People “buy with their eyes” according to Mallory Orr, co-owner of State Street’s newest coffee shop.
It was this philosophy that inspired Grace Coffee Company’s menu, interior design and the packaging of coffee blends.
“We wanted to offer food that wasn’t just good quality but also pretty and aesthetically pleasing,” Orr said as she sat down at one of the shop’s tables. In front of her was a massive bowl of mixed greens, avocado, grilled potatoes, ham and eggs drizzled with balsamic.
“I also wanted to create an environment where people can really feel at home,” Orr said. “I know how important it is to have a place like that.”
With ample avocado toasts and big breakfast wraps, Seattle-style roasts and a hip, urban design, Grace Coffee aims to be a comfortable place for Madison locals. Orr owns the shop with her fiance, Carlos Falcon.
After a rather public design hiccup — they painted the stone and brick front of the building black, sparking local outcry, then hurriedly removed the paint — Grace Coffee opened its doors at 417 State St. in May.
The last coffee shop Orr worked at in Seattle before moving to Madison with Falcon was urban COFFEE Lounge. She’d go there even on her days off because, “it felt more like home than my home did.”
“Whenever you go to a coffee shop, for the most part, you get either good coffee or good food,” said Falcon. “It’s hard to blend the two together. I liked the idea of being able to have a small, solid menu of coffee and food where everything is really good, without getting too complicated.”
One of Grace Coffee’s most popular menu items is the avocado toast. Cafe staffers mash avocados with garlic salt and crushed red pepper and spreads them on sourdough. The whole thing is topped with fried eggs, glazed with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with sesame seeds and lemon juice ($8.50).
There’s an acai bowl ($9), granola, berries, banana and honey with sweetened condensed milk. That’s become a favorite for on the few warmer days this spring. The menu also offers bacon, egg and hashbrown breakfast wraps ($8) and peanut butter acai bowls ($9.95).
“Most people get to-go boxes because the portions are so big,” said Orr.
Orr and Falcon, both Seattle natives, met six years ago while working together at one of the city’s many cafes. Orr started her first barista job at a Seattle coffee shop at age 19. Falcon discovered his love of coffee working with coffee at a Vietnamese restaurant at age 17. At Grace, they serve coffee from Portland's Heart Coffee Roasters, which has three cafes of its own and wholesale accounts around the country.
“I love that there’s always something new to learn everyday with coffee,” said Falcon. “The challenge of being able to perfect the craft is really appealing.”
Previously a hat shop called Sacred Feather, Grace’s faded brick building is an eye-catcher, with gargoyles gracing the entrance of the shop. But it’s Orr and Falcon’s 120-pound Bernese mountain dog, Pablo, that attracts the most customers.
“His full name is Pablo Escobar,” said Orr with an eye-roll. “Yeah, Carlos thinks it’s funny.”
Pablo, a trained service dog, has grown up in coffee shops with Falcon. Visitors can find him staring out the glass door at passerby or lounging in front of the coffee counter, hoping for a taste of Grace Coffee’s scones and cinnamon rolls.
Early in the morning is when Pablo is at his most energetic and friendly. In the afternoon, he seeks solitude.
“He’s my spirit animal that way,” said Orr, an introvert by nature.
Once Pablo and the gargoyles have successfully lured guests into the doors of Grace Coffee Co., it’s the food, the winking signs (“but first, coffee” in script), Madison Sourdough’s cinnamon sugar puff pastries, and homemade coffee syrups that make customers stay.
Orr and Falcon work some 70 hours a week, making foam-topped latte masterpieces and maintaining the cafe. On her wrist, Orr has a tattoo of a coffee tamper. That’s all about passion. Where does the name “grace” come in?
“Grace is like good coffee,” said Orr. “You can never get enough.”