Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Local Coffee Heads North, Plans Foray into Dallas Frontier

Posted By on Tue, Jan 8, 2019 at 12:45 PM

It is no given that a successful business in one Texas city will be successful in another. Local Coffee, which is called Merit Coffee out of town, hopes to avoid the mistakes of others and open up two locations in Dallas sometime in February.

The obvious instructive fable here is Hot Joy. In 2016, the Express-News spat out a blurb on the "pure whimsy" of the crab fat caramel wings and affectionately called the restaurant's aesthetic a "kitschy Asian theme." When Hot Joy opened a pop-up in Dallas in 2017, the tune changed. The Dallas Observer sent in the cavalry. "Hot Joy is a clueless white-dude fantasy in which Asian identity and cuisine are reduced to a string of ironic clichés." Also the food sucked, apparently.

The lesson is that Dallas is different from San Antonio, and Hot Joy's two-year pop-up lasted three months.

Of course, owner Robby Grubbs isn't running a restaurant. Coffee is less likely to inspire hand-wringing over cultural appropriation, and it is theoretically easier to control quality between locations. Do customers even read professional reviews of coffee shops? Probably not.

At the same time, Dallas is more competitive. Grubbs called the Dallas market "a high water-mark for the Merit brand." The two locations are going to be in scene-y Deep Ellum (2639 Main St., #140) and in wealthy Highland Park (4228 Oak Lawn Ave.).

In Deep Ellum, a studio apartment rents for at least $1,000, and the median income in Highland Park hovers around 200 grand. So, yeah, it's a little different from San Antonio.

As far as coffee shops go, Merit's company structure is corporate-ish. Their website lists a CEO, CFO, separate directors of green coffee and roasting, a district manager, and a separate manager for almost every individual cafe. Perhaps this delineation will make expansion smoother than it has been for others.

Local Coffee is a success story, with six outposts here and one in Austin in their 10 years of doing business. Opening a coffee shop in Austin is basically like breathing, so let's count the Dallas venture as the biggest leap yet for Local/Merit. And let's cross our fingers for the hometown coffee barons.

So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.

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