Before I ever set foot inside the shop, images of Scout Coffee Co’s charming interior were on my blog feed; its salted caramel milkshake, gently poured into a precious blue mason jar with matching blue and white stripped straw, was on my Instagram; and the cutely diner-esque-gone-highbrow “Happy Coffee” mugs were on Pinterest. It was a lot of pretty and crafted design.
That is the word, crafted. Not the ill-fitting knit sweater variety or even the exacting foodie description, but crafted in its relationship to skill and skillfulness. Scout Coffee Co. is crafted, shaped to fit its slogan: “Happy Coffee”.
Part of Scout’s careful execution is an interrogation about the shop as compliment to its community. Local coffee shops in SLO, like Linnaea’s Cafe just a few steps up the block from Scout, have become cultish favorites. It’s challenging, as a small business moving to a small town, to embody your own distinct brand and do something new. Scout has to have a dialogical relationship with the community and it does this through design, service, and product.
Architecturally, the building Scout occupies overlaps the historical narrative of Garden Street; the building’s design makes us forget that there was ever a time Scout wasn’t located there. Using the breezeway for a hanging plant and keeping exposed brick, Scout has styled itself to look integral and cohesive. Tree stumps take the place of seats, mimicking a continuum from the hanging plant to the table your coffee rests on. It all feels organic: knit pillows, a string art coffee sign, and shades of repeating blues and yellows. It’s an extension of the home kitchen, an extension of the upscale coffee shop, and an extension of its own location. Thanks to big windows, lots of light, and the domesticity of the place, it feels like a picnic inside. It isn’t self-referential to San Luis Obispo, but to itself. It gestures towards change.
Of course, this much unity isn’t organic. It is made.
It’s so carefully crafted that people want to know what it is. Jon Peterson, Scout co-owner, referenced this inquiry when he said that people kept asking him, “Who are you?” People want to know what brand is being represented. They want to know how to account for the design and particular style.
This is a happy place that has been made by people who are happy, and who finally own something of their own. This isn’t accidental happiness or stumbled upon simplicity, this is the cafe’s owners – Sara and Jon Peterson – polishing every detail, demonstrating awareness about each part of the business, and creating a reflection of intrinsic excellence. From the homemade almond milk to the homemade donettes, the exactness is demonstrative of its owners’ accomplishments.
The Petersons aren’t shy about sharing how much work it took to get this kind of precision. They will tell you about penny pinching, phone calls to banks, careful business plan construction, and a do-it-ourselves attitude. All of their work shows in the impeccable appearance of the store. This isn’t the mom-n-pop shop of the past, established out of desperation to own anything. This is the new mom-n-pop shop that developed, took time, and shows the joy of giving something to the community.
Our visual culture is risky: is the art an artifice? Of course not. People who are this careful don’t stop at design. The coffee is damn good. Roasted by Verve Coffee Roasters, Scout is receiving exclusive lots. The espressos are coming from a sea foam green La Marzocco FB/80, which is just as beautiful as you’d expect it to be and, thankfully, handled by the likes of Kat Stock, pulling espressos efficiently and perfectly. The automatic brewing is a Fetco and, trust me, they need that big brew capacity because this place is bouncing with people. I ordered a V60 pour over of Verve’s Ethiopia Konga. The color was light, flecks of gold, which is how it tasted too. Migratory and surprising; the coffee tasted bright one second and caramel-ish the next. It moved around a lot and covered a good amount of flavor terrain. It was easy to sit, sip, and feel really good about everything happening around me.
The best part: Ms. Stock brought me a homemade sunshine roll and Mr. Peterson sat with me over the cup, talking honestly about the delight to see the shop open and the anxiety to keep up with all the homemade touches. It was a gentle moment.
Scout Coffee Co. is how the Peterson family demonstrate gentle living and giving good things. Jon and Sara are in the store, are talking to the clients, and are inviting SLO and all their patrons to the sit at the table and be like family. It all feel generous, home-like. The opening party was filled with families, friends, and community support for Scout and the Petersons. In their old school milkshake maker, they served up samples of yummy milkshakes and gave out free espressos. Everyone smiled. Everyone ate too many sweets.
Scout is reinscribing the contemporary mom-n-pop shop: The owner’s touch, the sense of someone putting thought into everything, is there. But this place is anything but amateur. With skill and beauty, Scout Coffee Co. is asking third-wave coffee to be a little more homespun, more careful about the details, and happier.
Kristen Orser-Crouse (@kristen_orser) is an instructor at the University of California – Santa Cruz, and a contributor to The Rumpus, The Examiner, and Poor Taste. Read more Kristen Orser-Crouse on Sprudge.
Original photography by Chris Chandler.