Hugo Cano, a chef and coffee-bar connoisseur from California, always loved “the idea of inhabiting old spaces.” That’s why he jumped at the chance to buy the unassuming 1930s gas station at the corner of College and Fletcher avenues, a once-abandoned structure that had the perfect broken-in feel for his Amberson Coffee & Grocer. He signed the lease two weeks before the citywide coronavirus shutdown and moved in with his Indianapolis long-distance girlfriend of three years, taking a leap of faith on a singular passion, a life full of coffee.
He began as a Starbucks barista in college. A five-year-stint in Mexico (where Cano’s family is from) helped him gain newfound appreciation for the ways in which coffee creates community. “Coffee bars there stay open until 10 p.m. because, well, it’s a culture of its own,” he says.
The vibe at Amberson is close to what he had hoped to create—an interactive bean-to-bar espresso experience—though the pandemic forced him to remove indoor seating and function as a carryout-only business for coffees and sustainable, local groceries like breads from Leviathan Bakehouse and 4 Birds Bakery, meats from Smoking Goose, and dairy from Tulip Tree Creamery.
He attributes the vision to his mentor and best friend, Zayde Naquib of Bar Nine in Culver City, California, whose beans he sells in the shop. In fact, Naquib gave Cano the idea for Amberson’s unique Mason jar program. Coffee is served in reusable glass jars, and customers can bring their jars back to get 25 cents off their next jar of coffee.
The shop features minority-owned brands (like North Carolina’s Black & White Coffee Roasters), as well as a monthly guest roaster and in-house bakes like Cano’s Quarantine Banana Bread, an ode to his own desperate deep-dive into baking. But the star of the show will always be the coffee. Try a date-vanilla latte with housemade rice-macadamia milk and date-vanilla syrup, and pair it with the honeycomb ricotta toast. 401 S. College Ave.