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Sugar House Journal

Local Legend: Café Owner Bruce Holt Brings Sugar House Coffee, Community and the Best of Rock ‘N’ Roll

Oct 08, 2015 13h36 ● By Bryan Scott

By Jessica Bowen

Since opening his 50s-themed coffee shop 14 years ago, Bruce Holt has become a beloved icon in the Sugar House community. 

He has spent the majority of his life in and around the Sugar House area. He graduated from Highland High School and studied advertising and marketing in college before starting a 20-year career with Harman Music Group in Sandy. 

Then, one day, he knew it was time for a change. He was tired of daily traffic and commuting to work, and he wanted to spend more time near his home and the Sugar House area he loved. For years, he had dreamed about opening up a coffee shop, and in 2001 that dream came true. He found a perfect location right on 700 East, painted it bright red, and named it Jitterbug Coffee Hop—a name inspired by a café chain in Las Vegas called “Jitters,” and not, surprisingly, by any particular fondness for 1950s culture and memorabilia. 

The rockabilly theme, however, fits right in with Holt’s lifelong love of rock music. He got his first guitar as a Christmas present when he was 14 years old. It was a “piece of crap acoustic guitar from LaBelle’s on State Street,” he said, but quality or not, he was hooked. 

He taught himself to play chords, hoping his parents would be impressed enough to buy him an electric guitar, but his father wanted no part of his son’s “loud rock and roll music.” Undeterred, 14-year-old Holt took a job at a bakery, scrubbing oven racks and greasing bread pans. “It was mind-numbing work,” Holt said, but he soon saved up enough to buy his first electric guitar and amp. 

Music has been part of his life ever since. His first taste of rock stardom came in junior high, when he and his band dressed up as KISS and played in front of a cheering, lighter-waving crowd at a school assembly. Since then, he has played in many different bands and occasionally plays gigs at local restaurants. 

In the café, he fills any lulls by playing one of the several guitars that always sit out on display. His regular customers are used to hearing him play, and occasionally the more musically gifted patrons will join in, playing and singing along to the classics until business picks up again. 

When it comes to dedication and determination, no one out-works Holt. Since 2001, he has run his coffee shop almost single-handedly, taking only four days off every year for the 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

His longest vacation in recent memory was in 2013, when he spent two days working at a California NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) tradeshow, followed by two more days in Disneyland. On his rare days off, Holt heads to the mountains. He likes to hike near Brighton and has especially fond memories of trips to Yellowstone. 

When Holt works behind the counter at his coffee shop, he multitasks with ease—chatting with the customers whose names and stories he always remembers while making his signature coffee drinks, smoothies and sandwiches. 

For many Sugar House locals, Holt and his business provide a place of community—a place with great coffee, good conversations and a lot of heart. Many of his customers have been coming to Jitterbug for years, but Holt gives even strangers who walk in a chance to feel like friends and family. 

As a lifelong member of the Sugar House community, as a father figure and friend to so many people who visit his café, and as a talented musician who is always eager to talk shop about the music industry and strum old favorite songs, Holt is truly a Sugar House local legend.