The Religious Experience of Coffee
Renee Blanchard, owner of Church Alley Coffee Bar talks about how her business got brewin’
It’s not uncommon to find small business owners and entrepreneurs working in a coffee shop. But what about the aspiring business owner who decides that the coffee shop itself, is the business she’d like to pursue. For one New Orleans woman, the importance of a calm, public space became so great that it became her passion and ultimately, her business.
“As a contract worker I spent a lot of time working in coffee shops in both the U.S. and Europe and I got to see and feel the importance of these public spaces,” says Renee Blanchard, owner of Church Alley Coffee Bar. “The opportunity to open a coffee shop came right when I was looking for a change of career, and I realized it was just what I wanted.”
Her first location was a friend's building that they were looking to put back into use after it was blighted for years. After Blanchard realized that it wasn't the best location for her business, she moved the shop down the street just three blocks, into the lobby of the Zeitgeist building on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
“The majority of the building had not been used except for this eclectic movie house in the back,” Blanchard says. “So I leased out as much of the building as I thought I could afford, (about 1,000 square-feet.) And now I sublease a portion of that space out to different designers and a little shop called The Good Shop. This new location allows for a very unique experience for everyone that comes through. I'm really happy about how it all turned out!”
Blanchard has been working for four years on her craft, reading, talking and learning from the people around her and at shops around the country that she loves.
“I spend a lot of time experimenting with coffee to find all the ways to create a more delicious cup,” Blanchard says.
Education and learning more about the palate is all part of the process and Blanchard says she enjoys learning as much as she can.
“Friends and I spend some time each month talking about our palates including self-designed palate classes,” she says. “This allows me to hear how other people talk about what they are tasting and how they taste. I am then able to better understand how my customers might be tasting their coffee. I think this constant learning has been one of the biggest surprises, you would think you learn to make a great cup of coffee and that's it, but it's really not. It's a constant journey towards learning and understanding just like any other skill.”
Blanchard is active on social media and she says she thinks it’s a fun way to promote her business but also share her personality with patrons.
“I am very active on social media. In the morning when I'm opening the shop, I snap some photos to share throughout the day,” she says. “I also talk about things that are important to me as a person and about my personal life. I think some businesses shouldn't do this, but as a coffee shop my personal tends to be my professional as well. I don't really believe I'm competing with other coffee shops, I think I'm providing a different environment for folks that enjoy coffee.”
Enjoyment is key to what Blanchard strives to create. She says she hopes her customers find Church Alley Coffee Bar to be a home away from home.
“I hope it’s a place where they can relax and recharge when necessary and a place they want to share with others they care about,” Blanchard says. “It's not just about delicious coffee and small bites, it's about how my customers feel when they are in the shop.”
The small bites don’t hurt, however. Church Alley Coffee Bar serves Breads on Oak pastries, makes their own muffins, and has a small food menu. They also serve Tandem Coffee Roasters out of Portland, Maine and Cafe Grumpy Coffee Roasters out of New York.
Where the challenges of owning your own business are concerned, Blanchard says that believing in her vision above all else is a challenge, but one that she takes on gladly.
“As a small business owner you get a lot of people who, with good intention, tell you all the ways you can improve your business,” she says. “And it's a delicate balance to make those people feel appreciated and at the same time following your vision and sometimes that can be at a cost to other things. Some days I'm better at meeting and overcoming these challenges than others. But each day I get to try again!”
Church Alley Coffee Bar is open Monday to Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. www.churchalleycoffeebar.com