By FRED KRONER
Will Newton was a creative writing major at the University of Illinois, working at a Champaign pre-school.
His roommate, Grant Garland, was also a creative writing major who was managing a local coffee shop.
Coffee wasn’t Newton’s go-to drink, but the 2007 Mahomet-Seymour graduate realized the need for an early-morning energy boost.
“Working with kids, I needed to wake up,” Newton said.
He got creative in his ventures, pouring coffee over ice to get a beverage he could take with him.
That led the roommates to conversations about coffee, experiments with assorted ideas and, finally, a business plan.
In March, 2017, they debuted Nitrocup, a cold-brewed coffee that is infused with nitrogen.
“We slow-brew our coffee so it’s not bitter at all,” Newton said. “It takes out a lot of the acidity.”
The process of infusing it with nitrogen, after it’s in beer kegs, he said, “thickens it and gives it a creamy, smooth rich taste.”
Newton is a believer.
“It’s pretty much the only coffee I’ll drink,” he said.
They work out of a rental facility in Savoy and have learned a key component to their success is simply devoting time to the project.
“Our process is old-school,” Newton said. “We infuse it and wait at least 10 days,
“When we say slow-brewed, we mean it.”
A musician at M-S — who is still in a band, Tried and True — Newton credits a high school class he took for helping him realize the coffee concept could became reality.
“I had Nic (DiFilippo) for econ class and that was a huge influence,” Newton said. “It was my first introduction to the entrepreneurial life.”
Each fall, DiFilippo’s high school students divide into teams for a cookie competition. They select a name for their company, determine menu offerings and raise money to buy the ingredients needed to make and sell their goods.
For Newton and Garland, their first public display was at the weekly Saturday Market at the Square, in downtown Urbana, last summer.
“We started with two (three-gallon) kegs,” Newton said.
They routinely sold out and have gradually expanded. Now they come with at least a dozen kegs of coffee per week.
Small cups (12 ounces) from Nitrocup sell for $3.60 and the pint sizes sell for $4.50.
Their goal is not elaborate.
“Our mission is to get coffee into people’ hands as fast as we can,” Newton said.
It has been very much a learn-as-they-go experience.
“Initially, I had no idea what was going on,” Newton said. “We played around until we had a formula we really liked. A year later, we’ve come up with a good product that is liked by people who love coffee and people who don’t.
“For as much work as it is, it is genuinely a lot of fun. It has become a part of our life culture.”
They have made some tweaks, but are resistant in other areas.
“People will ask about sugar and cream,” Newton said, “but that will change the drink.
“We say to try it without the bells and whistles. The nitro cuts the bitterness people are trying to mask. We have one product.”
Though both Newton and Garland are now married to supportive wives — and have different full-time jobs — they hope expansion is in their future.
“If we want to continue, we have to grow,” Newton said. “We’d like to make it a full-time thing. We hope to start canning it and getting it in stories for people to take home, but canning nitro is tough.
“We’re thinking about a truck, which allows us to be out five days a week, or a rig with the ability to can. The best-case scenario is that we do both.”
Newton works full-time at the UI, located in the English Building, as part of an application development team. He is also in the MBA program.
He misses being around the pre-schoolers, but doesn’t regret moving on.
“I needed a change,” Newton said. “I wanted to try my hand at something I’d never done.”
And now, he and Garland are receiving a hand from others, many of whom they didn’t previously know until they walked up to the Nitrocup ‘storefront,’ an adult-sized tricycle equipped with beer (coffee) taps.
“I feel like about half of the people (who are customers) have never tried it before,” Newton said. “We’re hard-pressed for inventory. We sell out every week.
“We have to figure out how to do it more efficiently and faster.”
No better time to ponder the future than over a cup of coffee.