by Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, Drinks Editor
Talk to anyone in the bar business and they will say that hospitality is the key to success. While this might seem a simplistic statement, it encompasses far more than a friendly smile and the willingness to serve your guests. For Melrose Umbrella Company, one of Los Angeles's finest bars, it meant creating a coffee program by day to complement their cocktail program at night. By providing a one stop destination, so to speak, the team has created a home away from home, morning, noon, and night, for their guests and employees.
From Coffee to Cocktails
Before they even opened, co-owners Austin Melrose and Zach Patterson wanted the bar to be somewhere that you could begin and end your day. "Their vision from the start," says head of marketing Christine Solomon, "was to built a place that creatives could come and write, hold meetings, start or finish masterpieces, and be able to have a coffee meeting that could lead into happy hour and then into a great night out."
In fact, Melrose Umbrella is often referred to as the "industry clubhouse" by local bartenders, many of whom stop by on their nights off or step in for guest stints behind the stick. Now, with the coffee program, the bar has become a place where liquor reps and brand ambassadors gather to work, while nighttime regulars pop in for a caffeine jolt.
Research + Team Work
To launch the coffee program, Zach Patterson, who Solomon refers to as their "nutty professor" pulled in a number of professionals. He spent months visiting local coffee shops, studying their methods, good and bad. The team then jumped in with the same manic thoroughness that they are known for in developing their cocktail menus.
Since the cocktail bar is known for its seasonal menus, the coffee bar mimics this rhythm by switching out roasters on a regular basis. Knowledge is equally important, whether cocktails or coffee. "No matter how nerdy we get," says Solomon, "we always keep it accessible to anyone who wants to come in and enjoy. The questions they ask determine the depth we go into to explain the program."
Empower Your Staff
As important as the guests are, it's the staff that keeps the wheels moving. From the beginning, collaboration was an essential part of the bar's concept. In order to ensure that, the principals encourage everyone on the team to have a voice and go ensure their ideas are not only respected, but desired. "We wake up every day with the intention to empower the creativity of our employees," explains co-owner Austin Melrose, "and, with that, to provide a creative environment for our guests. Accomplishing that, whether by seeing someone writing, sketching, or taking a meeting while enjoying one of our creations, whether that be a coffee or a cocktail or a mix of the two, feels like we continue to build something truly special in this space."
Visibility and the Bottom Line
By creating two complementary programs -- coffee by day and booze by night -- Melrose Umbrella Company has ensured that it is visible to patrons morning to evening. This visibility, as you might expect, positively affects their bottom line, according to Solomon. Where the bar originally kept typical alcohol-driven hours from 5pm to 11pm Sunday through Wednesday and until 2am Thursday through Saturday, the coffee program begins each day at 9am.
That's a major expansion of business hours from six or nine originally to 14 or 17 hours a day. Now, folks wandering down Melrose Avenue during the day might stop into the coffee shop and return in the evening to sample the cocktail program. And, as with their staff, the owners value the opinions of their guests. "We feel like the only way to be genuine and caring to our guests," says Solomon, "is to always listen. If there is a demand for something and it fits our brand we are going to do all we can to provide that to our guests."
While the profits are pleasing and the creativity is invigorating, the commitment to hospitality is what powers this well-oiled machine. Says Solomon, "It feels a little like a European coffee shop where you can chat over espresso or order a bottle of rosé. We have welcomed some new faces during the day as well, but it is really a blend of the family atmosphere and home away from home that we have always striven to be...It’s really a special curation of some of the most kind and remarkable people that we have in this space."