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Meet Melanie Porter of Lavender & Honey Espresso Bar in Pasadena

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melanie Porter.

Melanie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My husband Charlie and I actually first started talking about opening a coffee shop together on our second date. It was one of those “what would you do if you could do anything” type of date questions, and we both said that we would open a coffee shop.

Of course, it was a few years after that time that we really started the planning; but even in those early days, we were both taking in every coffee shop experience, thinking through what we loved and what we weren’t quite as fond of.

We traveled all over, and we were able to really get a good understanding of the coffee shop cultures in different regions and countries. As we began honing our concept, we realized that so much of the coffee shop world had become very masculine, hyper-masculine even, and we wanted to offer something that was more inclusive, with a bit of a softer edge.

We wanted to create a space that was enjoyable for families, where kids could have something along with their parents; we wanted a shop that served excellent coffee but wasn’t so uptight that it would scare off coffee novices. Really, we just wanted our ideal coffee shop. And that’s what Lavender & Honey is. After we figured out the concept, it came time for us to devise and then fine-tune the menu.

I always wanted our coffee shop to have a pretty significant food component because a few years ago, that was a rare business plan and being an avid cafe chaser myself, I know that most people want options. So, we knew that food would be a major part of what we would be doing, and we wanted it to be–like everything else–fun.

We decided that, much like we would have an Espresso Bar, we would have Bars to help categorize our other menu offerings: Toast Bar, Sandwich Bar, Salad Bar, etc. We wanted the food to be interesting but approachable, filling but affordable; and include flavors inspired by our worldly travels while staying true to our California roots.

Our solid conceptual plan helped us determine markets that we felt were underserved in terms of specialty coffee and quality cafe fare. With Pasadena being a major cultural and culinary hub, we focused most of our search on community-oriented areas where we could make the biggest impact.

We eventually stumbled upon a former kids’ art studio space in a run-down (but beautiful) building in an area in North Pasadena that just did not have any real coffee to speak of. We very quickly fell in love with the neighborhood and space, and we felt confident that it would be the perfect landing spot for Lavender & Honey. It turns out that we were right.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It’s been wild; ups and downs, typically one immediately after the other, and often times even piling on top of one another. We joke about it now, the way that there’s almost certain to be a balancing of sorts if things are going too smoothly, but the stress of it all never goes away. Even before we opened, we were having major issues, the biggest being the parking lot for our building not meeting current code. You would never know by looking at it now, but the parking lot used to be a real mess–and hazard.

In short, the city would not allow us to operate with our intended use if the parking lot was not overhauled to meet current code, and we were very lucky that our landlords at the time were on board to help make this happen. While we were in construction, we also held interviews for our starting team; our first conversations with potential employees always included us trying to convince them to see past the dust, and that our space would one day be an actual coffee shop!

Small businesses are inherently difficult to run and scale. We are held to the same standard as large corporations on most fronts, and with regulations constantly changing at the state and city level, it can be overwhelming to find ways or people to implement the necessary compliance measures while focusing on your day-to-day operations and keeping up with industry trends.

You make a lot of personal sacrifices to make your small company successful. Once my husband and I had our daughter, we had to take multi-tasking to a level I never knew existed. You learn to delegate and realize that hiring good people that fit your vision is crucial to taking your company farther and finding balance.

Lavender & Honey Espresso Bar – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Lavender & Honey is a boutique coffee bar and deli. We offer excellent coffee, made using award-winning beans roasted in Southern California, and we do so in a way that makes our shop a destination for true coffee fanatics and those who may just be starting to enjoy it alike. We have a gourmet sandwich and toast bar, as well as a kids’ menu, and for many of the items on our menu we use and highlight products made by local artisans. We also have gluten-free and vegan bread and pastry offerings.

I don’t think we realized that this would be the case before we opened, but, in some ways, we’re most well-known for our toasts. Our food component, in general, is what sets us apart from other specialty coffee shops; and this side of the business is a hot topic when talking with media and industry experts. Seeing articles in reputable publications on how to implement a toast bar years after we opened validates the notion that our food has had a major impact on other coffee companies.

We also really dedicated ourselves to crafting a perfect cold brew recipe–something that we did just because we both really enjoyed the different flavors that could be extracted using this brewing method. We now sell more cold brew than drip coffee for large swaths of the year, we launched our own cold brew concentrate bottle last year, and our cold brew has been written up many times as a standout on the market.

At Lavender & Honey, we pride ourselves on giving customers an exceptional experience, because we think coffee is about more than just the coffee. We are as focused on hospitality as we are on providing a quality product. Ambience is everything for us, and you find that in all of the details of the design and decor, in the music and the lighting, in the cups and mugs that are used to hold your drink, and in the personalities of the people who you interact with.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
As coffee shop owners, we define success by the number of people that our shop really means something to. It is really hard to quantify, but we feel like a good day is any day that someone tells us how much they love our shop.

It may be their first time, or they may be a regular customer, but we take genuine joy in seeing the community enjoy our space as their own and connecting with them on a personal level. I love knowing that Lavender & Honey is a hub for people, a place that’s allowed them to have experiences that maybe they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Now that we’ve been open for over four years, we’ve also realized that there are many people who look to us and our company for inspiration. Many budding restaurateurs seek our guidance in starting their own ventures, and being able to pay-it-forward by advising others makes us successful leaders in our field.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Maritha Mae Photography
Joanne Pio Photography

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