KEARNEY — The space that now houses Kitt’s Coffee Bar and Calico Coffee Co. is a far cry from how business partners Andrew Brackett and Brock Arehart found it.
The pair bought the one-story building at 110 E. North Railroad St. in 2010 with hopes of opening a cafe in downtown Kearney.
“That was part of my bucket list,” said Arehart, who grew up with an interest in food and a love of watching the cooks at diner bars; particularly, at the now closed Hamburger Inn in Holdrege.
“We also recognized that the food in the kitchen wasn’t necessarily going to pay all the bills,” Brackett said. “So we looked for other elements that we could incorporate into the business that we thought would be a solid element to make the business thrive and do well in the community, which is how the coffee element came to be.”
However, the structure was going to need a lot of work before it came even close to their vision.
The building was built in 1920 and originally was inhabited by a company run by Joseph Pierce. The Pierce Hide and Produce Co. sold wholesale dairy products and animal hides. Since then, it’s housed many other businesses and organizations, including Brown Transfer Co. and even the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce.
But when Arehart and Brackett took over the building, the facility was made up of office spaces.
All of the ceilings had been lowered to an eight-foot drop tile ceiling with fluorescent lights, and there were no windows except for three in the front area. Everything else, Brackett explained, was covered by old, tin siding and window openings had been closed up with either cinder blocks or two-by-four construction walls with insulation.
Arehart and Brackett, however, were determined to transform the facility into the cafe they’d wanted for years. Both had experience renovating historic houses and were ready to meet the challenge.
“The appraiser said that this business would always be best-suited just for office space,” Arehart said. “And that was a challenge for me to do something different with it other than office space.”
The pair started construction in September 2014 and completed it in December 2016. They currently are working to add a kitchen and eventually plan to build an outdoor seating balcony. Once the kitchen opens, customers can expect to find some typical Midwestern comfort food as well as dishes with international influences.
Today, the one-story coffee shop boasts high ceilings, wood flooring and a plethora of windows.
Both owners wanted to infuse different styles to create the aesthetic they wanted.
“We decided to just wipe it out, take it back to its bare bones and re-imagine it (and) revision it into what it could be,” Arehart said.
Arehart saved sanctuary lights from Pleasant View Christian Church near Wilcox, which closed in June 2014, where he attended as he grew up. The fixtures now hang over the coffee bar where customers can order their caffeine fix. One of the wood walls and parts of the bar space was reclaimed material from the original floor that still was in good condition. Different design features also pay homage to the railroad that runs just to the south of the business.
Getting here, however, was a greater task than either of the owners had imagined.
The two would start with a project with a price in mind, but as they got further into it, they found costs were much higher than they anticipated.
“If you got a quote to do something to an improvement for an old building and somebody tells you it’s going to cost you $75,000 to complete what you want to do — double that and probably triple that and that might be what it really winds up costing you,” Arehart said.
“Every estimate we got, the bids came back in much higher than what we had anticipated or the work ended up costing more or we would find surprises,” Brackett said.
Originally, they intended to refinish the floors and preserve them but when they got down to the hardwood, they discovered it was rotten.
“So we couldn’t re-salvage the floors that were in here and reuse them,” Brackett said. “So we had to make the decision to put new flooring in. Of course, we replaced it with exactly what was here before — three quarter-inch solid wood flooring — and put everything back aesthetically the way that it was originally. We just had to replace it with new.”
Unfortunately, once they tore out the hardwood floors, they found that the sub-floor was bad as well and had to replace it. Once they tore the sub-flooring out, they were able to see into the basement and that several of the trusses and boards down there were broken. They then had to go into the basement and structurally reinforce the structure.
“(It’s) just things like that, that turn into a monumental task,” Brackett said.
To help with the costs Brackett and Arehart have been able to take advantage of a $20,000 facade grant with the city and a second $20,000 Community Development Block Grant, which is funded through the state.