Shop local: Aurora's Java Cup coffee shop needs instant jolt to stay up and running through February

AURORA, Colo. - Aurora's Java Cup needs an instant jolt if it's going to keep running through the end of the month.

"Basically I have ten days left," owner Chafiq Belcaid said Thursday.

His story is like countless others'.

-- American Dream

"I wanted to work for myself, not work for other people," said owner Chafiq Belcaid when I sat down with him. "I wanted to be my own boss."

"That's the American Dream, right?" I ask.

"For now it's a nightmare," Belcaid laughs. But the smile is only on his lips and not in his eyes.

I first went to Java Cup a few months back, after my husband mentioned there was never much of a line at the drive-through.

When I ask how long it's been open, Belcaid says "Twenty months." This is his baby.

-- A fight from the beginning

Java Cup's location is not ideal and the architecture is distinctly former-Taco Bell.

One block east of S. Chambers Rd. and E. Hamdpen Ave., the beige building easy to overlook. If you are driving west on Hampden, you pass a gas station and a Winchell's Donuts -- both open 24 hours a day. If you are heading east, it's on the wrong side of the street and not very noticeable.

Even Taco Bell, a company known nationwide, didn't survive there. The building was vacant for 7 or 8 years before Belcaid opened Java Cup.

"It was a mess. I spent a lot of money getting this business open," Belcaid tells me. "After I bought the furniture and the equipment I had no money left. It was a fight from the beginning."

Belcaid runs the shop without a single employee.

"When I opened I had seven employees. I couldn't keep them. I had to let them go," Belcaid tells me.

One of the three customers in the coffee shop gets up to clear her cup and napkins.

"You can just leave them there, I'll pick them up," Belcaid assures her.

"I do everything. I shop, I cook, I clean," Belcaid says. "I work 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Sunday, and I close at 4 p.m. on Saturday."

-- Hitting home

I ask an obvious question: How is the stress of trying to save the business impacting your personal life?

"I don’t' have a life!" he responds instantly. "I go home, basically to take shower, go to bed. That's it. Sometimes I want to see a doctor or dentist, but I have to close [the shop]."

"For one person, it's almost impossible to do this kind of work," Belcaid says. There is hopelessness in his voice.

-- Grassroots publicity

"Marketing people, they don't work for free," said Belcaid.

But he keeps looking for ways to spread the word about his shop.

"The Chamber Commerce, they have meetings every week, but I cannot go because I'd have to close [the shop]."

With no budget for advertising, Belcaid has relied on friends and favors.

The shop's Facebook page was started by an early employee.

"The website, a friend did it for me, just to help," Belcaid explains. "She didn't charge me anything."

-- House specials

Java Cup's menu offers a mix of local products, spiced drinks and breakfast items.

"The coffee is locally roasted here in Englewood," Belcaid says.

"The house blend tea is like a Moroccan tea," Belcaid tells me, hinting at his background. 

"I make my own my Chai tea," he adds proudly.

From experience I know there is also a soul-warming apple cider during the fall months and seasonal favorites like peppermint lattes during the holidays.

-- Customer reviews

A quick search reveals three Google reviews -- all with 5 stars.

"This place is so much better than it looks from the outside," Dora Blu posted. "If you are like me, you have driven past this place multiple times thinking it doesn't look that appealing. Don't let that stop you!"

Java Cup has 18 reviews on Yelp -- giving it a 4-star ranking.

The space is comfortable and homey, with plenty of room for group discussions.

"It's not a like a Starbucks where there are 5 or 6 chairs," Belcaid points out.

Teachers, aspiring authors, retirees and political groups have used Java Cup as a meeting place, Belcaid says, but it just doesn't get enough traffic.

-- The bottom line

"The rent is what is killing me," Belcaid tells me. It's $4,000 a month and he has only been paying half that amount for several months.

Belcaid estimates that he owes about $20,000 -- and says the shop is losing money every month.

"If you were here 2 or 3 months ago I would have said, come more often, bring your family, tell your friends," he says, never breaking eye-contact. "Now I don't know if anything can help."

A message posted on the Facebook page last week reveals the urgency:

"Dears customers, help Java Cup !!!
Your neighborhood coffee shop need[s] more support from you to stay open"

Now Belcaid is searching for any way to avoid shutting the doors.

"Java Cup is looking for a partner to boost sales, increase traffic and provide experience and marketing skills in the coffee business," another Facebook post reads. "Profit of sales will be shared on a percentage agreed upon for a set period of time."

"It's make-or-break within the next few days," Belcaid says. "Or this coffee shop is going to close."

-- Why Java Cup?

How is Chafiq Belcaid different from a thousand other small business owners?

He's not -- and that's the point. 

Saving Colorado's small companies may not require a drastic shift in how they do business -- but it will require a change in how consumers shop.