“It’s really about the experience, and the coffee just adds to it.”
That’s the vision George Butiri has for his soon-to-open Wickliffe coffee shop Couchland.
The business is co-founded alongside fellow Orange County, California, transplant, Courtney Porter. The two realized shortly after meeting in 2017 how well they complement each other’s strengths.
“I come from the technology world. I needed someone who had a more creative view on things, because I’m more technical. That’s where the two of us got together,” Butiri jokes while sitting beside Porter. “We kind of realized early on that if we worked together we could take over the world.”
The pair had several successful business projects vying for attention, but a chance encounter with a strong cup of coffee that reminded Butiri of his childhood proved Couchland’s catalyst.
“Growing up in Europe, my parents would always have me taste their coffee,” he recalled. “They’re coffee was really good, even as a kid. When we moved (to America) the store-bought stuff just wasn’t up to standards.”
It wasn’t until Stumptown Coffee from Portland, Oregon, was brought into an agency where Butiri worked that he tasted those familiar flavors of his childhood.
“When I tasted it, it brought me back to my childhood,” he said. “I said it that day, ‘if I ever open a coffee shop, I’m going to carry Stumptown.’ There’s really no other brand that’s as good.”
Butiri and Porter have remained true to their testimony, going so far as traveling to New York to undergo barista training coordinated through Stumptown. Couchland will exclusively be serving that coffee when they open in early May.
“We may be the only place in all of Northeast Ohio that will be offering Stumptown,” Porter said.
“We want to be known as a place that has good quality coffee,” he said.
The attention to detail doesn’t stop with their coffee. Couchland’s decor and atmosphere seek to be stylish and inviting while still owing to a DIY approach that saw Butiri and Porter construct much of the interior including tables, floors, bookcases, walls, signs, and more by hand.
“There are places that feel there is too much vibe going on,” Butiri said. “They may have a couch or two, but we wanted to offer a lounge experience. We want to give you a level of comfort with your coffee. We don’t want to rush you out the door.”
He chuckles at the potential contradiction that their drive-thru poses.
“Well, it’s certainly not a couch, but it’s going to be a nice bonus for customers,” he said.
“Couchland” owes its name from a similarly named employee lounge Butiri once worked at.
“It was a very relaxed atmosphere,” he said. “I’ve always loved the idea of having that relaxing feeling whenever you’re doing anything. One of the most relaxing places, as we all know, is a couch.”
“I wasn’t sold on the name at first,” Porter remarked, but Butiri said it grew on her.
While the grand opening is their primary focus, the two are already anticipating incorporating live music, open mic performances, and poetry readings to further the ambiance.
Couchland will also feature an in-shop library which will be housed upon handmade bookcases.
Butiri and Porter traveled the country looking for the right backyard in which to establish Couchland before landing in Wickliffe. They initially planned to open in Stumptown’s backyard of Portland before realizing how saturated the local market was.
The two then traveled across the country, returning to Orange County, California, to try their luck. After finding nothing “except for high prices and small places,” the two traded the coasts for some Midwest real estate.
They came close to securing a location in Cleveland Heights as well as Solon, but ultimately landed in Lake County after finding a location that was already set up as a coffee shop.
“This place almost seemed to good to be true,” Butiri reflects.
It’s an arrangement that the city is excited about as well. Wickliffe Mayor John Barbish’s own mother will be selling homemade cupcakes at Couchland, following a positive introduction the pair made a recent City Council meeting.
Wickliffe may not prove the final destination for Butiri and Porter.
“We’ve talked about possible expansion down the road if this one takes off, but first we need to see if this can be a brand,” Butiri said. “Within six months to a year we may not yet have the funds for a second shop, but we could be in the planning phase by then. If we do well here, there’s always the possibility.”
Porter tempers this ambition by underlining their desire to maintain a friends-and-family-owned operation whose central focus is to provide quality coffee in a comfortable environment.
“We want to keep it in the family, in the friend-zone,” she said. “We’re not looking to franchise or go public.”