New coffee shop seeks to have something for all in downtown Rockford


ROCKFORD — From live events to soul music and pancakes, Velvet Robot Coffee Lab is looking to redefine what it means to be a coffee shop. Justin Carner, owner and operator of Velvet Robot Coffee Lab, gained popularity last summer participating in the Rockford City Market and secured a location in the indoor City Market at 116 N. Main St on Jan. 8. The space is still being remodeled, but once it’s completed, Carner hopes that his place is welcoming to a diverse group of people, whether or not they happen to be coffee connoisseurs. “Our inclusiveness, I think, is big, so having a coffee shop that’s more geared toward anybody is important,” Carner said. “We’re going to have frappuccino-type of drinks and smoothies and all that stuff. But we’re also going to have traditional cappuccinos and do all those things very well, too. But just to have a menu that you know if you come in and don’t know what you’re ordering, we’re not going to make you feel like a duck.” One of the main differences between the Velvet Robot and other coffee shops is the full food menu. The ability to offer customers more than just coffee is part of that inclusiveness that he is looking to bring to downtown Rockford. Growing up the son of a chef, Carner wanted to make sure that his coffee shop offered more than just pastries. “I think people are looking for a place to go that they can kind of get everything, you know. And if they bring their kids, they can get everything for them,” he said. Expanding on what a coffee menu looks like is just the start of reshaping coffee lovers’ experience. “We’re going to do these things on Saturdays called Soul Pancakes Parties. We’re going to play soul music on a vinyl player and have real grandmas handing out pancakes, and it’s going to be $7.99. So it’s going to be fun. We don’t look at this just like coffee.” Velvet Robot also has a shop in Chattanooga, Tenn., but that one doesn’t include a full food menu. The opening of this new location gives Carner the opportunity to come back home and be part of the growth that downtown is experiencing. “To do it in your hometown is special. I kind of feel like LeBron when he had to go to Miami to learn to win. I had to go to Chattanooga to learn how to do it right and then come back and bring it with me,” he said. Velvet Robot Coffee Lab is pushing to open in March but has not yet decided on an official opening date.

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