“Who doesn’t love a biscuit?” Seth Rubin asks as he reflects on his fledgling biscuit business, opened in January 2010 in Denver, Colorado. “I grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina,” he says, “and I grew up eating biscuits.” After living in Denver for several years, he realized that there was really no place in Denver to experience a proper Southern biscuit. In January of 2010, Rubin opened Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Café with the intent that it would be the neighborhood coffee shop, but also the Denver destination for the city’s best biscuit.
Outside Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Cafe
Rise & Shine gets back to the basics of traditional Southern cooking, pared down to a single, delicious menu item: biscuits. Rubin and his team offer tasty biscuits with honey, jam, or even eggs and breakfast meats. Additionally, Rubin has created a menu of special biscuit sandwiches, which include the Hatteras, a biscuit cinnamon roll; the Charlotte, inspired by the BLT; and the Chapel Hill—fried chicken in a biscuit—named after his own hometown. Rise & Shine also serves a selection of coffee and teas.
Rubin didn’t always know he wanted to go into the restaurant business. After a few months of unemployment in 2009, the idea for a biscuit kitchen and coffee shop began brewing. One of the first people Rubin consulted was a friend and fellow cyclist, Mike Miller, owner of neighborhood pizza joint Basil Doc’s Pizza. Rubin predicated that Miller, who had 20 years of experience under his belt, would immediately list the reasons to avoid the restaurant business altogether. “I told him the idea, knowing he had twenty years in the restaurant business and would surely talk me out of it,” Rubin says. Instead, Miller encouraged Rubin. He offered one of his own take-out pizza locations, a shop that went unused until 4:30 PM daily when it opened for business.
Rubin considered the offer, discovering that the neighborhood offered no other coffee shops or grab’n’go concepts for over a mile in every direction. The start-up costs would be minimal, considering that the commercial kitchen and a good part of the necessary equipment were already in place at Basil Doc’s. Rubin and Miller made the deal; Rubin would pay Miller rent for the space and run his biscuit business from 7:00 AM (8:00 AM on weekends) to 2:00 PM each day, closing shop long before Basil Doc’s opened for the evening.
Rubin’s situation is unique, but it allowed him a rare opportunity. “Start up was about as low as it can get for a new restaurant,” says Rubin. “It works well from having the equipment there already and not having to incur the cost of building a commercial kitchen. That would have scared me away,” he admits. What’s more, he says that he cannot ask for more in a landlord, since Miller has acted as somewhat of a mentor to Rubin from the start.
'A proper Southern biscuit has five ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder, butter, buttermilk, and that's it. That's the recipe we use at Rise & Shine.'
Rise & Shine shares a commercial refrigerator, convection oven, prep areas and a range with the Basil Doc’s, and that alone cut out a large portion of Rubin’s start-up costs. Coffee equipment made up the majority of Rubin’s equipment purchases. By scouring local and national sales ads, he was able to locate his espresso machine, coffee grinder and coffee makers, all of which are smartly spruced up and making quality coffee each morning. “So far, so good,” he says as he knocks on a wooden armchair. Rubin uses Pablo's coffee in his shop, and even sells it by the pound for customers who want to brew at home. In addition to the coffee equipment, he purchased comfy furniture for the lobby and decorated the walls with a new paint job, thanks to help from willing family members. Every two months he will display art from local artists to make the space even more inviting.
Rise & Shine's lobby and service counter
There are other benefits to sharing the location. Rubin and Miller are able to work together to market their concepts, which helps Rise & Shine get their name out, and helps refresh awareness of the neighborhood pizza place. Many Basil Doc’s customers have already become Rise & Shine customers, which offers Rubin a budding customer base without too much effort just yet. Fliers for Rise & Shine are taped to every Basil Doc’s pizza box, familiarizing customers with the new biscuit concept right in their own neighborhood.
Another advantage was the employee base already in place at Basil Doc’s. Although Rubin hired employees on his own, he found that some of the Basil Doc’s employees were available and willing to help. “Basil Doc’s has a good employee base already, and some of those guys were looking for additional hours. They know their way around a kitchen, especially this kitchen because they’ve worked in it before. They understand what needs to be done in the kitchen, and although biscuit dough is a little bit different than pizza dough, they’ve picked it up pretty quickly.”
When it comes to biscuits, Rubin hopes to create biscuits that remind him of his youth in Chapel Hill. He makes biscuits the traditional Southern way. “A proper Southern biscuit has five ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder, butter, buttermilk, and that’s it. That’s the recipe we use at Rise & Shine.” Although there is nothing fancy about his base recipe, one of the ways Rubin makes his biscuits unique is his “biscuit of the day” promotion. “Everything with the biscuit of the day has been the opportunity to stray from tradition and have some fun,” he says. “I did a taco seasoning biscuit one day just to see what would happen. We’ve done fruit biscuits, and the beer biscuit has been really successful and a lot of fun.” Rubin’s creativity and drive coupled with the traditional goodness of a down-home, Southern-style biscuit adds fun and creativity his concept.
'Expect the unexpected. Something can always go wrong and you can't let that ruin your day. You have to adjust and adapt, and make the most of it...make sure your customers are happy. That's what it's all about.'
One of the biggest roadblocks for Rubin was planning for daily production needs. “The first challenge was not knowing what to expect, or what the flow would be throughout the day.” He wanted to be efficient in the kitchen so that he would be able to spend time serving and talking with customers in the front of the house. Baking enough biscuits for rushes and keeping them fresh during the lulls required some practice. Since opening day, he has figured out a feasible baking schedule, as well as how to maintain quality and freshness on a batch of biscuits for up to an hour. This allows Rubin the chance to anticipate a rush, yet still have time to chat with his clientele when they come in to place and order.
Fresh biscuits resting on a stainless steel kitchen table
At Rise & Shine, Rubin bakes biscuits in batches. A single batch produces about four flaky biscuits, and he has been able to produce what he calls a “quad-batch,” which makes 16 biscuits. That’s about the limit, though, when it comes to biscuit production. “Any more than that, and it becomes too cumbersome to mix,” says Rubin, who steers clear of commercial mixing technology in favor of his own two hands. “I refuse to do anything but make biscuits by hand. If you overwork the dough, you end up with flat biscuits that have a uniform texture throughout, versus having a flaky layered biscuit, which is what I’m used to and what I’m shooting for.”
No matter how prepared you are, however, there is always potential for something to take a turn for the worse. Rubin has dealt with finicky equipment, has run out of product and even fielded customer complaints, but he is learning to adjust to negative situations that come his way. His advice? Be prepared. “Expect the unexpected. Something can always go wrong, and you can’t let that ruin your day. You have to adjust and adapt, and make the most of it, even if it means you’re giving away product,” he says. “Make sure your customers are happy. That’s what it’s all about.” Rubin has seen his team of baristas and bakers improve daily, already adjusting to increased customer traffic of up to one hundred orders in a day.
In all, Rubin’s best experiences so far have revolved around his clientele. “The most fun has been meeting the customers and getting to know the neighborhood,” he says. “It’s very easy to engage people in conversation while they’re waiting for a biscuit or while they’re waiting for a coffee drink. People have been intrigued by the story, especially the space sharing aspect.” Rubin has noticed repeat business already, a big step for only being open for a month and a half. “I’ve got a lot of cool regulars already, and a lot of people who have been supportive from day one, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know them. This is better than any other job, even though I work so many more hours.” For Rubin, there will continue to be 80-hour work weeks and moments of uncertainty, but it’s all part of learning the ropes of running a food service operation. The part of him that finds joy in talking to people and sharing his biscuits remains at the heart of his operation, and that’s what really shines about Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Café.