The idea for Scr3am & Sugar came to Johnson during COVID. In addition to watching a lot of scary movies, she spent much of quarantine contemplating what she wanted to do with her life when the pandemic ended. She’d worked in a variety of positions in the retail and service industries, but “it always boiled down to that coffee culture,” she says. “It’s serviced-based, but I loved the daytimes, hanging out in a coffeehouse and how that feels different than a bar or restaurant.”
She decided to chase that warm, fuzzy feeling by opening her own coffee shop — but because it was pandemic times, Johnson’s first business idea was an outdoor pop-up concept.
One piece of advice she received was to let the business represent her. “I went back and forth on how to make it stand out — it’s different in that it’s mobile, but my personality is a strange mix of things, so it was difficult to try to figure out branding and how to portray myself in a business,” she says. A mentor through the SBA mentorship program asked her what she does with her free time, to which she replied, “All I’m doing is staying at home and watching scary movies every day.” Thus the horror-themed coffee shop concept was born.
The child of two theater fans, Johnson grew up watching horror films. “My dad would tell me about the special-effects makeup and how costuming and makeup works in theater and film, and that took a lot of the scariness away for me,” she recalls.
A self-proclaimed fan of “dumb puns,” she paired the two when building out her brand and her specialty menu. Many of her drinks play on words and reference horror books and movies, like the Reinmatcha, a blend of matcha green tea powder, oat milk, honey and lavender syrup; or Something Wicked, made with ube syrup, coconut and oat milk. Even the spelling of the shop’s name is a nod to horror, as 3 a.m. is the witching hour.
Johnson was in the midst of licensing, finalizing her business plan and looking for horror-specific businesses to collaborate with when a serendipitous Instagram post appeared in her feed from Horrid owner Emerald Boes, who was in search of a coffee shop to cohabit within her storefront. Johnson replied immediately, excited to share what she’d been working on for the past year with a fellow horror fan.
“It’s actually been years since I’ve found a community that’s centered around horror, until linking with Horrid,” says Johnson. “That’s why the collaboration with [Boes] has been deeper than just business. It’s the community I’ve been trying to find again since I was a child.”
Many of the wares and services for sale in Horrid are created by local LGBTIA+ makers. “We’re a bunch of woman-owned, small, alternative businesses, and we’re all figuring it out together,” Johnson adds.
This sense of community and camaraderie around the horror genre made Scr3am & Sugar a natural fit for Horrid. “Our whole goal was to have that feeling for customers, that they’re part of a community and growing together,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot of good coffee in Denver, but not as many that are themed or set up for a loungey setting versus a work setting. We wanted to create a social setting for people to talk about horror movies, make connections with strangers and build their own social hub.”
Scr3am & Sugar serves gore-themed drinks made with coffee from Queen City Collective Coffee and tea from Horrid’s resident nail artist and apothecarist Yurintzi as well as Two Leaves and a Bud and Sherpa Chai.
Being part of the Horrid and horror community means something extra-special this time of year, and the shop is celebrating with a plethora of events in its year-round haunted house-like shop. October events include cauldron painting, a Friday the 13th party and a visit from Michael Myers. The list is extensive and exhaustive, so make sure to check out the shop’s website or follow along on Instagram for updates and tickets.
Scr3am & Sugar is located inside Horrid, 1974 South Acoma Street, and is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For more information, visit its Instagram page @scr3amnsugar.