Coffee and conversation define the day for Shanah Cureton, who now serves up both from her trailer, Lucid Bean Coffee, located outside the Oklahoma Memorial Union.
Some mornings are better than others as restocking products and getting ice for the copious amount of smoothies and iced coffees soon to be made can slow the arrival of one of the only java huts on campus.
“It always makes me feel a little rushed to get set up when I see a line waiting, but seeing people waiting for my coffee makes the job all the more worth it,” said Shanah, owner and operator of Lucid Bean Coffee.
Shanah’s love of coffee is grounded in her upbringing in the Pacific Northwest, and it provided the motivation for her and her husband, Sean, to invest in and remodel an on-the-go coffee trailer.
“I couldn’t find any coffee I really enjoyed so we decided to do some research on local roasters, different flavors (and) different equipment and went for it,” Shanah said. “I come from Washington state and we have really good coffee. In Oklahoma you see snow cone stands everywhere; in Washington, it’s coffee shops.”
The search for good coffee beans led the Curetons to local roasters and other small businesses making it in the beverage game.
“We support a lot of local people where I came from. They deserve to be supported just like me, a small business supporting another small business,” Shanah said.
Before the dream of starting a business became a reality, Shanah spent time at her office job. While at Accel at Crystal Park — a nursing and rehabilitation healthcare home in Oklahoma City — provided a steady paycheck, it did not provide fulfillment and it was beginning to feel like time for a change.
“I sat at a desk, so I had a lot of time to think. I just wanted something more,” Shanah said. “If it makes you both scared and excited, you should go for it.”
Soon thereafter, the couple bought a used food trailer and got to work. It took about a year for Sean — an engineer serving in the Navy who doubles as business partner and fellow barista — to get the trailer transitioned from grill station to a coffee haven.
“The wiring in it was really bad, none of the water system was set up to do anything we needed,” Sean said. “Rewiring, replumbing, adding shelves, redoing a gas line; pretty much reworked everything. We’ve got it set up for coffee and it works great now.”
After the hard work and renovation, Lucid Bean Coffee’s wheels began to roll part-time in 2019. The idea was to start finding locations to set up and hopefully serve up a cup of coffee good enough to get a return customer or two.
“It started off we didn’t know what we would be doing, where we would go or how we would set up at places. It was very much trial and error and at first it was slow,” Sean said.
But that doubt wouldn’t last. Sean remembered one of the first successful days of setting up, operating and making praiseworthy coffee in the trailer.
“Scissortail Park. It’s downtown where all the people are, and we kept getting compliments after compliments," Sean said. “Our kids were out running around the park and it was just an awesome day.”
For Shanah, the compliments and success boils down to the coffee.
“I’m trying to pull the right shot every time, so our coffee is consistent, sweeter and not so bitter. There’s a science to coffee,” Shanah said. “And I think we’ve done a good job with it because people keep coming back and some of our very first customers have become some of our great friends.”
As time passed and business continued to grow for Lucid Bean, the allure of making it a full-time operation was there. But the pandemic changed things.
With an offer from OU to park the trailer on campus during the week, the chance to leave a tiresome job and start a new full-time venture revealed itself.
“My wife wanted to do it full time since we opened,” says Sean. “It was scary at first, but we had the opportunity to make the jump and she has really enjoyed it. She loves serving coffee and talking to people.”
It was a big decision for the Curetons when Shanah left her job — and steady paycheck — to focus on the coffee trailer. It was also a relief for her to get out of an increasingly difficult environment, a home for recuperating elderly patients.
As the pandemic continued to gain speed through the spring and into the summer, Accel at Crystal Park was no exception as cases started to pop up around the facility.
“It was terrifying,” Shanah said. “We didn’t have cases for a long time, and we stopped taking visitors. But then it was two cases, then it was seven, then 11.”
Shanah bounced between office manager and social services positions before eventually being tasked with hiring and staffing the building. The nursing staff she had helped put together and worked alongside were fighting a worsening pandemic.
As patients were uprooted from their rooms and placed in quarantine, Shanah helped.
“I remember I helped a lady move back onto the bed after she had fallen,” Shanah said. “I didn’t have a mask on. She didn’t have a mask on. Thankfully I tested negative. I was shaking. I was terrified, but as time went on we got used to it.”
Shanah and one of her co-workers, Malachi Smith, both recounted the emotional toll of being the only conduit between patients and their families as in-person communication became more and more impossible.
“The worst is that the people in there, and especially the long-term care, don’t get to see or touch their family. We’re all they have,” Shanah said. “Watching people talk to each other through the window was absolutely heartbreaking.”
Smith, an administrator and admissions director at Accel Crystal Park, said it was helpful to have a strong work family there through the daily struggle.
“I would say it was trying, even as far as depressing, just because we see the patients every day and they can’t see their families,” Smith said. “It was a tearjerker. If it wasn’t for our work family, we wouldn’t make it through all this.”
Like so many others in the medical field, the strain started getting to Shanah and her mental health. She said she needed some semblance of normalcy in a world where even entering her home or going to the grocery store was a hassle.
“We told the kids they couldn’t hug or kiss me for a while,” Shanah said.
Now, Shanah says she loves the work she does as she searches for just the right teaspoon to make the trailer’s specialty drink, a Lucid Latte.
“It’s a lot to keep up with, we might work there 6–8 hours," Sean said, "but it takes both of us managing it, ordering, restocking and there’s always equipment maintenance."
But for now, the idea is to strike while the iron — or coffee pot — is hot and take advantage of a good location and good customers.
“We don’t know what will happen when Starbucks comes back, but we knew going in this wasn’t going to be a permanent gig, and it has been so good, really amazing for us,” Shanah said.
The constant flow of coffee and conversation has made the uncertainty a little less relevant.
“People keep coming in and it’s a steady flow. It’s really awesome, I really appreciate it,” Shanah said. “Seeing the same people every day, it’s a compliment because it makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”