do some sort of in house dining. … We’re just trying to navigate waters that I’ve never seen or anticipated being in,” he said.
Click here to place a curbside order at Apogee.