The RiNo neighborhood just welcomed a new addition to its coffee scene; Lekker Coffee opened in the former Hotbox Roasters space at 3460 Larimer Street on October 1. Mother and daughter Dawn Kaprielian and Kara Finkelstein take the name RiNo seriously: Their cafe seeks to raise awareness about endangered rhinoceroses, a cause to which they donate 10 percent of all their coffee shop's sales.
In 2017, Finkelstein quit her corporate job to travel around Europe, but ended her trip with a six-week stint in South Africa. While there, she volunteered with the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, an organization that rescues baby rhinos whose mothers have been poached. After returning to Denver, she moved with her husband to RiNo and felt it serendipitous that her new neighborhood shared a name with the creatures she'd just spent time learning about and caring for. She saw an opportunity to teach others about the five rhinoceros species, three of which are endangered.
When her mother joined Finkelstein in Denver, the two got to work on their plan to open a cafe. Influenced by her time in South Africa, Finkelstein chose to name it Lekker, an Afrikaans slang term meaning "pleasing" or "enjoyable."
"This is something that my mom and I have been working on for two and a half years," says Finkelstein of the shop. Although Kaprielian formerly owned and operated a bar that had been in the family since the 1930s, they ultimately chose to do coffee. "We're morning people," explains Finkelstein. "We love getting up early and being the first people our customers see."
They've since decided to go for a liquor license. "Mom's itching to get back to serving cocktails," says Finkelstein. They hope to add a happy hour or morning cocktails like Irish coffee to the menu. Until then, Kaprielian's creativity is going toward a few unique coffee beverages such as horchata-infused cold brew and a stress-free latte made with immunity-supporting adaptogenic mushrooms.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the pair signed the lease in August. "We've been in this mindset for so long [that] we're going to do it," says Finkelstein. Without the overhead of paying employees for now and a good deal on the lease, she and her mother decided that now was the time to take their chance.
Lekker serves Novo Coffee, which is roasted just four blocks away, and pastries from Black Box Bakery. Before supplying the coffee, Novo helped the two women practice their barista skills "[Novo was] so supportive throughout the whole process," says Finkelstein. "They said, 'Hey we're family-run, you're family-run, come to these classes and let us teach you.'"
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Finkelstein and Kaprielian updated Lekker's interior with a new bar surround and a mural to brighten up the space and make it feel more homey, but few other changes were needed since it was already designed as a coffee shop. And because of social distancing regulations, they didn't need to purchase additional furniture. "When we started bringing stuff in [from our storage unit], we realized we didn't actually need to buy anything," Finkelstein says.
The result is a cheery mix of mismatched, eclectic decor, with tables spaced at least six feet apart. There's also a TV that displays videos of the baby rhino rescue so that customers know what they're supporting while sipping coffee.
Finkelstein and Kaprielian can be found at Lekker Coffee from 6:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. seven days a week. For details, call 720-833-1423 or visit the cafe's website.