Boss Coffee Pros: Reneé Blanchard
“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. This was originally a series of “Boss Ladies of Coffee” and I’ve since decided to expand it to include queer, gender-nonconforming, and/or people of color. 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.
There’s an uprising that is happening around New Orleans. I recently visited and was told by a local friend, “Ladies dominate the industry here.”
This was a must-see. During my stay in the city, I visited two of his suggestions & was fascinated by the atmosphere of community this city supported.
I’m inspired by their stories and their strength, and this uncommon gathering of boss ladies in coffee. But it shouldn’t be uncommon. This portrait series, a personal project, will highlight the fantastic people in this industry. I hope they become role models, sources of inspiration, and eventually, such a common sight that even a casual acknowledgment to gender won’t be needed.
Note: I have since changed the series title to “Boss Coffee Pros.”
The Boss Ladies of Coffee.
Welcome to the first installment, where I’d like you to meet Reneé Claire Blanchard, owner/operator of Church Alley Coffee Bar in New Orleans, Louisiana.
My first introduction to Reneé was through a photo shoot: I was there to document her cafe in an editorial format. I asked her for a short portrait session and she kindly agreed.
Church Alley Coffee Bar resides in a neighborhood that is taken up, for the most part, by non-profit organizations. This community-forward aspect is also found in Church Alley’s space: beyond the cafe space is a movie theater while above the cafe is a lofted, small goods store. Reneé’s background as an environmental and social justice advocate carries over into her approach to service and community.
On her favorite coffee memory, Reneé described a picturesque scene in Vienna. “My favorite places were seating in incredibly old cafes in Vienna watching the servers run back and forth, sipping on rich lattes with the fullest of fat milk and sampling dark chocolate tarts. It just transforms you. It makes you part of that cultural history of great art and music.”
This magical scene, of culture and community, is one she hopes to invoke in her own cafe.
New Orleans has a long history of cafe culture – one that I confess I’m not entirely familiar with. Despite this, I find a sense of community and acceptance here. Perhaps it’s the history. Perhaps it’s the decaying buildings. Or perhaps it’s the passion of coffee people like Renee who are driving change in the city.
“We lounge here in New Orleans in an expert manner,” Reneé tells me.
This is true. In my six days there, I felt like I had the richest of foods paired with the least amount of physical exertion.
“We are about the experience, not just the taste, which has led us on a long trajectory to find specialty coffee. It makes it not just a science of the best dialed in coffees, but a real experience of tasting and enjoying.” A stroll in New Orleans will bring you to street-side brass bands and colorful facades. There is no doubt that the environment influenced the food culture.
Beau (full name: Beausoleil Broussard) keeps a close eye on the cafe.
It takes a certain skill & character set to own a business, let alone a service-oriented one. What happens when work lends itself to repetition and exhaustion?
Reneé names two sources of inspiration that keep her going: