Visitors are greeted by the neon blue light that reads “Open,” the good-natured size of the building on the corner of West 5th Avenue and Blair Boulevard and the many plants surrounding the interior with all sorts of green hues. Then, there are the windows that don’t box in, but instead welcome those from the outside and the smell of coffee and pastries that can be smelled from at least two blocks down. The noise of the Whiteaker neighborhood comes in and out from all forks and bends of the road. The baristas make the place feel bigger as they serve you. The owners, Jane Espirian and Alex Newton, have a chemistry. The Glass House, or Glass House Coffee Bar, is a cozy spot not to be overlooked: a place that feels warm and familiar, a place to have your morning fix.
The story begins with Steve Mertz, owner of Tacovore, a restaurant next to Glass House serving specialty tacos and mixed tequila drinks. Before pandemic times, Mertz was the owner of Glass House Coffee — running both businesses from the ground up and managing a team of waiters and baristas for close to seven years. However, once COVID-19 cases started to appear and rules were implemented, Mertz closed The Glass House for about eight months.
In comes Jane Espirian, who, in the summer of 2016, was a college graduate from LA and traveled up to visit a friend in Eugene. Before she knew it, a year went by, and she’s now invested in the “Emerald City” and made the move up to Eugene. She worked as a barista in the downtown area of Eugene. In spring of 2019, she began to work for Mertz at the Glass House.
Around the same time comes Alex Newton, who moved to Eugene from Houston, Texas, and the two begin a professional relationship that will put them on the threshold of the coffee business in Eugene. “We have an eerie balance of strengths and weaknesses,” Espirian said about Newton.
Because of the pandemic and the Glass House being temporarily closed, Espirian heard Mertz was considering shutting down the Glass House all together and leasing the building to another business. After much consideration, Espirian and Newton decided to get the LCC rights to Glass House Coffee. Having worked together close to six years and knowing the business for almost a decade, they took a chance and moved forward. They kept the place intact and brought in new ideas to the kitchen that may have helped Glass House run during those uncertain times.
“We didn’t know what to expect… you don’t know how much something is considered essential, and we learned pretty quickly that coffee is essential, even through COVID,” Espirian said. She said people want socialization in a time where that’s difficult to attain, and they provide a service for both workers and customers.
With six baristas working the shop and four bakers running the line, these two entrepreneurs have brought out the chisels for the future of coffee makers. They buy their coffee from Radiant Coffee Roasters, a one-man operation Newton runs in Portland, and purchase coffee beans from farmers around the world. Espirian and her team of bakers start from scratch making in-house pastries every morning, alongside soups and dishes that fit well for any season.
This dynamic team connects incredibly with the generation of educators, artists and community influencers they serve coffee to. The Whiteaker neighborhood, which is not in the main part of Eugene, is still a central and important location of the city. It serves as a middle part of the town that brings in people from other parts of Eugene. There is Head Start of Lane County just past the train tracks, local businesses like Ninkasi Brewery or Slice Pizzeria all in the area.
When I first walked in, I was greeted by barista Evelyn Tedrick, who made me a special drink of her choice. “This is going to test me as a barista,” Tedrick said as she fumbled the words and crafted the hot drink. In the end, a work of art is made: a pumpkin latte with cardamom, caramel and a splash of milk. With this drink, I bid a farewell ode to coffee until we meet again.
Coffees range from pumpkin spiced lattes to traditional cappuccinos, eight to 16 ounces, and all cost about $2.50 to $3.50; it’s an incredibly reasonable price. Not to mention this month’s special of Butternut Squash soup, which pairs well with the autumn season. Biscuits and gravy with vegan and meat options, quiches, bagels and a lot of other delicious items are just a few of the treats that Espirian and her team come up with.
Glass House coffee, open from 7 a.m.-4 p.m., is a place that’s not only here to stay, but to remind us that from small places comes something much bigger.