Columbus, Ohio. The heart of the heart of it all. And where better, in a slowly emerging coffee scene in a town rich with music culture and the tabula rasa of an inspired, creative arts community (and, uh, a Big Ten football team) than to name your coffee shop after an 18-year-old Belle and Sebastian song? Right?
Fox In The Snow Cafe is the brainchild of business and life partners Jeff Excel and Lauren Culley, who met at Blue Bottle Coffee in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Excell was manager, and Cully was heading up the pastry kitchen. The call of Columbus was irresistible to the pair, who moved to the capital of Ohio together this winter to fill the city’s coffee needs with their own special magic. If this career trajectory sounds familiar, it’s because it is—other Blue Bottle NYC alumni Will and Kathleen Pratt struck out on their own just two years ago to found Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, Maine. In what will come as a surprise to no one in the friendly family of fancy coffee, Excell and Culley plan to use Tandem’s coffee when they open. Because that’s just how things work around here.
We spoke with Jeff Excell about the plans for their new shop.
Can you tell us a bit about your new space?
We moved from Brooklyn to Columbus, Ohio in January and were lucky enough to almost immediately stumble upon a Craigslist posting for an old masonry garage in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Italian Village. We were familiar with the area and it’s proximity to the Short North Arts District, and since we knew we wanted the kind of open, urban space a garage could provide, we signed the lease right away. We couldn’t be more excited about our location.
The 2,400-square-foot space has been an operating garage since it was built, so turning it into a functional cafe has required a lot of creative thinking and construction. We’re trying to maintain the building’s raw, industrial aesthetic while introducing the natural light and greenery we’ve come to admire in some of our favorite cafes. Our bar is low so as to enhance customer-barista interaction, our kitchen is glass-fronted so as to engage guests with our pastry program, and our communal tables and standing bars all contribute to the feeling of our shop being a neighborhood spot, the kind of place you love to be.
What’s your approach to coffee?
When we first talked about opening a shop, Lauren and I kept coming back to two things: the quality of the coffee and the kind of hospitality we could offer. We wanted to open a place where both of these were operating on the highest possible levels. It’s been our experience that when you visit a cafe where the setting is beautiful, the products are amazing, and the staff interacts with you rather than just serves you, your entire experience is heightened. Not only do you come back, but you’re more likely to appreciate the individual pieces of your visit—you pay attention to what you’re drinking and enjoy. So for us, a large part of serving coffee means focusing on hospitality and our relationships with our customers.
On a technical level, we’re keeping the coffee program tight: only serving two or three rotating seasonal single origin offerings on our Hario V60s and a few rotating options for espresso. We’ve created a really simple menu—we’re trying to avoid having too many moving parts or relying too heavily on miscellaneous coffee gadgets—and are hoping to simply serve great coffee. We’ll be serving Tandem Coffee out of Portland, Maine, who, in our opinion, are roasting some of the best coffee and espresso we’ve ever had.
Paired with our coffee program, Lauren Culley, the former manager of the Blue Bottle East Coast pastry program and our head baker, will be making scratch-made pastries daily—timing our sticky buns, pop tarts and brioche to come out hot from the oven throughout the morning.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
We’ll be running a full Hario V60 drip program with a few single origin options. Our V60 program will be accompanied by a Mahlkönig EK43 and an Ecoboiler UC10 for hot water. Blue Bottle was kind enough to sell us the original red La Marzocco FB80 from the Williamsburg shop, complete with all its good memories and mojo. We’ll be giving it a new, white powder coat to make it our own, but we’re really happy to have an old friend around. We will be pairing that with a Mahlkönig K30 Twin grinder for espresso.
What’s your hopeful target opening month?
Our fingers-crossed month is late August, but we’re realistically planning for an early September open date.
Are you working with craftspeople/architects/and or creatives that you’d like to mention?
As I mentioned, we’re working with our friends at Tandem Coffee Roasters, whom Lauren and I have known since our Blue Bottle Brooklyn days. Kathleen Pratt hired me, Vien Dobui and Chris Buerkle (some of Tandem’s new/old baristas) trained me, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with Will Pratt since he was head roaster at [Blue Bottle] Berry Street. We’re also lucky enough to be working with architect Cortney Walleston, who’s designed some of our favorite restaurants in Brooklyn. She’s been instrumental in taking the shop from a grease-stained garage to the modern, natural space it’s quickly becoming. We’ve also found amazing craftspeople and artisans here in Ohio who are helping us refine and detail our shop. Lastly we have been lucky enough to have a really supportive coffee community in Columbus, all the shops have been really great to us and are all working together to build a pretty amazing coffee scene here in Columbus.
We’re incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such talented people.