Behind the Bar

How Coffee Service Can Expand Bar Business

Two coffee cocktails on a bar.
Coffee and cocktails have many points of similarity — and serving both in one space can bring about more diverse, vibrant business. Photos by Nilina Mason-Campbell.

From the beginning, Melrose Umbrella Co. was slated to be more than just a night time destination. For two and a half years they’ve been operating as a bar, delivering an inventive cocktail menu from their spot on Melrose in Los Angeles. Last September they expanded their hours into the daytime and started a craft coffee program, making good on the bar’s homey atmosphere. According to co-owner Zach Patterson, that was the notion all along. From design in build out of the bar, the concept of being full-service was always in mind, which is why outlets are scattered throughout the space, tucked behind wooden booths and tables. It just took study and time to implement and a journey down the rabbit hole to launch. This week marks a year since the leap and its impact has broadened the business on a variety of fronts.

From 9am-5pm, daytime menu currently features chai lattes, espresso and Americanos alongside a wide selection of coffee cocktails that incorporate their daily brews. Housemade vanilla bean and cinnamon brown sugar syrups appear alongside a rotating tea selection. Prior to the coffee program’s launch, Patterson spent his days traversing the city to visit various cafes, sample blends, beans and roasts and meet with local industry leaders to learn all he could after noticing a correlation between the in-depth study of coffee and that of spirits and wine. At the time, he even took to carrying around a bundle of books like a true student as he engrossed himself in the industry.

“I started doing tours in this city, going to every notable coffee shop, listening to what music they play, how loud they played it, what coffees they were using. Asked about their water systems, asked about their ice. And then that's when we kind of realized, ok let's do something unique,” says Patterson of his journey and decision to pursue something beyond the basics. Christine Solomon who handles the bar’s marketing and communication describes the era as having a Nutty Professor vibe. Patterson admits his pursuit of knowledge went “way longer than it should have been. To the point where these guys were like, Zach launch the damn program.”

A sign announcing that a bar is serving coffee, tea and brunch. After dedicated studying, Melrose Umbrella Co. launched their daytime coffee service.

Since then, the coffee program has expanded the bar’s community and opened up another avenue for loyalty — not just the returning customer, but the one who never leaves. The bar itself has been a hub for industry players. With the coffee program, that community has expanded, attracting creatives and young professionals who aren’t tied to an office. Running two programs means the bar’s barely closed, and many customers stay from morning through night.

“They can come in and work, they can sit here and take meetings, they can transition from coffee to happy hour and cocktails,” says Solomon of the natural transition from day to night for customers. “It's not like that corporate camping that you see at the big coffee houses, it's like the little bookstore that could, or you know all the places that your heart and soul feels good to be.”

Attracting night time regulars into the daytime fold has been a more gradual change according to bar manager Dave Purcell. “In the daytime it's very apparent that we're a bar.” Often a passerby who stops in for the random coffee, will stay through to the evening out of curiosity to see the bar’s transformation. As for the reverse, it comes through catching glimpses of the coffee by night. “We've been operating a year it's now starting to trickle in, where a bunch of our night-time regulars are now starting to become daytime working regulars.”

Two men at a table. Bar manager Dave Purcell and co-owner Zach Patterson have weathered the bar's season of transition together to build an ever-more flourishing business.

A big part of the program has been the evolution of customers from basic orders to an appreciation of craft beverages. It’s a ritual Purcell has noticed with regulars who become intrigued by the inventiveness quality aspects of craft cocktails and the same is playing out with the coffee program. At Melrose Umbrella Co. an espresso is never just an espresso. It comes in miniature Glencairn scotch glasses for both presentation and aroma’s sake. “Espresso has over 800 different aromatic qualities to it, wine has 400,” says Patterson enthusiastically. Ceramics act as a barrier whereas the small Glencairns allow for customers to better smell the notes and see the crema. That lends itself to customers exploring further.

Providing a seamless program from coffee to cocktails across the board in terms of staffing has been the hurdle in expansion. “Cross-training has been a big deal, because obviously the baristas, you know they could talk about coffees all day long. What producers are doing great things from small farms to bigger farms that are doing good practices, and then go in and out, like our bartenders can tell you about every bottle in the back bar and what the Nashville bourbon is,” says Patterson of the dichotomy. “So, getting those people [who are] both passionate about their own track, both excited to learn about the other, has been a transition because we want to offer the full experience when you come in every time. That's been one of the obstacles we're overcoming, is how to do that cross training and that cross over from day to night.” To unite the two programs, bar manager Purcell and former bartender turned day-time manager Genie Gore have collaborated on a day-time menu that marries both programs.

The coffee program has also pushed their creativity further. They’re prepping for an October launch of their new peppermint mocha, pumpkin spice latte. “It's not just like oh just another pumpkin spice latte,” says Patterson of the new seasonal drink that came together through several rounds of recipe trials in their upstairs lab. “I actually just bought a bunch of pie pumpkins, cut them all out, quartered them, souffléd them at around 140 degrees for two hours before I pureed them in organic light brown sugar, that's everything that's going on upstairs,” prior to the roll out. They’ve also utilized their molecular knowledge about water and minerality and the five different types of ice on hand in tailoring their coffee cocktail offerings to suit the blends.

Applying same ethos of the craft cocktail program to the coffee program, has made it a success and a cornerstone that Melrose Umbrella Co looks to expand upon. Aside from he upcoming seasonal offerings, there are several plans currently underway for the bar’s future that include coffee, including their own blend.

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