Brooke Vaughn is the owner and operator of Please & Thank You, a charming and wildly popular cafe & bakery in Louisville, and she’s got deep coffee roots. Born up Interstate 65 in Indianapolis, her grandfather drove a wholesale truck in the Derby City for Continental Coffee until his death in 1972, and her father opened one of the first coffee shops in town, called The Daily Grind, before bankruptcy closed it down after three years. It was perhaps destiny, then, when Vaughn started in coffee working for Starbucks throughout college, then managed a cafe in Indianapolis called Taste.
Although she was curious about cooking, the chef team at Taste kept her in the front of house. Her English and Film degrees soon collected dust, as Vaughn started to enjoy the service industry and consider it for a career. But there was something so damn frustrating about her cafe experiences thus far in life: the pastries didn’t stack up to the coffee she was drinking. Thus was born Please & Thank You.
“I wanted the pastries to be just as good as the coffee without, like, really geeking out about coffee,” Vaughn tells me inside her newest project in a growing empire, called Hot Coffee. “It’s just a cookie and it’s just a cup of coffee. It’s just about making somebody happy.”
Vaughn’s husband, Jason Pierce, managed a record store in Indianapolis while she worked at a coffee shop next door. The pair dreamed of opening a dual spot, and after their move to Louisville, things began to fall into place. Developer Gil Holland bought three blocks of buildings on East Market, blocks away from where Vaughn and Pierce were living.
“We were like, ‘Whoa, all these buildings are beautiful!'” she says. “We heard that [Holland] was looking to change the neighborhood, and so we just went to a meeting. He was like, ‘Hey give me your business plan.’ ‘Really?’ and he co-signed a city loan for us and that’s how it started. We signed our lease in October 2010 and we opened in May 2011.”
Vaughn’s father served as the contractor for the cafe’s build-out. The cafe’s interior has many salvaged materials courtesy of abandoned floor beams from other East Market buildings.
“I wanted it to feel like your living room,” Vaughn says. “Like you would walk in and you were sort of like, ‘Okay I can drink a cup of coffee and talk to my friends, listen to good music here.’ It was just the things; southern antique store things that help to create the vibe [with] the right colors.”
So how did she develop the irresistible recipe for Please & Thank You’s famous chocolate chip cookies? A friendly competition with some best friends. Different types of butters (European are preferred), chocolates (Belgian chocolatier Callebaut, please) and flours were tested (Kentucky’s own Weisenberger came out on top). Even controversial methods, such as pulling the cookie out of the oven early, received a thorough examination from Vaughan and her cookie cabal.
“I ended up getting super passionate about that,” Vaughan tells me. “It took like 2 years and I got that chocolate chip cookie recipe down pat, and that’s usually what people cared about.”
In addition to the chocolate chip cookies (they only stay out for two hours to insure freshness), Please & Thank You has a whole host of pastry options such as brownies, bagels, biscuits, and breakfast sandwiches. The bread pudding includes excess pieces of cookie and brownie before being covered in caramel and baked off. Another option is the Hot Alicia, a bagel with cream cheese and candied jalapeños.
For coffee, the shop features local Louisville roasters Argo Sons. Vaughn and Pierce tried the brand at another local shop before they opened Please & Thank You: “At that time, they were still roasting from like a popcorn maker, I think, but they were just like super small batch,” she says. “They are two, like 6’3” guys from Arkansas that moved to Louisville and their dads taught them how to roast, and we liked them and we liked their product [so we] consistently use them. Now, they have a line called Good Folks that my husband completely branded, and it’s light and even dark roast, and it’s on the shelves at Whole Foods.”
The record shop component has expanded since opening. Originally housed in a small closet off of the cafe seating area, customers now walk past the kitchen to Mr. Friendly’s Record Store. They’re able to enjoy their coffee and pastries while browsing a wide array of new and used vinyl.
Due to the shop’s growing popularity (both Quills Coffee and Sunergos Coffee use Please & Thank You pastries at all of their shops), expansion beyond the original location’s minuscule kitchen was required. Just like the initial location, Vaughn’s landlord was there to help out once again. Holland connected Vaughn with new landlord Habitat For Humanity, co-signed the lease and helped secure a sponsored build-out. The second location, Hot Coffee, opened to the public January 20, 2015.
Like its sister shop Please & Thank You, Hot Coffee is set in a gentrifying Louisville neighborhood named, perhaps appropriately, “Portland.” Pastries and coffee drinks will be available through a walk-up window. When the weather gets warmer, Vaughn will employ a soft serve ice cream machine. Hot Coffee will also serve as a baking HQ, with a much larger kitchen able to accommodate the demand for chocolate chip cookies.
In the future, Vaughn has a few more locations on her mind. Hot Coffee sits west of Downtown Louisville while Please & Thank You is in the middle. The River Road area is the most likely destination for a third Louisville location. Vaughn has an affection for the area; she excitedly showcased East Louisville on a giant map hanging to her left and calls it “inspiring.”
And beyond Louisville? She’s thinking of going on I-65 to her hometown of Indianapolis, or maybe south to Nashville.
“That’s as far as I want to look,” Vaughn laughs. “I think that sounds very manageable to me.”
Evan C. Jones is a Sprudge.com contributor based in St. Louis. Read more Evan C. Jones on Sprudge.