While coffee and gourmet food are the main attractions, the most noticeable attribute of Rapid City's newest downtown coffee shop is a big blue Volkswagon bus that sits front and center inside the shop.
The blue bus (fondly referred to by employees as the “Oakswagon”) is an apropos amenity in the new shop called Harriet & Oak, since the shop is located in the Dean Building, a refurbished former Chevy dealership and what was also the former Tire Muffler and Alignment store.
The "Harriet" half of the name is from co-owner Aaron Neiman’s grandmother, and "Oak" refers to, well, an oak tree.
“Harriet represents the café side of our business, and the oak represents the roaster side,” said Neiman, referring to the fact the shop roasts its own coffee beans.
Harriet & Oak opened at 329 Main St. in Rapid City on Jan. 30. Neiman, 43, owns the shop along with his wife Tina, 42. The couple lives in Spearfish, where Tina is a full-time mother to their four children ranging in age from 7 to 16, in addition to working on bookkeeping.
The shop has an industrial, or steampunk vibe, and has retained many of the construction and infrastructure elements that stem from its former use. The building was renovated by the owners of the Numad Group, a consulting firm that has its headquarters across the street to the west in The Garage office space. Other parts of the remodeled building house a baby boutique, offices for a media company, and a few small apartments.
“The Numad Group was trying to fill this space, and they wanted a coffee shop in it,” said Neiman. “We came in with pink sidewalk chalk and sketched out a floor plan.” The building dates back to 1929, and the Neimans crafted every table in the facility from the ceiling timbers, and a second floor seating area creates a nook for noshing.
They also decided on the menu, which includes a full range of espresso drinks and cafe items such as sandwiches, breakfast burritos, scones, muffins, breads and pies. The shop — which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner — serves homemade waffles on Wednesdays and on weekends, and it makes its own pop tarts in flavors such as Nutella, raspberry and apricot. Wine and beer are also available.
“We have a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, along with some gluten-free and paleo foods, like paleo pumpkin bread,” said Neiman. “Everything is made from scratch.”
The Neimans have copious experience in the coffee business. They own the Green Bean Coffeehouses in Belle Fourche and Spearfish, along with Blackbird Espresso in Spearfish. They also own the 8th Avenue Bakery in Belle Fourche, where they fry donuts.
This is the first time the Neimans have roasted their own coffee, and they consider it a learning experience. Jaralei Tufte, who used to roast for Bully Blends, serves as Harriet & Oak’s head roaster, bringing years of experience of her own.
Harriet & Oak is located in the redevelopment area known as "East of Fifth" in Rapid City, an area that is expanding to include more coffee shops, trendy housing and live music venues. Neiman said he has already hosted live music at Harriet & Oak and plans to offer more live music nights in the future.
He also plans to expand the café’s menu to include items like meat and cheese trays, fresh fruit plates, and baguettes in the evenings.
“We hope Harriet & Oak will serve as a gathering place for the community,” said Neiman. “We want to offer an environment where people feel connected, and where they feel like they matter to us — because they do.”
“I love the atmosphere at Harriet & Oak,” said Desiree De Vries, of Rapid City. “It’s great to take my computer and work there. I especially love the couches upstairs. The music choices are good overall, and as a health coach, I absolutely adore that they have gluten-free and paleo options. I hope they’ll have even more in the future on their lunch menu.”
Karen Buxcel of Rapid City said she enjoyed the upstairs area while having a delicious pot of ginger tea with a friend. “It seems to be a popular spot, as every seat was taken up there. I loved their floors and tables. It was very warm and inviting.”