The loud hum of the Columbia Street Roastery roasting machine fills the room as wafts of freshly roasted coffee quietly perfume the air. Josh Lucas, a 29-year-old bespectacled, tattooed, and bearded delivery driver and occasional roaster for Columbia, silently stands at the counter opposite the machine and weighs out coffee to taste. The coffee, from Dark Matter Coffee, a small-batch roaster in Chicago, is one of a few varieties he will offer at the coffee shop he is opening in Urbana later this year.
His coffee shop, Flying Machine, will be located at 208 W. Main Street in the old Busey building in Urbana. The café will be sharing a location with Pizza M and will be a small, cozy spot, hopefully featuring bar stools at the coffee bar for a more intimate experience.
The menu at Flying Machine will be small and simple as well, devoid of a lot of the items most people are used to at a café, such as blended coffee drinks. Instead, Lucas will be offering fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies, specialty ice tea and juice drinks, house-made chai, some fresh takes on espresso drinks, and hand-crafted coffee.
The coffee beans will be sourced from various places, but the majority of Flying Machine’s coffee will come from Columbia Street Roastery and Dark Matter Coffee. Dark Matter Coffee will be used for the espresso and most of the hand-crafted coffee drinks, while Columbia Street Roastery will be sourced for the drip coffee and teas the café will serve. Many of the other roasteries that will supply Flying Machine’s coffee also maintain close relationships with the farmers that grow the beans.
The name of the café draws from myriad influences:
I was sitting around thinking … and came across some Da Vinci sketches online. One is just titled ‘flying machine,’ and it just felt right. I love flight, birds, planes, just the whole idea, so it stuck. The idea for the café itself is a mix of things I have learned from the different places I have worked.
Born and raised in Homer, Ill., Lucas moved to Champaign in 2003 and made a connection with the community here, which is what eventually brought him back to Champaign:
I found a great family in C-U the time I lived here through working at Merry Ann’s Diner and The Great Impasta. I also had the pleasure of playing music with some great people. It was a wonderful way to spend my early twenties. And all that time, there were people I looked up to, people I thought, ‘Wow, they are doing something good here. I would like to be that person someday.’
Lucas, after working in kitchens and playing music in the Champaign scene for several years, decided to move north to Chicago in 2007 to go to culinary school. But, he found the negative environment that often accompanies kitchens was not where he wanted to spend his time:
It turns out that Hell’s Kitchen is a real place and I never really fell in line with the self-perpetuating idea that a chef treats their kitchen like shit ‘because that’s what my chef did.’ I love to cook, I’m even pretty good at it, but I want to be happy, too, so I left school and started working for some friends who had just bought a café … called Star Lounge Coffee Bar, and that’s where it all fell into place.
After finding his niche in the city and working at other cafés for a while, Lucas also became involved in Star Lounge’s roasting side project, Dark Matter Coffee. Coffee, for Lucas, was a nice middle ground for the cook in him because it allowed him to still use his taste buds and continue learning. But, Champaign continued to beckon and Lucas moved back south eight months ago:
I always wanted to come back here and do something. I just really like the closeness this community has and I want to contribute to it. This is a hard thing to put my finger on. It’s around a third nostalgia, a third family, and a third ambition.
In addition to just providing coffee for the community, Lucas hopes to get involved with after-school programs and early-childhood health education through donations. He also recognizes the powerful potential of a simple cup of coffee that is often overlooked:
It’s an important social connection that could not happen otherwise. Some of the most important people in my life were met in one place or another over coffee and through those people, experiences, life, and learning. Then all of a sudden I was who I am today, and am very grateful. If I have the chance to provide that for others, it becomes my obligation, really. I owe it to the world to repay in kind what was provided to me along the way. And I hope people like the coffee, too.
For more information on Flying Machine, visit their Indiegogo page. His fundraiser ends today, May 20.