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More New Coffee: Spiller Park Toco Hill

More New Coffee: Spiller Park Toco Hill

SPILLER PARK TOCO HILLS

I kinda love Spiller Park Coffee. The cheesy baseball theme, the friendly faces, the rockin’ toasts, and, of course, the excellent coffee and espresso. And now there’s more to love. Spiller Park just opened its second outpost in the mid-renovation Toco Hills shopping-mega-corner at LaVista and North Druid Hills, joining the Ponce City Market location in what may become a hometown hero coffee chain. Owner/partners Hugh Acheson and Dale Donchey tell me there are plans in the works to bring even more Spiller Parks to the fine people of Atlanta over the next few years. I ain’t complaining.

I visited the new Spiller Park last week as they continued their soft opening, still waiting on new menus, still yet to roll out some new bells and whistles. Sure enough though, the baseball theme was present, the friendly faces were smiling, the toast was rockin’, and the coffee was excellent. Not surprising. What did surprise me was how fantastic Spiller Park’s little corner of Toco Hill is – thanks in part to an awesomely retro shopping center sign and the brilliant decision by someone to keep up the ornamental metal (awning? overhang?) on the stretch of shops right next to Spiller Park (you can just make it out in the photo above, or bask in its glory in closer-up photos below).

Donchey says the Toco Hills vibe was part of the attraction. “They wanted to preserve as much [of the Toco Hills shopping center] as possible, but the ornamental metal had gotten really brittle… that’s the last of it. That’s part of what makes the Toco Hill location so special to me – it’s another old place in Atlanta that just gets driven by, when it has such a great neighborhood attached to it, has history, and has so many stories to tell. Seemed like a no-brainer follow-up to Ponce City Market.”

Here are six things (and a few more photos) to get you to over to Toco Hill for your coffee and toast.

1. Awesome toast. And other simplish things to eat. Toast does not need avocado, although I won’t be upset if you choose Spiller Park’s version of avocado toast. Just peep this Nutter ‘N Fig Toast on super-good General Muir rye bread. Donchey says, “the food will expand at Toco into providing house made muffins, waffles, salads, shakshuka, and whatever other clean, simplish, crazy things we can come up with. We’d like to be known as a place to get a great, delicious light bite and coffee or tea.”

2. Baseball mitt koozies. And hot coffee. “We’ll be running different single origin coffees out of each space [Ponce City Market and Toco Hill],” says Donchey, “as well as a siphon brewing option. I liked the idea of being able to put both Spiller Parks on a coffee crawl and walk away with different drinking experiences.” This past week, there were several varieties from both George Howell Coffee and Intelligentsia, but they will be rotating in other roasters as well.

3. Vintage accessories. As I grabbed some sugar, I talked to a random guy about Stanley thermos styles for way too long. This one wasn’t sufficiently vintage for him, but plenty good by me.

4. Rainbow bright chairs and plentiful daylight. It’s nice to sit outside, isn’t it? Even on the somewhat dreary, post-Irma, still-no-power day this shot was taken.

5. Baseball cards. Lots of baseball cards. Did you know Spiller Park (AKA Ponce de Leon Park, AKA Spiller Field) was the home field for the Atlanta minor league baseball team for most of the 20th century? Now you know.

6. Those awesome ornamental metal touches. The camera loves them.

 

Spiller Park Toco Hill

2929 N. Druid Hills Rd.

7AM – 7PM daily

 

 

 

New Coffee Alert: East Pole Coffee Co.

New Coffee Alert: East Pole Coffee Co.

East Pole Coffee Co. is now open for business with their new Atlanta coffee bar and roastery. They soft opened this week, with an official opening next week. Here are six things (and a few more photos) to get you to cross under the Buford Spring connector to Ottley Drive for your morning (or afternoon) coffee.

Thing 1: The Ottley Drive – Armour Drive loop is now becoming a thriving drinks hot spot for Atlanta – with East Pole joining next-door neighbor SweetWater Brewing and friends ASW Distillery down the street to provide a beer-whiskey-coffee trifecta to make Atlanta proud.

Thing 2: East Pole gets design, which is clear from their packaging and their coffee bar. East Pole’s lovely shop fits perfectly with the industrial-chic architecture of the new Armour Yards campus surrounding it, managing to feel both new and lived-in at the same time.

Thing 3: East Pole churns out some excellent coffee beans. They focus on single origin roasts, which will keep you coming back for more to see what’s on the list, whether you’re in the mood for espresso, drip, or a pourover. You can get them by the bag here (as well as places like Taproom down in Kirkwood).

Thing 4: There’s not much else to eat around Ottley Drive – the Fox Bros. Queosk is the main destination during the week, and the Terminus City BBQ pop-ups are currently only on Saturdays – so pastries from Ashley Sue’s Baked Goods will be a welcome addition for folks in the neighborhood. (And, shhh, don’t tell, but there MIGHT be breakfast burritos on the way as a future addition to the menu.)

Thing 5: East Pole loves being Atlanta-centric, and the “Atlanta” window design is bound to earn some Instagram glory (there’s an especially cool reflection of the window cut-out if you sit in just the right spot in the cafe and look at the reflection in the roastery room glass).

Thing 6: If you come on the right day, you just might find the folks behind the counter rocking matching jeans jackets. Just saying.

East Pole Coffee Co.

255 Ottley Drive, Ste. 105 

Monday-Friday, 7AM – 3PM
Saturday & Sunday, 8AM – 2PM

About Octane: Unsolicited Advice for Revelator Coffee

About Octane: Unsolicited Advice for Revelator Coffee

Revelator Octane Coffee

If you live in Atlanta and give a hoot about coffee, you’ve surely heard the news: Revelator has bought Octane. It’s a shock, but not a surprise. Octane was a pioneer in Atlanta’s coffee scene and has steadily grown over the past dozen years, expanding from the west side, to Grant Park, to Buckhead, to midtown, not to mention two shops in Birmingham. They have developed and nurtured a loyal community of fans despite an onslaught of competitors both big and small, most of whom arrived after Octane proved the market was ready for quality coffee. Which is why it’s easy to see that Octane is an attractive acquisition target. They’ve got a strong presence in the Southeast’s leading market, and admirable know-how in terms of operating both the retail and roasting sides of the coffee business. More importantly, Octane owns something that coffee companies dream of – a powerful brand. Revelator? Not so much.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering how Revelator managed to buy out Atlanta’s leading craft coffee purveyor, you’re not alone. But the simple fact is – Revelator has money, fueled by a California-based venture capital firm that seems bent on aggressive growth. Octane is owned primarily by Diane and Tony Riffel, the couple that started the company those many moons ago. And behemoths buying up craft coffee companies is not a new thing. The most prominent proponent of the approach is privately held JAB Holding Company – the money that has scooped up stakes in former indy darlings Peet’s, Intelligentsia, and Stumptown, along with Caribou, Krispy Kreme, and the Einstein/Noah’s bagel brands.

While I spend a good chunk of my time writing about food and drinks, my day job is actually brand strategy consulting. I’ve worked with dozens of Fortune 500 companies on acquisition and innovation strategies, customer experience mapping, value proposition development, you name it. When a company is looking at acquiring another, the resulting brand portfolio should be among the most important considerations. Unfortunately, more often than not, the question of brand optimization is an afterthought to financial and operational considerations. Sure, assets like real estate and equipment are critical, as are capabilities like operational know-how and expertise. But understanding the nature of brand-customer relationships is where great acquisitions are made… will the acquired brand bring something new and complementary to the portfolio? Which of the brands in the new portfolio offer the best opportunities for future growth? Or, how readily will the acquired brand’s loyal customers move from the existing brand to the acquiring brand if pushed to do so?

Go back to JAB Holdings, the big boy that bought up brands like Intelligentsia and Stumptown – brands that had built-in loyal fan bases. You’ll notice that JAB is now managing a portfolio of strong brands, and not trying to subsume acquired businesses under a single brand moniker. Intelligentsia and Stumptown are both known for high-quality sourcing and roasting, as well as for running effective retail shops – and while the argument could surely be made that continuing to invest in both brands is not the most efficient path to growth, both brands have equity that is worth building on. Killing one to favor the other would be a mistake, and JAB seems to know that.

When a company makes an acquisition, that move always serves a larger purpose. Maybe they’re trying to expand into a new geography or product area, maybe they need intellectual capital or technology to take advantage of an emerging market opportunity, or maybe they are simply tasked with growing the top line. The very first thing to understand when looking at an acquisition is that larger purpose: what is the company trying to achieve?

In Revelator’s case, all I have to go on to figure out the company’s goals are the public comments from president Josh Owen. I’ve seen three things that seem to be driving their decision to purchase Octane:

  1. They want to be “a hospitality company first and a coffee company second… and that experience comes in a lot of forms,” including food, alcohol, and evening hours
  2. They think acquiring local companies that have community connections is a stronger path to growth than entering markets from scratch
  3. They see an opportunity to grow significantly in wholesale channels (like supplying coffee to restaurants and other retail)

Octane is a homerun on points 1 and 2, and a solid at-bat on point 3. They’ve seamlessly blended beer and cocktails into their persona from day one, and they’ve established very strong relationships within Atlanta’s and Birmingham’s restaurant and food communities. Wholesale? Octane is there, and has shown success in the sourcing and roasting skills necessary to succeed, but nothing approaching the success of bigger players like Counter Culture or Batdorf & Bronson, who have become heavy hitters when it comes to the wholesale distribution side of the business. So, yes, the acquisition makes sense, but what about the question of branding? Isn’t point 2 above dependent on nurturing acquired brands rather than taking them out?

Owen has said that they intend to phase out the Octane brand within 12 to 18 months. Simply put, I have a hard time seeing that as the right choice. Has Revelator thoroughly considered the existing equities of their own brand relative to the Octane brand? Have they done so through the lens of the intended target markets – both geographic and psychographic/demographic – that they hope to win with? If they have and have simply concluded that phasing out Octane is the way to go, good for them. But, at least in the Atlanta market, that sounds like a path to failure. Here, Octane has equity; Revelator has apathy and even (among many coffee industry insiders and fanatics) enmity. And there are plenty of competitors who have good relationships with the local community that Octane customers can jump to – think Spiller Park, Dancing Goats, Brash, Chattahoochee… I could go on.

So, about Octane. For Revelator, my advice is this: think long and hard about which brand offers you the best chance for success – here in Atlanta, more broadly in the Southeast, and even on a national scale (if that’s what you’re after). Think about what you’re trying to build and the tools you now have at your disposal. Sure, there’s pride in the Revelator brand that you’ve begun to build over the past couple years, despite its ups and downs; but there’s a lot more than pride in the brand that Octane has built. There’s a community of loyal fans (myself included).

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What do you get when you mix Georgia pecan nut milk and South Carolina coffee rum?

What do you get when you mix Georgia pecan nut milk and South Carolina coffee rum?

Treehouse Pecan Milk Rum

I wasn’t planning on having my day shot to hell. But then the nut milk delivery lady showed up. That’s right, I said nut milk. delivery. lady. She handed over the frosty glass jar of her sweet Georgia pecan nut milk, and was heading back to her car, when she turned and delivered the words that would indeed shoot my day (my life?) to hell – “if you’ve got any vodka, it’s great in a White Russian!” She said it so cheerfully. And why shouldn’t she? If any drink can be spoken of in cheerful terms, surely it is the White Russian. Especially one made with locally-made, hand-delivered, sweet Georgia pecan nut milk.

As I carried my pecan milk back into the house, I was already mentally checking my liquor cabinet. Hmm, vodka? Yes. I hardly touch the stuff, but I do make sure to always have a bottle on hand for guests. And I knew exactly where the fifth of Cathead vodka was in the cabinet, hidden behind a bevy of gins, collecting dust in the back corner. The only other thing I would need for a White Russian was Kahlua, and surely I… no… dear God… I don’t  have any Kahlua.

I went down to the liquor cabinet to check, and sure enough… no Kahlua. That led me into the rabbit hole of searching the internet for homemade Kahlua recipes, but frankly I didn’t have the patience. (One of the recipes included the step of steeping vanilla beans for THREE WEEKS! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THREE WEEKS!? My nut milk would never last three weeks, never mind the fact that I would need to go buy some fresh vanilla beans to get it going, and if I’m doing that, I could just as easily have gone out and gotten the goshdarnt Kahlua in the first place).

Treehouse Pecan Milk RumLuckily, I discovered an old bottle in my liquor cabinet that eliminated the need for Kahlua. It was a Java Rum from Sea Island distillery on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. I had bought it on a visit to the distillery several years back, and was super impressed at the time (though apparently not impressed enough to drink much of the stuff, as the bottle was still nearly full). In any case, I twisted off the cap, took in a deep whiff, and knew right away that my lack of Kahlua was no problem at all. Better still, the Sea Island Java Rum even eliminates the need for vodka as well, since it clocks in at 70 proof (Kahlua is just 40 proof).

OK, so, coffee rum? Check. Nut milk? Check. Ice and glass? Check. That’s it. No recipe needed, just mix the two to taste and give it a swirl, then sip, and OH MY LORD this is good stuff. The subtle pecan notes in the creamy nut milk, which also has small amounts of honey and vanilla, works wonders with the chewy, dark-chocolatey, coffee-intense Java Rum. This is the kind of thing that I could drink gallons of over breakfast. Or after dinner. Or during any of the minutes that take place in the span of hours between breakfast and after dinner. In fact, if I were to open a chain of coffee shops that only offered this one drink, 24 hours a day, it would bring the Starbucks empire to its knees within weeks, even factoring in the seasonal bump for PUMPKIN SPICE!

So what do we call this drink? This heavenly blend of sweet Georgia pecan milk and South Carolina-bred coffee rum? You could riff on the White Russian and call it the White Southern. And that makes sense theoretically (it is white in color, and it is in fact Southern), but, um… no. I wouldn’t say the name sounds unintentionally racist, but it kinda sounds unintentionally racist.

That leads us to the inevitable Big Lebowski reference and the equally inevitable moniker – the Southern Dude. Perfect. You get your Big Lebowski/Dude/White Russian connection for the inspiration of the drink, and you get your Southern emphasis for the Georgia pecans and the South Carolina rum that make it unique. I need to get busy printing up t-shirts and bumper stickers and ironic trucker hats featuring the Southern Dude and plentiful references to nut milk.

Now, about my day being shot to hell… I may have had just one of these tasty beverages. Or I may have downed the entirety of those two bottles of nut milk and rum. Either way, I am now working diligently on my business plan to launch a chain of coffeeshops dedicated to spreading the joy that is the Southern Dude. It will come in sizes ranging from 4oz up to a gallon. And, like the nut milk company that inspired the drink, we’ll even deliver. But that’s the only drink we’ll offer. Except maybe a seasonal Southern Pumpkin Spice. Because how else are we really going to beat Starbucks?

Treehouse Pecan Milk Rum


Good news from the fine folks at Treehouse Milk, who produced the pecan milk discussed above: “We promise, everything tastes better with pecan milk. Pecans are high in vitamin E and manganese, which is good for your heart. They are packed with 19 vitamins and minerals, and come from a farm in South Georgia.” They also make almond, cashew, macadamia, and cacao almond milks; and they really will deliver right to your door (if you live in Atlanta, for a small fee – I highly recommend it). Also found at fine shops and coffee shops like the Mercantile, Savi Provisions, and Spiller Park.