A Colorado Springs couple is tapping into the same business model that turned coffee and beer from a commodity into an experience by putting a modern twist on the old concept of the neighborhood lemonade stand.

A Colorado Springs couple is tapping into the same business model that turned coffee and beer from a commodity into an experience by putting a modern twist on the old concept of the neighborhood lemonade stand.

Ches and Lisa DiDonato recently opened what they believe to be the first of its kind, a lemonade taproom, in downtown Colorado Springs.

Pikes Peak Lemonade Company actually began in 2013, when they moved to southern Colorado from Grand Junction and started looking for something original they could sell at local farmers markets.

“We had talked about having a coffee trailer, but we realized we don’t go to other places to buy coffee, we would get it at our favorite shop on the way,” Ches DiDonato recalled. “Lisa had made sandals before, really all sorts of different things — she’s extremely crafty — but lemonade just seemed like something unique, especially served in mason jars with daisy lids on top.”

They soon became regular vendors at the Colorado Farm and Art Market, a twice-a-week farmers market that carries Colorado-made products exclusively.

“Lisa was doing just a couple of flavors, strawberry and lavender, when she started,” he recalled. “That was the beginning of it all.”

Fresh lemon and limeades with real flavorings proved a great fit for the summer market. It was only by chance that they decided to move into a more permanent space, a textbook example of how one small business matured from an outdoor market stall into a brick-and-mortar shop.

Another entrepreneur with whom they share a commercial kitchen, Jennifer Ross, owner of the Rocky Mountain Soap Market, told them a space was coming available next to her own retail shop downtown.

The DiDonatos saw potential, even though they were cautious about making the leap.

“Years ago we had a frame shop in a mall. It was successful, but the hours were too much. We swore we’d never do another retail business again,” Ches DiDonato admitted with a smile.

Still, the possibilities drew them in. With his background in building remodeling, DiDonato could envision adding some unique touches to the space, such as putting a heavy wooden barn-style sliding door between the two stores to allow guests to wander freely between them without going back outside.

“We thought we could make it advantageous for both of our businesses, and the rent was reasonable,” DiDonato said. “We decided it would be like having a farmers market every day. Now Lisa can barely keep up with production.”

Since the store opened, they’ve hired six employees, and the business continues to expand.

While the storefront is whimsical and inviting, the drinks are intended to be equally enticing. Cold lemonade or limeade is served on tap, spiked with the customer’s choice of house-made syrups and served in the now-customary mason jar with daisy lid and colorful paper straw. Refills can be purchased at a discount.

“We use organic lemon or lime juice, cane sugar and filtered water,” DiDonato explained. “We make it ourselves and then put it in 5-gallon kegs, similar to the Pepsi kegs of old. That gives our lemonade a little carbonation, seals it off and keeps it really cold, which makes it taste better and keeps the quality consistent.”

None of their products contain alcohol, but the simple syrups, wine spritzers and shrubs (fruit-infused drinkable vinegars) are ideal for crafting refreshing cocktails popular on late summer patios.

Jars of pre-made concentrates and mixes, including some that can be used to make hot toddies on chilly days, range in price from $10 to $20, with various gift assortments going up from there. Many of the products can also be ordered online through an Etsy web-store.

“We really haven’t had many people balk at the price,” DiDonato said. “It’s all hand-crafted and homemade, so you pay a little more for that.”

Several small gift and food stores in Colorado Springs and Denver carry Pikes Peak Lemonade products, in addition to a few bars around town, where they’ve sometimes been used to create signature drinks.

DiDonato said many of the shop’s customers are out-of-towners who learn about them from websites like Yelp. These visitors are looking for something unique to the region, an attribute the company promotes by billing itself as a “Colorado original.”

In a city sometimes faulted for its heavy concentration of chain stores and restaurants, the couple have several other neighbors along Tejon Street that help bring a local flair to the downtown shopping district. They include Rocky Mountain Soap Market, which has a customizable “body bar” where essential oils are blended with other natural ingredients to make bath and beauty products right on site. Other local gems further down the street include Bingo Burger (an outpost of Richard Warner’s downtown Pueblo restaurant, which enjoys iconic status in Southern Colorado along with his wife Mary’s Hopscotch Bakery) and Cacao Chemistry, a local gourmet chocolatier that also got its start at the Colorado Farm and Art Market.

“It’s a very friendly business community down here,” DiDonato said. “Many of the other businesses have come by and wished us well. We have some people who come in every day to get a refill, so there are relationships developing, and we enjoy that.”

The DiDonatos might consider opening more stores down the road but for now they are focused on ramping up production while maintaining high standards for quality and service.

For them, seasonal farmers markets proved to be a great way to test and fine-tune their concept and build a brand.

“There’s not much debt exposure by going to the farmers market,” he said. “If you can be successful at the farmers market, you can probably be successful with a brick-and-mortar business.”