Find them online and buy their coffee at pregamecoffee.com!
|Rob Arnold roasts on the Pregame Coffee MCR-2, 2 kilogram roaster a machine which lives in the company’s cafe in Louisville, Kentucky. He specializes in coffee cocktails, and crafting a shop atmosphere that’s equal parts cocktail bar and coffee bar.|
Setting the Scene
Rob came to the coffee sector from health and wellness. He also came to the coffee sector for health and wellness; after spending eighteen years in military and corporate healthcare, he had the idea to put his knowledge to use in a book. So he went to various Louisville coffee shops in order to write.
The more time he spent in the different cafe environments, the more he found he had ideas about what kind of coffee shop experience he wanted. Coming to coffee from an athletic and wellness mindset, he saw an opportunity there to hybridize the brick and mortar cafe model with a bar model.
Rob, a planner at heart, started frequenting the area coffee shops with a new goal in mind: research. He observed how many customers stopped in, and what they ordered. He watched baristas and their processes.
He used that research to build a business plan, basing it off his original idea of a cafe-bar hybrid. In March of 2020, he acquired his first round of funding for the business. One week later, the entire town shut down following Covid-19 protocols. He found a choice when a commercial space became available in April–start now, or wait. He chose to go all in. “I said well, the train’s leaving the station, and we better get on,” he says. Pregame Coffee opened in September of 2020.
The Way Up
At first, the company sourced beans roasted by Onyx Coffee.
All the careful planning that Rob had laid down in the years leading up to launch were suddenly not applicable to the shop’s daily operation. “We were operating at twenty percent of those projections,” he says. “We had to modify.”
Facing a shortage of customers, Rob had to reprioritize. He put breaking even at the forefront of every day’s to-do list, and started to think in terms of wins and losses. Instead of comparing the company to others in the area–already a challenge, since Pregame Coffee is one of a kind in Louisville–he used the store’s average sales as a way to measure success. “When we’re above average, that’s a win,” He says.
In that mindset, he could better approach days that felt like a loss by analyzing the underlying reasons. If it was in his power to adjust, he did. If not, he carried on.
He expected the company’s growth to pick up as Louisville adjusted to the pandemic and companies reopened. It was a surprise to him how slow-going the scaling actually was.
In early 2022, the company had an involuntary move from the original location to the current location on East Main street. For six months, the operation paused while Rob sorted out the logistics of the move and built out the new space.
That same year, Rob purchased an MCR-2 and started roasting to supply the cafe, aiming to both save money on coffee as well as open up new avenues for the company. Louisville boasts a number of breweries and distilleries, and Rob figured that with his niche of coffee cocktails, collaborations were a natural next step.
When the shop reopened, Rob found the sales considerably boosted from its new location’s casual vibe, which fit the company’s model much better than the previous downtown area. Coupled with the new roasting operation, Rob began to see more traction.
With the roaster, Rob now has potential to generate more wholesale accounts. He has also been able to expand on the event side of the brick and mortar model, hosting traditional coffee events like cuppings, tastings, and tours, as well as events such as game nights and cereal and cocktail mornings, which extend the shop’s hours and considerably boost profits.
The Pregame Coffee Menu
Pregame Coffee roasts three single origins: an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, a Costa Rica Tarrazu, and a Rwanda. “My thought was, I want to fine-tune these three beans before I add more,” he says. Starting with single origins gave him more insight into their specific roast profiles, and more targeted practice with the roaster.
And the three offerings hit three different targets in the business as well. The Yirgacheffe gives customers a predictable light roast to drink in-shop. The Costa Rica, a medium-dark roast, goes on espresso. And he uses the Rwanda in-between, in cocktails and also as a drip suggestion for curious customers.
The cafe menu offers both traditional cafe drinks as well as signature craft drinks and cocktails, all of which Rob has developed himself. Many of his ideas come from The Flavor Bible, a resource recommended to him by a local chef that helps him to chain flavors together.
He foresees the book coming in handy as he tries his hand at blending in the coming months, a new venture that will expand his roast offerings as well as his coffee cocktail menu. As is, the shop rotates drinks out regularly, sometimes even weekly, promoting both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks as well as new food menu items.
On the cafe floor, Rob also sells cold-brew flights and non-alcoholic craft lattes, such as the bestseller Sting Like a Bee, made with caramel, brown sugar, and honey. Creating recipes is one of his favorite parts of the job; he loves combining the learning and the planning aspects of business. And he loves sharing his creations with customers. “I find that people enjoy the stories that go into the drink almost as much as the drink itself,” he says.
With increases in sales and profit, as well as more practice on the roaster, Rob is expecting to channel Pregame Coffee’s momentum into wholesale accounts, as well as collaborations with local distilleries to create barrel-aged coffees or coffee stouts.
Long-term, Rob is expecting to bring more employees onto the Pregame Coffee team, with an ultimate goal of expanding into a second brick and mortar in Lexington. The addition will mean adding a second roaster to the production space. While plans have yet to be fully nailed down, Rob knows for sure he wants the roast production to happen in one central space, rather than outfitting each new shop with a roaster.
Bring Pregame Coffee Home
You can shop a selection of the Pregame Coffee retail menu on their website, as well reserve the shop for a game-watching party, keep updated on the current cafe menu, or sign up for cocktail tasting night. You can also follow them on Instagram or Facebook to get deals like parent’s happy hour or Service Worker’s Day; you’ll also be the first to know about next week’s specialty drinks.