Small Business Spotlight – Fante’s Coffee
I’m pretty pumped to tell you about Leo Fante and the awesome folks at Fante’s Coffee House. Far more than a coffee shop, Leo and his team are creating a community gathering place AND crafting a legacy among independent coffee houses in Louisville and beyond. I hope I can do justice to what an inspiring and informative meeting I had with Leo over a cuppa. Our chat included a former President of the US, the Great Gatsby, the U of L Medical School, European sports cars and so much more!
Why write an article about a small business in Louisville rather than web design? Because that’s who I work with and for, I love learning the story behind independent businesses and hope to help bring them some attention in some small way.
My ‘Penny University’ education on a legacy of coffee right here in the River City
I discovered Fante’s Coffee House thanks to a scheduled 1-1 with a colleague. Fante’s occupies part of the corner of Grinstead and Lexington Roads right next to Cherokee Park, and I was impressed with the initial experience. I knew my wife would love it so filed it away as a place to revisit together.
During a recent visit, Susan was noodling around on their website and showed me the About Us page (yeah I should’ve already done that). I loved their mission to create a meeting place to foster small business in Louisville.
I needed more information
Something started itching in my brain…I needed to meet Leo and learn more about Fante’s Coffee. It’s one thing to provide a commodity, or a “paper cup passed through a window” as Leo puts it. But a locally owned business that strives to create a thriving, breathing experience and community? I couldn’t let it go.
After an email and a few calls, Leo Fante was able to set aside some time to chat. A coffee date was set.
The appointed day
As one who has spent any time in the Army does, I showed up to our coordinated meeting time much too early. I went in about 10 minutes early, relieved to learn that Leo wasn’t yet in from his roasting house.
I entered through the patio, greeted by three gentlemen sitting in the beautiful patio area discussing (of course) politics.
One guy was very animated and sure of his assertion that so and so or somebody would definitely do or enact something. Friend number 2 was blowing him off with a demonstrative handwave. Man 3 seemed enthralled with the theatre of One and Two and his own drink but uninterested in the topic.
There were a few people in line, but the space inside affords a good deal of traffic without feeling crowded. One woman in line darted off into the front of the shop where a table full of ladies were having a rousing conversation about this or that and upon seeing their unexpected friend exploded in revelry and hugs.
There were experiences happening in this place that I wasn’t accustomed to in other (more manufactured) coffee shop environments.
I told the barista I didn’t want caffeine, she excitedly pointed to the caffeine-free espresso beans in a hopper right in front of my nose, so I deferred to her expertise.
She asked about my preferences…I demurred, saying I was far from a coffee connoisseur and needed something sweet and milky, practically dessert.
She careened back and forth behind the counter like a hummingbird, letting me know I had engaged her “barista brain” as she excitedly created what I may assume was some custom concoction but could have been a standard menu staple.
It didn’t matter what I received, her enthusiasm for creating a simple drink was kicking off this interview by rearranging my neurons from the expected (let’s face it…Starbucks) to reminding me exactly why I love working with small independent businesses.
After crafting my drink, with the requisite cream artwork on top, I was ushered into the side room. There was a small table in the back, with two different chairs sitting aside. I asked my usher which Leo preferred, and she said, “Leo doesn’t care, he rarely sits long enough for it to matter” — a man after my own heart.
I waited a few minutes, and Leo entered, with a determination to get to his appointment…time for business.
My coffee education begins
We got right into it, Leo regaled me with more coffee and Louisville history than I’ve absorbed in some time (ok, ever). His pedigree and knowledge are astounding, providing more than a few “that should be a movie” moments in my mind.
Rather than regaling readers with that history, I’ll instead focus on the magic of Fante’s Coffee House and what Leo Fante, his gracious wife and his team are building. Though only open for a few years, Fante’s is woven into our community whether people know and appreciate it or not, and the pace of growth feels inevitable.
Leo is not just supplying a unique, European-style coffee house experience, he’s also running a full-fledged coffee house university and build-out product in addition to supplying coffee to many (MANY) restaurants, cafe’s, bakeries and hotels throughout the country.
As luck had it, one of the baristas that morning was actually preparing to open her own coffee shop in La Grange, and another was due to work the next day, soon to open a new shop in an underserved area of Louisville.
Of course this article has a President and First Lady in it
Leo once built and staffed a coffee house inside the Capitol Hilton inside of a week for the US Council of Mayors meeting in DC that was attended by President Obama and First Lady Michelle. The notion of shipping, building, training, and launching a coffee house for such an event within 6 days is hard to fathom, yet for Leo right in his wheelhouse given his 40+ years in the industry.
I have little doubt that Fante’s reach throughout the coffee culture of the country will continue to grow, but particularly here in the Louisville community. The pace of growth in food service, particularly in traditionally underserved areas of Louisville, is formidable and Leo is helping nurture a significant portion of that growth by training a swath of independent coffee shop owners.
Honoring the soul and history of the bean
Rather than teaching budding cafe owners how to move more paper cups and perfect their drive-thru, he’s building communities around and within each.
Leo has studied the architecture and flow of coffee houses, he has emulated the best of what he’s seen over 40 years while infusing soul into an industry that birthed the modern newspaper (for real) and evolved hundreds of years later into largely another fast food chain experience.
Leo speaks annually at the U of L School of Medicine simply to show future doctors from around the world that there is a place for them to escape, commune together and get their work done. He supplies a free printer and workspace for entrepreneurs, businesspeople or creatives.
We talked at length about shifting gears during the pandemic, the intentionality of comfortable chairs and even the table top sizes and the layout of the café, the monthly Cars and Coffee event, and some future plans for more education of coffee shop owners.
Leo and I chatted for far longer than he probably had time to afford me, and I’ll always be grateful.
The Fante family is truly building a unique coffee legacy right here in Louisville, and if you haven’t made it to the Coffee House yet, you absolutely should. You’re likely to see Leo himself coming in and out and meeting with regulars and new visitors alike on any given day.
Be sure to check out the business space directly across from the main counter, and take note of the mahogany bartop from the Old Seelbach Bar upon which F. Scott Fitzgerald famously claimed getting inspiration for “The Great Gatsby” after marveling at the manor homes along Parkside drive right up the street from Fante’s Coffee House.
If you know of an amazing small business in Louisville with a great story I should reach out to to learn more about, leave a comment below or reach out to me directly!
Until next time,