No one was happy to hear about the abrupt closure of Caffè Sole at the tail end of last year. Since opening in 1994, the South Boulder coffee house served as an important center where locals could leisurely enjoy a cup, listen to some live music and have a third space to work, study or simply lounge. It was a revered institution.
Tyler Porritt, a Boulder local and owner of neighboring Abo’s Pizza South, was not going to take the closure lying down. So when former Caffè Sole barista and recent Ukrainian emigre Alex Simutkin proposed opening a coffee truck to fill the void, the two hatched a plan that quickly turned into Abo’s Coffee Bar.
Porritt invited Simutkin to open up shop in the front section of the pizza parlor’s large dining room. It took Simutkin, who had previously owned a woodworking business in Kyiv, six days to hand-construct the elegant bar that now serves a full selection of espresso drinks alongside fresh pastries made by his wife, Lena Simutkina. It opened for business on Dec. 20, serving the same Boxcar Coffee sold at Caffè Sole.
“The coffee literally hasn’t changed,” says Porritt. “I’ve been saying for years that there is no Abo’s Pizza without Caffè Sole.” Boxcar Coffee is set to take over the Caffè Sole space as early as March of this year.
Abo’s is also an institution. The first one was opened on The Hill by Steve Abo in 1977. There are currently 10 Abo’s locations with nine independent owners across the Front Range. Porritt became the proprietor of Abo’s South around three and a half years ago, after working at the location since 2010. During his early days slinging pies, he also coached baseball for the Boulder High team. It’s clear that much of what Porritt does is still underpinned by a desire to lend a hand to people from all walks of life. “Pizza’s my medium to do the other things. To be part of the community, to help people,” he says. “A lot of that goes back to coaching.”
In addition to assembling pies, making deliveries and being present in the dining room, Porritt puts his money where his mouth is for both local and international communities in need. After the Marshall Fire, he began collecting donations and giving food to survivors. He started the program after a regular suggested it and offered up a sizable starting contribution. Porritt says the location managed to give away roughly $10,000 worth of free food over the course of a two-month period. This is on top of the regular Tuesday night fundraisers Abo’s South hosts for local elementary schools in which 10% of sales are donated to Mesa, Creekside, Bear Mountain and Community Montessori schools. Each school gets a night every month throughout the duration of the school year.
Porritt and Simutkin plan to donate 22% of all profits from Abo’s Coffee Bar directly to Ukrainian families.
Simutkin was born in Russia and moved to Kyiv when he was three years old. As an adult he spent 10 years bartending across Moscow, Kyiv, Malta and Italy before returning to the Ukrainian capital to open Handmade Espresso Bar. Over the course of six years, Simutkin expanded the business into four locations across the city. In the summer of 2020, he shut down the shops, opting to open a woodworking studio. “Ninety percent of my orders were made for restaurants and coffee shops,” he says, noting that during his time he had become well acquainted with the growing dining scene. He arrived in Boulder on June 15 of last year, fleeing the war to meet his brother who already lived in town. He says he was considering moving to Canada before the April announcement of the Uniting for Ukraine program convinced him to move stateside. Within 10 days of arriving, he was pouring at Caffè Sole.
Currently, Simutkin is the sole operator, serving coffee seven days a week beginning each morning at 6:30. He says more than half of Caffè Sole’s regulars have already started turning up at Abo’s. He and Porritt only plan to keep the project running until Boxcar opens next door.
Simutkina’s pastries are one of the place’s biggest draws. The daily selection features a rotating cast of cookies, cinnamon rolls, muffins and cakes that draw on traditional Ukrainian styles, but made sweeter, Sumtkin says, to line up with the American palate. The strudel is not to be missed.
On the pizza side of things, Abo’s is set to offer a few new menu items, including a green chile pizza featuring either pork or veggie Casa Alvarez Chile Verde, a product from the line of home goods that continues the tradition established by the much-touted and now-closed eatery of the same name. To complement the coffee, breakfast pies with bacon and eggs are also set to join the roster in the coming weeks.