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Hidden Gems: Meet Nate Larson, Hannah Larson of Living Room Coffee & Kitchen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nate Larson Hannah Larson.

Alright, thank you for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us how you got started?
Our Dad, Barry, began roasting coffee to sell at farmers’ markets to help provide jobs to a couple of supported living clients at his social work agency. Their customer base grew quickly to include wholesale customers, and Barry decided to rent a small space to roast and package coffees. After an abrupt career shift, Nate found himself helping grow the business, then called “arthouse coffees,” named for the art studio the roasting operation shared space with. A more lovely space became available, and Nate decided it was too nice a spot to just roast and wholesale coffee. So he opened Living Room Coffee & Kitchen and taught himself to bake bread and cookies and make basic food to accompany the delicious coffees. Nate’s sister Hannah moved back to St. Louis from Phoenix, AZ, to be closer to family. She became Nate’s business partner, co-conspirator, co-evolver, bakery expert, and bookkeeper at Living Room! The neighborhood was into the vibe even though the cafe only had 20 seats. 8 years later, we have expanded our menu and our cafe too. We just completed a massive expansion project adding seats for a total of 60 inside seats and 60 outside seats. What got us here, we think, is a relentless commitment to friendly service and consistent quality of experience and product. A lot has happened along the way, but that’s as brief as possible.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has not been a smooth road. Once, we tried opening a second location, sharing space with a specialty beer shop and bar. The idea was we would operate in the morning, then in the early afternoon, the space would transition from coffee shop to bar, and they would begin selling beer and stuff. When we opened, we realized we had made a mistake as every customer who walked in said, “wait, no food?” We had miscalculated our reputation among our customers. We thought we were equal parts coffee and kitchen. The bar only had space for a barista setup, so we thought maybe our great coffee, some scones, and bagels, and we were set. People want the coffee alongside a wholesome and simple breakfast or lunch. They don’t want just the coffee and snacks; they want it all. Equally and hilariously, once the cafe’s big expansion was completed, we had an issue with the espresso machine that rendered it inoperable for two weeks. It was dismissal. It turns out people also don’t want just plates of food and house brew from us! They want it all: iced oat milk vanilla lattes AND a bunch of fresh eggs and bacon and bread. So, no, it has not been a smooth road. But in some ways, it has. Hannah and I work together very well and hard to make our business something we are proud of. The reliability of our relationship, knowing we are both in this together and where one of us falters, the other steps up and does extra, making it feel like a smooth road when we look at it from perspective.

As you know, we’re big fans of Living Room Coffee & Kitchen. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about the brand?
Living Room is a family-owned and operated cafe in Maplewood. We pride ourselves on serving wholesome, house-made foods and freshly roasted single-origin coffees and providing a welcoming atmosphere for all types of people. We roast our coffee, make our bread, sauces, pickles, cookies, cakes, etc., and do everything we can from scratch with love and consistency. We are known for brunch on weekends and our cold brew, but mostly for our friendly and kind staff. Through all the changes we have experienced, our staff is always excellent and welcomes every customer with a heartfelt greeting.

What would you say has been one of your most important lessons?
We have learned that expectations are everything in service. Customers want to know what to expect walking in, when they order a certain drink or dish, right down to every detail like “where do I pick up my online order?” or “where do I put my dirty dishes”? (you put them into the bus tub nearby if you can, or leave them :). Helping people know what the experience will be like from before they even step foot in your shop to finishing their meal and cleaning up shows that you care deeply about their comfort, and many appreciate it. People coming in for coffee and a peanut butter cookie are much more likely to come back to try something new if you can give them a predictable experience with consistency first. We have learned that and earned many regulars over the years.

Also, we learned how to navigate a global pandemic with squeezes put on everything. So many things were affected. I will list them now:

  • Product availability
  • In-person service
  • The politicization of the medical advice
  • Staffing shortages
  • Staff sicknesses
  • The politicization of seemingly every element of our social lives
  • Supply chain constraints
  • Masking
  • Customer relationships in the face of social polarization
  • Staff departures to pursue passions
  • Constant adaptation and maneuvering
  • Inflation
  • Price increases
  • Social unrest and upheaval

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Cheryl Baehr

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