We’re staying in New Orleans for this second installment of Boss Ladies of Coffee. There was a real sense of community when I was there in the Crescent City. As you may well know, service industry workers are the true insiders on the food & drink scene. When I asked Reneé of Church Alley for other cafe recommendations, she pointed me to Sólo Espresso.
Sólo Espresso is owned by coffee industry veteran Lauren Morlock. I was able to grab her in between customers for a quick portrait and later, an email interview.
After being a barista for over a decade, she decided to start off on her own. This sounds like the beginning of almost every cafe story. But the similarities end here.
Sólo Espresso is in the basement of Lauren’s house.
In 2012, she purchased the abandoned house (post-Katrina) and began fixing it up. The cafe began organically: pick up and delivery were the first services out of the basement. Next, the purchase of a Synesso Cyncra. The community contributed, says Lauren. “I had some local woodworkers offer to build all our beautiful furniture in trade for coffee.”
Despite residing in the basement, the cafe itself is well-lit, comfortable, and welcoming. Lauren herself is often found working solo behind the bar, slinging drinks. Her customer service mantra is “Everyone is welcome. No one should ever be intimidated when ordering a coffee.”
This city exceeded my coffee expectations. I imagined one, maybe two specialty coffee shops, with the remaining cafes being mindful of its dark, chicory roast roots. I also imagined people comfortable in their coffee ways, not going out to try brighter flavors.
I think it’s a testament to one’s service skills when your customers are able to inexplicably trust you with their coffee choices.
“We are in a city full of dark-roasted coffee and chicory. It was hard to get people to drink lighter roasts, but I gained trust from my customers through excitement and education. Now, they will drink anything as long as I’m excited about it,” says Lauren.
As for what inspires her on a daily basis?
“I feel like I’m constantly learning new things about coffee. I want to be as skilled as I can be in my craft and that inspires me to keep learning. My customers and employees keep me going, as well. I get excited about new coffees coming in and it’s great to see my employees and customers get as excited. It makes it all worth it.”
I’m excited to see where coffee goes in New Orleans. As Lauren says, “It’s cool to see a deep rich old school coffee culture open up to specialty coffee.”
“Boss Coffee Pros” is a portrait/interview series where I share the stories of inspirational people in the specialty coffee industry. You can follow along on Instagram with the hashtag #BossCoffeePros. The ultimate goal is to shine a light on a more diverse set of leaders, innovators, and pros who are getting sh*t done in their work and life.