Taste of the Town - Hot Coffee

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1626 Duncan Street | Louisville, KY 40202 | (502) 262-9006

"We don't believe in decaf and we don't believe in non-fat, we are a place of luxury. You come to us because you want sugar, or caffeine, or something to make you feel good...like a record" (Brooke, Owner of P&TY and Hot Coffee) -- that's a coffee making, record playing, and cookie baking creed if I ever heard one.


Louisville, Kentucky houses the embodiment of this creed: Please and Thank You (P&TY), a small batch bakery, coffee house, and record shop, that also services seven shops around the city with their cookies and other baked goods. A second location, Hot Coffee, was the result of their explosive growth and the need for more space (P&TY is only 1,000 square feet).

" We don't believe in decaf and we don't believe in non-fat, we are a place of luxury."
- Brooke

I got a chance to talk with Brooke in order to find out more about her plans for expansion, chat about how she got started, and find out just how many tasty treats she's making each year. Turns out that 2014 was a stellar year with P&TY selling, on average, 3,000 cookies each month with that number doubling in December. 39,000 cookies is a ton of sugar and chocolate! I tried figuring out how to put that into perspective and came up with this:

Taste of the Town tower infographicTaste of the Town rhino infographicTaste of the Town derby infographic

The journey from zero to nearly 40,000 cookies is no small feat. I asked Brooke how she went from test-baking cookies to owning and operating two successful shops. Her answers included a combination of focused passion, purchasing prudence, thoughtful risk taking, and plenty of hustle.

Focused Passion

How did she come up with what's become Louisville's best cookie? I listed out some of Brooke's principles that were prompted from this question:

  1. You should really like what you do. A whole lot.

    It took Brooke hundreds of recipes spanning two and half years before she made the best cookie she could make. You need to be able to hone your focus on one thing and have the ability to only do that one thing for a really long time -- whether that's a cookie, a coffee, or any other culinary creation.

  2. Test your skills against a friend who has the same passion.

    I wanted to know, how did she stay focused on perfecting cookies for almost three years? "We lived below our best friends and I was pregnant. So, he is a chocolate chip cookie connoisseur and I am a chocolate chip cookie connoisseur and we were constantly having a bake off to see (mostly just so we could eat cookies) but to see what would happen if we do this or what would happen when we would do this. And, he has his preferences, and I still appreciate it when he makes cookies for us, but I had mine, and mine eventually made it to the P&TY cookie."

  3. Find what inspires and soothes you.

    How does the Hot Coffee team cope with making copious amounts of cookies day in and day out? Answer: music matters -- particularly 1950's to 1960's jazz, some modern hip-hop, and some soul for when time is short and stress is high. Find what inspires and soothes you. You are going to need it!

  4. Remember the 10,000 hour principle.

    For one and a half years, Brooke was the only one who made cookies. Making the best cookie meant that there were more than just steps in a list, but also an intuitive ability to recognize things like the "visual cues of the butter and sugar combining" before moving on in the cookie making process. That kind of mastery takes time to learn and it takes time to teach others.

    Hot Coffee sitePlease and thank you sign
  5. Discover what the customer actually wants.

    Please and Thank You would place six or so different baked goods on the counter each morning, and each day folks just kept ordering the cookie. It wasn't enough that Brooke made the best chocolate chip cookie she could make. She also heard the voice of the people, and the people wanted the cookie. Now, after winning multiple awards over the course of several years, P&TY doesn't mind saying that they've got the city's best.

Purchasing Prudence

On the way to growing her business, I knew there must be pain points that she's faced (or currently faces). What were those? Equipment and labor. Obviously, commercial equipment is quite costly and there are times when it makes more sense to buy used equipment. Sometimes it could very well be your only option. However, there are also really good reasons for upgrading your equipment. When it came to their equipment purchases, one of the most important factors that P&TY and Hot Coffee had to consider was labor.

For example, Hot Coffee recently acquired a new oven, cutting employee's time to a fraction of what it was. "The amount of cookies we can bake in six and a half to nine minutes right now, it took us two and half hours to make before. That's so much labor."

P&TY signage

But what about when you first start up and can't afford nice, new equipment? Brooke's answer: get creative. When P&TY was little more than ink on paper they acquired a storage unit full of cafe equipment at an auction for $1,500. It included an espresso machine, some grinders, a refrigerator, a Vitamix blender, and more.

For a fast growing small business you need to take a moment on occasion for some self-evaluation - do you need to bite the bullet and buy a new stove, fryer, or fridge? Will purchasing equipment now save you enough in labor to justify the cost? Or do you need to get creative by hunting for bargains and buying on the cheap?

Thoughtful Risk Taking

Creative solutions for labor and equipment are one thing, but just what was P&TY thinking when they moved to the poor side of town? Brooke has been active in Urban renewal and that is, in part, what led her to open Hot Coffee in the Portland area. Far from a leap in the dark, Hot Coffee's location was a calculated risk. Located in the Portland, Louisville area, Hot Coffee serves as the Please and Thank You brand's bakery hub and it's open to walk up customers who want a pourover, a pastry, or a famous chocolate chip cookie. Due to this location, they have plenty of space at a very reasonable rate, especially when contrasted against newer sections outside of the city. This location also meant that they remained close to the city center while establishing a profit generating business in a community which has seen scarce growth over the years.

I asked Brooke more about risk taking as a business owner, specifically pertaining to revitalization. "[Portland] just has a deep seated history in no progress, and that's because people aren't risking anything. And you have to take a jump as an entrepreneur any way to even open your own business, so why not do it some place that needs you and that is open and available in uncharted territory?"

outside of P&TY

So consider taking a calculated risk by going where most people don't. For the Please and Thank You brand, this meant adding a location in one of the poorest parts of the city, an area which is undergoing revitalization and renewal. Some Louisvillians don't think it's worth the risk whereas some others see it as a shrewd business move. Brooke's response? "The people that are skeptical of revitalization efforts are usually not the people involved in revitalization efforts."

Plenty of Hustle

When making decisions, what about the folks who are impacted by those decisions? Here's how Brooke thinks through decisions, "Now that I have a team of people that can make all the recipes flawlessly, it's my responsibility to go out there and keep the wheels turning. What can I do? What can I do to keep paying these people? Because at this point I don't want to let anybody go and I'm responsible for the lives of 15 people, on top of my family. So in order to keep them happy and fed and in work it's my responsibility as their boss to make sure that there's still work for them to do and to generate more business."

Keeping the lights on requires more than creating a business, it means one must sustain that business, keep a competitive edge, and Brooke would add, "hustle". For Hot Coffee, knowing how to hustle is not mad-dashing, it's focused, fast-paced, perpetual movement toward a fixed goal. "It's either in you or it's not in you. You can tell when you go into a place and it's got some soul and some passion behind it, and [when] you go into a place and it's opened by a bunch of investors. If you're good to the people you work with and you're good to the customers and you're creating a good product, all around things are gonna be pretty good."

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