Balancing Craft + Convenience
Fill in the blank — “If I could quit my job, I’d like to open up a _____.”
If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ve all had this thought.
Thomas Ward + Bre Taulbee, the owners of Leestown Coffee House, also had a similar idea. The major difference, however, was that they actually quit their jobs (sort of) to open up the coffee shop they’d always dreamed about.
“I was laid off from my engineering job in January of 2020,” said Thomas as we sat together drinking a cup of coffee. “We had a whole life planned before this + even a house under contract. We decided to take the money we were going to use for the house, borrow a bit more, and use it all to put this place together.”
So, born from a caffeinated daydream, Leestown Coffee opened its doors at 1416 Leestown Rd. at a time when most businesses were just trying to keep the doors open — Fall of 2020.
“We had never poured an espresso shot in our lives before we sunk thousands of dollars into an espresso machine from Milan. But it was like that movie — ‘The Field of Dreams.’ We just knew that with this location + a good cup of coffee, people would come.”
Brick and mortar
There are three uniquely key features of the Leestown Coffee House building that influenced Thomas and Bre’s business model —
- The coffee shop was once a drive-thru liquor store.
- Exactly seven cars can fit in the drive-thru before traffic begins to get blocked on Leestown Rd., a major thoroughfare for thousands of Lexingtonians.
- The building sits right in between downtown + Masterson Station, Lexington’s largest residential neighborhood.
These three physical characteristics of the coffee shop mean that it’s essential for customers to receive quick, convenient service in order to keep the flow of traffic moving.
What this doesn’t allow for, however, is certain craft coffee styles that require long brew times + multiple assembly steps.
“We refuse to be the business that’s responsible for backing up Leestown Road,” said Bre. “It was also one of the very stern warnings we were given by the city. And we take it very seriously here. We keep it fast + efficient.”
But Thomas’ mechanical engineering background wouldn’t allow him to sacrifice craft for convenience. So, they developed a plan that would allow them to quickly + efficiently serve methodically brewed, delicious coffee to all of its customers — cold brew.
It’s important to note that cold brew coffee isn’t just coffee with some ice in it. Simply put, cold brew coffee is brewed cold.
“Brewing coffee with heat extracts a lot more out of the coffee beans than just the coffee flavor,” like acidity and harsh flavors. Cold brew is less bitter + often contains more caffeine. This appealed to Thomas because it gave him complete control over what he wanted his coffee to taste like.
So, acting as somewhat of a mad scientist, Thomas spent long, highly caffeinated hours in the back of the coffee shop perfecting his cold brew recipe + making sure it was of the highest quality possible.
“I’d be brewing until 11 p.m. and then be back at the shop at 5 a.m. to open. One time, the fire department came because they thought we were being robbed or something. But it was just me back here brewing around midnight.”
In the summer of 2021, after months of tinkering, Thomas + Bre entered their recipe in the Cold Brew Coffee Festival, Kentucky’s largest celebration of coffee + cold brew. And wouldn’t you know it? The Leestown Coffee House recipe took home first place in the “Regular Cold Brew” category. They also won second place in the “Specialty Drink” category.
After successfully opening a coffee shop — in the middle of a global pandemic — and crafting an award-winning cold brew recipe, what could be left for Leestown Coffee House?
Thomas + Bre are in the process of getting a patent for their cold brew brewing method. It’s different from other brewing methods due to its efficiency. It actually uses a significantly less amount of beans to achieve stronger flavor profiles.
“Obtaining a patent would allow us to take this process + kind of box it up and put a bow on it. We could offer up this method to start-up coffee shops around the country who are looking for a more efficient brewing method,” said Thomas.
Thomas and Bre couldn’t share more details on their brewing process because of the potential patent. For now, this is an award-winning recipe that’s kept behind lock + key, and can only be sampled right here in Lexington, Kentucky.