Resting high atop a custom built shelf in the middle of States Coffee & Mercantile is a framed piece of art bestowing the information, “work hard and be nice to people. ” in the event you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Keith Gehrke, the owner of States, you’d understand how accurately this easy screen-printed pronouncement summarizes him and all his many endeavors.
While Gehrke’s restart in coffee is quite long, he’s probably best known for his firm Able Brewing. Able, just one of several coffee brands based by Gehrke, is responsible for creating the reusable Kone and Disc filters offering a paperless process of brewing pour-over and Aeropress coffee, along with other original accessories. Since leaving the Pacific Northwest and returning home to the East Bay a few years ago, Gehrke has worked even harder by consulting his personal projects. Last year he helped set up a roasting program for the prior Local 123 cafe (now owned by Highwire Coffee) and then proceeded to start his own mail order coffee subscription called Pony Brand Coffee, while the programs for States Coffee took shape.
The former post office in downtown Martinez, California had been undergoing renovation for the last 5-years before it had been chosen by Gehrke to become home for this latest project. The history of this space is unique enough on its own, but it also symbolizes one of those virtues reinforced by lots of Gehrke’s business decisions–that everything he sells is made in the U.S.A.
The space, once utilized to link the residents of the East Bay city through its own postal service, was reborn as a community hub where the neighbors, old and young, were stopping by to congratulate Gehrke on his first week of business. Just like everything Gehrke creates, he has a way of making them approachable. From the flavor profile of the States-branded coffee, roasted exclusively for the shop by Gehrke, to the minimum aesthetic one may find on the pages of Kinfolk magazine. Within the distance, a balance is maintained that adds heat to simplicity and offers quality without pretension. While a place like this would thrive in Portland or Brooklyn, it’s been created with such care that a smaller town like Martinez will surely adopt this new addition to town with as much enthusiasm.
The shelving, coffee bar, and redwood furniture was custom made by a James Mackessy at Boulder Creek, outside of Santa Cruz, while the round standing-height table has been designed and built by Sean Woolsey in Costa Mesa–insuring most of the qualities of space were constructed in California. The coffee bar itself is filled with custom details to maximize its purpose and even doubles as a fully mobile cart that may be moved from its place in the front of the space and keep functioning with its onboard water tanks.
At the middle of the space, piled to the ceiling on custom shelving, is a curated selection of products covering a range needs and wants and all of them made in the United States. You’ll find everything on the wall out of skateboards, soaps, flasks, blankets and candles to a choice of ceramic cups and coffee brewing gear. The mercantile side of States provides Gehrke a way to supplement the income from a coffee shop that won’t ever be as higher volume as one in a major city. The clients of States Coffee also have a great place to come and purchase American-made housewares and unique hand-crafted gifts.
There are very few places I visit where I instantly want it to be my neighborhood shop, but States Coffee definitely makes that list. This spot represents an assemblage of Gehrke’s passions, values and work ethic all in one location, with additional highlights of inspiration picked-up elsewhere. Before I left, Gehrke offered me one of the non-caffeinated drinks, a bottle of house-made fizzy hibiscus tea. It was absolutely delicious and unashamedly inspired by the fizzy hoppy tea served at G&B Coffee in L.A.
After handing me a freshly opened bottle of the glowing red concoction, Gehrke clarified how the best coffee experience he had during a recent trip to Los Angeles. Was that glass of tea and it had lingered on his head ever since. He wanted to create something similar, along with his other house-made syrups, that would provide a non-caffeinated alternative showcasing the same focus on taste and quality as the java. The entire store is a showcase of quality with an atmosphere of classic American hospitality. Not only has Gehrke succeeded in the job he set out to do, but he was incredibly nice on the way.
States Coffee & Mercantile
609 Ward St
Martinez, CA 94553