GREYHOUSE COFFEE & SUPPLY CO.

Life moves so quickly for many people these days there's not many places left to meet new people, go deep, and invest in a sustainable quality of life. I founded Greyhouse as a placemaking experiment to serve these needs in a community using art, culture, and coffee as a means to this end.

 

Research & Strategy | User Experience Design | Placemaking | Identity Development | Website Design | Organizational Strategy | Marketing Collateral | Business Strategy

 

There needed to be a brand that was unpretentious, but unique. I wanted something to invoke a lot of emotion, and feel familial as well. I settled on an adjective, eventually refined this to a color, and we ended up with Greyhouse. I wanted the shop to be bigger than me, so I created a fictional owner, Nora Grey. I wrote an entire biography of Nora that I felt captured the essence of what our market most needed. This biography led to a statement of ethos, what emotions and metaphors were most important to accomplish what I was trying to do with our demographic. Then everything flowed from this ethos: branding, menu, furnishings, even staff training.

Our shop needed to be high quality but approachable. I sourced the best quality products available so people felt cared for like an honored guest in a home, even traveling to Italy to research food and espresso at some of the most famous cafes in the world, but renamed everything with American-sounding names that were not too stuffy, even whimsical, to keep things casual. I wanted foods that were slow to fit an environment that was about people and relationships, made from scratch if possible, or sourced locally if not.

I knew I wanted the shop to be in heart of the cultural part of town, right on the intersection of the two most heavily travelled streets in the county. The space wasn't for sale, but I was able to work with the current the current owner over several months and eventually established a favorable contract to take possession. I wanted to flip the facility as fast as possible to minimize losses, and worked 20-hour days for over a month overseeing more than 250 volunteers renovating every single surface, all new electrical and plumbing, as well as a commercial kitchen.

I hired an incredible team, and we built an operation of almost 60 employees working from 5am-2am 7 days/week. Training this team in the larger vision of community service, and appointing leaders within my team was an essential part of the success of the shop. I created a sophisticated dashboard system to manage the large operation efficiently, and have designed many custom promotions to incentivize sales based on leveraging data in these analyses. Greyhouse is now the most heavily-trafficked locally owned retail business of any kind in the county. We serve almost 1,000 customers/day most days, and annual patronage significantly exceeds the population of the city, plus the city next door. It has been been named favorite coffee shop by reader's choice 5 years in a row.

I designed a large open window into the kitchen, to help customers connect with staff, and designed the prep area to face customers so there was an opportunity for a conversation. I used social dynamics of placemaking to arrange furniture such that it was far enough to be comfortable, but close enough it would be easy to make a new friend. No detail was too small, army men in a bin next to the sugar provided a unexpected delighter, board games glued to the ceiling mid-game were a surprise, and I spent months sourcing the right material for our gelato cups to assure the final scoop at the bottom had just the right feel- memorable and solid, not plastic on plastic. All materials in the space needed to be 100% natural, just like our ingredients in our food. Solid wood, brick, and concrete, no veneers or artificial materials. I believe this leads to a subtle sense of authenticity, and ultimately a safe and comfortable environment. However, all materials that came in contact with food needed to be white to feel crisp and clean and sophisticated. High grade porcelain from Europe, plain white mugs and cups, and even white bags for to go orders.

Greyhouse is very community-focused and I dedicate personnel and budget each year to serve people and groups in the surrounding city. We support about 250 outside groups each year. It was also important to me to connect with our coffee farmers around the world, establish relationships, and give back as much as we could. I have sent teams to Kenya, Guatemala, and Thailand, and I have personally gone to Rwanda. We have built schools, fed orphans, donated livestock, funded coffee processing equipment, and improved relationships between farmers and local governments. 

I designed a website, online sales portal, and social media presence following these same principles of clean, high quality, in a context that was accessible and fun. Greyhouse has over 5,000 Facebook members. Online orders show up at your door wrapped in classic twine and addresses and names are hand-calligraphied on each box. I designed an entire line of original merchandise that supported this same brand: cobranded tea, chocolate, biscotti, chocolate-covered espresso beans, and much more. The Greyhouse brand was recognized in HOW International Magazine's Interactive Design Awards, 2011 alongside such behemoths as Seagrams and Diet Coke.