The Pearl Cup Tells Us How It Came To Dominate The Dallas Coffee Market.
In early 2007, business partners Carlene Saelg and Rita Davis moved to Dallas and opened up The Pearl Cup, an independent coffee shop that serves specialty drinks and food.
Since the very beginning, The Pearl Cup has been on a path of positive growth; their ways have won them pretty much every coffee-related Best Of award in town since opening, and their founding location on Henderson Avenue remains among the busiest coffee spots in town.
Cozied up between retro furniture and home goods store Form and clothing boutique Milk + Honey, The Pearl Cup's home base on Henderson has definitely become a home away from home for many. Makes sense: The space was specifically built out to suit those in search of a little community with their cup of coffee or tea (or sandwich, even, if you find yourself hungry). Inside the Henderson location is a large area with plenty of tables and chairs, and, outside, there's a small patio.
It's not the only Pearl Cup spot in town, though. There's also a location in Downtown Dallas at St. Paul Place — a spot filled less with young adults mingling and studying, and more with business people scurrying to and from work or meetings.
Still, no matter the crowd attracted to The Pearl Cup, the business' brand story has remained consistent: great tasting coffee taken seriously, and served without the elitist attitude.
Saelg and Davis make no secret their dislike of cafes that serve snootiness with their cappuccinos. From the start, the idea that a patron could order a more embellished beverage (e.g. syrup, spice, and foam additives) without feeling inferior to the strict espresso-drinking-only servers has appealed to the Pearl Cup's ownership. And, true to that goal, one can approach the counter at The Pearl Cup and experience an inviting atmosphere with employees willing to share knowledge. That's such an important part of the Pearl Cup experience, Saelg says, that the company is even working on some how-to videos to be released the near future — videos where they the company will share tips with its customers, like how to store coffee, how to work an espresso machine, and so on.
Now with so much success and demand throughout the region, Saelg and Davis are continuing their rapid expansion around town. They're opening a third location in Richardson, they have plans to open a spot in Oak Cliff and, perhaps most interestingly, they're hopping on the area food truck craze and taking their coffee mobile, too.
Recently, we sat down with Saelg to find out more about their history with coffee making, their feelings on the area coffee community, and their plans to expand their craft. Check out our resulting Q&A below.
First off, tell us a little about yourself and your background with coffee.
When you love coffee you just love coffee! I have loved coffee ever since I was a child, sipping from my mom or grandma's cup. I was that odd kid that loved coffee ice cream while the others liked bubblegum flavor or cookies and cream. I come from a large Italian family, and what do Italians love to do but eat and drink coffee? It's not necessarily about the actual act of eating and drinking — although we can cook. It's the social aspect of interacting with family and friends. Coffee and dessert is a must for extending an evening of laughter and conversation long into the evening. Coffee was an integral part our gatherings and, as long as the coffee pot was never empty, we were never lonesome for company.
Of course, my tastes have matured since the days of sipping my mom and grandma's coffee. I only drink my coffee black now, and when I'm craving an espresso-based drink, it's always a traditional cappuccino or cortado. This allows the bold taste of the espresso to dominate on the palette rather than being beaten down and drowned out by the milk.
What differentiates The Pearl Cup from all the competition out there?
We don't judge you on how you like your coffee. This sets us apart from Starbucks and the life because we appeal to the hardcore coffee enthusiast as well as the flavored latte drinkers. This even sets us apart from some of the other independent shops that are trending toward an “elitist” experience where you catch attitude from the barista when you ask for a “Caramel Macchiato,” which is clearly a Starbucks drink. This elitist experience is a nationwide trend among some indie shops, and I sure hope it stops! No one wants to be judged, especially not at a coffee shop. We pride ourselves in being the place that attracts all walks of life and diverse interest groups. We've had knitting groups and church groups sitting next to day traders and pharmaceutical reps. We have artists and cycling, running and cross-fit groups in all the time. It doesn't matter what your interest is, there's a place for you at Pearl Cup.
Have you found much competition in the Dallas-Fort Worth area?
We were the first immensely popular specialty coffee shop that raised the level of quality for specialty coffee in Dallas-Fort Worth, but over the past year and half there have been many more shops open up. We're actually glad to have the company because it encourages a very active coffee-loving community. Many of our customers frequent all the top indie shops in town. In fact, so do we! Coffee is like wine. Different shops have different coffees, so you get a different experience everywhere you go and then hopefully you pick us as your favorite and become a regular.
What makes The Pearl Cup “part of the community,” as you say?
We created an inviting space that encourages community gathering. Most likely, it's the combination of inviting decor, friendly and knowledgeable baristas, and our “coffee bar,” where you can belly up and talk coffee with us. Again, we make you feel welcome.
What is your history with coffee making?
Before Rita and I opened the shop, our only experience was drinking coffee, not making coffee. We spent about eight months traveling the country and experiencing coffee shops and coffee roasters that are more than happy to share their love of coffee with you. Roasters want to earn your business, so they are most likely the greatest source of information and education. We've learned a lot over the years and continue to keep learning. There is always more to know.
Where do you buy your coffee and tea from? Have you ever visited your roasters' farms?
We use Topeca Roasters out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. They also own a family farm in El Salvador. We have not visited a farm, but we've been invited to the family farm in El Salvador, owned by our roaster. A woman in Rockwall makes the tea, and we will have new seasonal flavors coming soon.
How is your Downtown Dallas spot doing? And when will the highly anticipated Richardson location open?
The St. Paul location is doing very well for type of shop that it is. We like to call it our “Business Class” shop. This location is only open during business hours and only during the week. Dallas' downtown does not support this location being open any other time — not just yet. We hope to see more vibrancy and activity as the Klyde Warren Park becomes more popular. Our location at II Creeks in Richardson continues to get pushed back due to permit issuance and holiday schedules. We are optimistic for soon, but I would not be surprised if it gets pushed farther back. For us, the sooner the better! North Dallas and Plano can barely keep their excitement contained!
The construction of your successful brick-and-mortar shops has all been from personal monetary funding. However, you tried to used crowd-sourced funds to kick off your mobile coffee truck and that didn't really work out. What was the most challenging part of this new fundraising process?
People still don't fully understand crowd-sourced funding, so it's been a challenge just to get the word out about what it is and how the community can lend a helping hand in growing a small business that they love. When small business grows, it grows the economy by adding more jobs and that directly impacts our community and the community will have had a direct impact on that growth. Some people want a mobile Pearl Cup just for the fun of it. Request for delivery service and mobility happens constantly!
How soon do you anticipate taking The Pearl Cup on the road?
I believe it would only take 30 to 60 days to get the truck bought, designed and equipped before we could be on the road slinging pearl lattes.
Will the truck offer a large menu of drink items? What sort of food will you offer in addition to drinks?
We would be working within a confined space of a truck, so the menu will be limited. We are looking more to compliment the food trucks rather than compete with them. Most likely, we will carry the entire drink menu that the stand-alone shops have, with very limited food selections such as Panini sandwiches and perhaps chili and cinnamon rolls.
Other than the coffee truck, do you anticipate opening any other new shops in DFW soon? Or, is the coffee truck a way to test the waters first?
Yes and yes! I'll have to keep you guessing on the other new shops, though, as it would be premature to get into specifics until we are fully funded for those future shops.