Demian Estevez, owner of Mojo Coffee Roasters in New Orleans, talks about transformation and the growing NOLA coffee scene
INTERVIEW BY DIANA MNATSAKANYAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RANDY P. SCHMIDT @randypschmidt
New Orleans is a city known for its cuisine, music and colorful Mardi Gras parades. In the past several years NOLA’s coffee community has grown significantly, both in size and notoriety, with local shop Mojo Coffee Roasters riding the wave of coffee community excellence. Demian Estevez, Mojo’s owner-operator, NOLA native, and long-time coffee professional, took some time recently to share his experiences as part of the rapidly growing New Orleans coffee scene.
Diana Mnatsakanyan: What draws you to New Orleans?
Demian Estevez: People in New Orleans just seem like they belong here ”even if you just landed in NOLA, it was for a reason. New Orleanians just don’t fit in everywhere else.
DM: How has the local coffee community changed since Hurricane Katrina in 2005?
DE: After Katrina there were only a few coffee shops open. We all struggled to get the supplies we needed to stay running ”mail was limited, so purchasing anything outside of the city was difficult. All of the shops came together and carried coffee from two of our local roasters, Orleans Coffee Roasters and Reve Coffee Roasters, to help bolster their sales and get them back on their feet. Besides, we thought it would be best to keep our money local.
Most of our customers were die-hard Lower Garden District neighbors that either stayed despite the hurricane or came back early, like we did. There always was a strong sense of community in our neighborhood but after the storm it became even stronger and as a local coffee shop we were at the center of it all. As soon as people got home they checked on their houses and then headed to Mojo to reconnect with their friends and the rest of the community.
At that time, the coffee community was just getting back on its feet. Now, years after the storm, the third wave coffee movement has finally taken off in New Orleans. It’s a real great time in NOLA for coffee, and we’re just grateful to be a part of it.
DM: What excites you about the specialty coffee industry?
DE: It’s so vast! There’s so much you can do and learn within this one industry. I can always find something interesting at every level, in every sub-category. It also feels a little like the coffee community is one big family. I love going to coffee community events to reconnect with the people I’ve met over the years and see where they are now. It always rejuvenates me and inspires me work harder.
DM: What energizes you after a long day?
DE: My kids. Since they were little they’ve jumped on me as soon as I walk through the door. It’s called a squish. Even now that they are teens they ask me if I need a squish ¦and I always do!
DM: What do you like to do when you’re not at the shop?
DE: I love road tripping with my family, even if it’s a short trip to the suburbs for laser tag or doughnuts in the middle of the night. We love to drive with the windows down and the music so loud that you can’t hear that fact that we don’t know all the words or what bad singers we are.
DM: What’s playing on repeat in your iTunes these days?
DE: Danza Kuduro by Don Omar
DM: What have been some of your greatest challenges as a business owner? How have you overcome them?
DE: Starting out as a second-wave coffee shop and watching the industry grow into the third wave movement has been a challenge. Newer coffee shops in our area had the luxury of starting out as third-wave and attracting that customer base easily. We had to navigate changing alongside the coffee movement without losing our already-existing customers or turning away potential new customers.
Our solution was to ride both waves. We implemented single-cup, hand-crafted coffee methods such as the Hario V60 and the AeroPress. We shifted our focus on espresso and single-origin coffee. We also implemented a better training program and better barista techniques. We cut back on flavored syrups and cut out flavored coffee. We started to feature roasters from all over the country on our manual brew bar, but also kept locally-roasted coffee as our batch brew. All of these adjustments helped us figure out how to run a successful business, and shaped us to where we are today.
DM: What’s your advice for café owners looking to expand their business into coffee roasting?
DE: You have to pour your heart and soul into roasting, and that commitment comes out in each batch. Don’t do it to save a buck ”roast coffee for the love of coffee! Do as much research as possible, learn everyday and never stop trying to be better.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Diana Mnatsakanyan is a cat-lady-turned-barista living in Charlotte, North Carolina. A workaholic and coffee nerd, she is currently in the process of opening her first coffee shop, Undercurrent Coffee. She also dabbles in barista blogging, coffee consulting and Netflix binge-watching (she highly recommends ˜Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ and ’30 Rock’).