Melanie Porter is the Owner and Co-Founder of Lavender & Honey Espresso Bar, a boutique coffee bar and deli that opened its doors last summer in Pasadena, California, to long lines and critical acclaim. Before becoming a restaurateur at the age of 28, she studied business economics and accounting at UC Santa Barbara and began a career in corporate audit, performing integrated audits at Deloitte & Touche for international consumer product brands like The Gap, Inc., and traveling the world as part of the internal audit team at 20th Century Fox. Lavender & Honey is her modern take on a mom-and-pop coffee shop, sandwiched between two historic landmark districts in a city that prides itself on having more restaurants per capita than Manhattan. Her instinct to forego corporate life for coffee was a good one; in its first year in business, her shop was voted the “Best Independent Coffee House” and “Best New Business” in the Pasadena Weekly “Best of Pasadena Awards” of 2014. Melanie lives in Pasadena’s Playhouse district with her Co-Founder and hotelier husband, Charlie.
When did you know you wanted to pursue your business or venture? I’ve always had an entrepreneurial drive, but I was never confident in my ability to venture out on my own until I met my husband. On our second date, we discovered that we shared a deep affinity for café culture, and that we both wanted to open our own coffee shop one day. Once we were married in 2011, I started to think about what it would take to realize this dream, and I started brainstorming and conducting market research soon thereafter. This research ultimately became our business plan for Lavender & Honey.
Did your original business plan change along the way or are you doing exactly what you set out to do? If it changed, how so? Of course it did! It took me about a year to complete my research and create a thorough business plan; during that year, my ideas changed, and so did the industry. Our core mission and company values never changed, and neither did our grassroots marketing approach or our interpretation of the Pasadena restaurant/coffee market. But in our original business plan, we were a multi-roaster concept and did not have toast on our menu. Our roaster (Klatch Coffee) and toast are now our bread and butter (pun intended).
What makes you different from your competition? We set ourselves up to be different by choosing a location in an underserved area and in a neighborhood that pairs perfectly with our business concept and values. We also took a slightly different approach when developing our menu, choosing to showcase local artisans and offering a gourmet toast and sandwich bar, in addition to having a kids menu, all of which helps make our shop a really unique and special place. Our focus on quality, hand-crafted products made fresh to order, and our commitment to serving our community and supporting local businesses are what set us apart from other coffee companies in our area.
Tell us about a time when you thought you should throw in the towel. What kept you going? We made sure the city zoning office blessed our space for a coffee shop before we signed a lease, and our build-out plans were approved in only six weeks. But before we could swing our first hammer, a bombshell was dropped on us. Because we were changing the intended use of the unit from retail to food use, the parking lot for the entire building had to be brought up to current code or else the city would not sign our Certificate of Occupancy and we would not be allowed to conduct business. The building was originally built in the 1920s and the parking lot, horse stables and all, was the building owner’s responsibility, so we were at their mercy. The parking lot issue would have been a dealbreaker, but the renovation gods were on our side. The building owners have been very supportive of us since the beginning and they were more than willing to do the upgrade. The next hurdle was timing our interior renovation along with theirs. We opened the day after the parking lot was completed.
What three factors have most contributed to your success in business and in life? 1) My husband, who is my perfect partner in life and in business, 2) I’m a researchaholic, and 3) I’m not afraid to ask questions, make hard decisions, or take criticism.
If you could have a one-on-one meeting with any woman, who would it be and why? What’s the first thing you would you ask her? Sophia Amoruso, Founder & Former CEO of NastyGal, because #girlboss! I would ask “What sort of power (not equity) did you give up and what sort of expertise did you gain when you took your first investment from Index Ventures? How did you know they were the right investor to help you grow your company?”
I wish someone had told me… To enjoy the process!
I gave up ___ to pursue my dream: A guaranteed salary and the ability to leave work at the office.
My biggest challenge is… Growing the company instead of running the floor. When I am at the shop, it’s so hard for me to hunker down in my office because I just want to be on the floor interacting with people and slinging drinks all day.
My proudest professional moment to date is… Have you seen the Zagat sticker in the window?! So proud.
LET’S GET PERSONAL:
The three words that best describe me are… Motivated, forward-thinking, and compassionate.
While on vacation I always… Eat the best food and drink the best wine.
My beauty routine consists of… Business before beauty! But here are a few products I love: AmorePacific Rejuvenating Eye Gel, CVS Zinc Oxide Sunscreen, Lancome Undereye Concealer, Bare Minerals Original Foundation, Diorshow Mascara, and Miss Dior.
On my playlist right now you will find… Paulo Nutini – “Let Me Down Easy”.
My tips for eating healthy during the workday are… When I get to eat a home-cooked meal, it’s a good day. I’m a foodie who rarely gets to take a break to eat a real meal! I always try to carry a Clif bar or a smoothie with me while I run errands. Does coffee count?
My favorite type of workout is… Yoga.
A teacher or boss who influenced me is… I’ve been lucky to have had many incredible bosses throughout my corporate career, but I’d say my former boss at Fox Entertainment, Alina Flamenco, influenced me the most. She is the Executive Director of Corporate Internal Audit for Fox worldwide. She isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions and command a boardroom, but is also the life of the party and cares about her employees and kids more than anything else. She is honest and never beats around the bush. She sets boundaries to better balance her personal and professional life, and she makes that balance look easy and fun.
I rejuvenate by… Sleeping an average of seven hours each night.
Lately I’m inspired by… My customers. We knew that the location we chose for our shop was a great neighborhood, but what we didn’t know was that our customers would include renowned writers, actors, critics, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs (including Nada Jones!), all of whom I look up to a great deal.