Winning Coffee at risk of closure

The front of Winning Coffee in the Bricklight District on Central Avenue / Shelby Coen

Winning Coffee, located near the University of New Mexico in the Bricklight District, isn’t your usual grab-and-go coffee shop.

When you enter Winning, there are two white fridges to the left of the register, and the ice cubes used for cold drinks are scooped from a portable cooler one uses for camping.

You’ll see customers walk in, with a cup from home, to get a drink at a discounted price. Most who enter Winning are regular customers that see one another, daily.

It’s a friendly environment, one that Chris Jacobsen, Winning Coffee’s owner, said he prides his shop on.

“Our customers are one of our greatest assets,” Jacobsen said.

But this shop is now facing challenging times due to a combination of factors, including recent construction and an influx of non-local shops in the neighborhood. Those factors are now squeezing at the throat of Winning Coffee — and they may have drastic consequences.

Jacobsen, who’s been involved with the company since 1999, said he isn’t a “pessimist” when it comes to the state of Winning Coffee. He said he knows the positive impact the shop has had on customers and its devoted employees.

“Our roaster has been with us since the 90s,” he said. But he also said he knows that, as his business model is currently constructed, it isn’t suited to take on the flow of 2019.

Jacobsen said he  tried to make Winning Coffee a co-op a couple of years ago, and it wasn’t feasible, so that plan was shattered.

Jacobsen said the long build-out, and long-stalled Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART)  project hasn’t helped. The inception of new, non-local options for coffee and food such as the new Starbucks that opened along Central Ave. just a couple blocks east of Winning Coffee have contributed to the decline in its numbers.

“The neighborhood is less vibrant, and I believe that ART is a factor in reducing the traffic flow of the area,” Jacobsen said. “Additionally there is no longer a left turn from Central.”  

Inside the doors of Winning Coffee, two white fridges line the side of the register / Shelby Coen

He said the total execution of ART displayed a “lack of concern for local businesses” and in the thick of Art construction in 2017, “that’s when the business started to decline.”

Of course, as he said, it’s all his opinion. Jacobsen noted that since becoming the full-time owner again in 2017, Winning Coffee has lost 10 to 15 percent in sales each year.

Currently, Winning Coffee has opted to shorten its hours to reduce costs. Jacobsen admitted that the business has made him no money, instead, he’s been filtering in money of his own to keep Winning Coffee afloat.

The challenges of operating a business in a time of upheaval, without a record of profit since 2017 have been difficult, Jacobsen said. His plan is to retire out of the coffee business if he is able to find a buyer who, as he said, is able to maintain the employees and the business — and to make it more profitable.

Jacobsen understands how modern times call for modern measures — such as promoting the business online on social media. It’s not that he hasn’t done it before—he called it expensive and ineffective, for him at least—but he’s said he is looking for a buyer to take over Winning, that has all the modern tools to succeed.

Winning has been a go-to spot for students and artists in the area, as it offers affordable drink and food options and a place to hang out. The coffee shop offers open mics, poetry nights, art openings and affordable art markets.

Matthew Jacobsen, Chris’ son, has been roasting coffee for Winning since 1999; in the shop, in fact, just around the corner to the left in the dining area. As the shop has been in fear of shutting down in recent time, he asked customers to write down their story about the coffee shop.

More than 50 letters have been written to Chris and Winning Coffee, many of whom said they’ve been customers for years — some over a decade.

In one letter from a customer named Mitchell, it read: “I’ve been a customer for over 10 years. This place is a creative crossroads, a cultural laboratory, (and) and inclusive social gathering spot… Love this place. Please don’t go!”

In another letter from a customer, Steven Hether, they wrote about how devastated they would be if Winning Coffee shuts down.

“I’ve been coming to Winning Coffee for many years. For me, it is much more than just a place for coffee. It is really a community gathering place. I would be devastated were it to close. I’m not exaggerating,” the letter read.

Jacobsen has yet to read the letters, as he said it has been too hard for him to do so.

Matthew Narvaiz is a reporter for NM News Port, he can be contacted on Twitter @matt_narvaiz.

Shelby Coen is a reporter for NM News Port, they can be contacted on Twitter @desert_youth.