Brewing change: Chef Aaron Patin rethinks the coffee shop experience
If you've been into the Stone Creek Coffee in Bay View lately, you may have noticed some changes: new tables and chairs, a brighter, cleaner atmosphere and a few new items on the menu.
But, more broad-sweeping changes are on the horizon for all Stone Creek Coffee locations in the near future. And some of the changes have everything to do with a guy named Aaron Patin.
Chef Patin grew up on the north side of Chicago, and ate out frequently with his parents. Being a middle child, he was quite adventurous, and always seemed to be willing to try new and unique foods.
With a mother who cooked a wide variety of meals, including dishes from her native Mexico, and a father whose job allowed him to take his family on occasional trips overseas, Patin was exposed a whole new way of thinking about food.
"At that point, it was mostly about the eating side, rather than the cooking side for me," Patin says. "But in high school, I had a neighbor who was a line cook. I started out as a pastry plater, so I thought I'd be a pastry chef. But, then I got in on the cooking side. And that was it."
Patin cooked in Chicago and Nashville, and spent about six months traveling in Southeast Asia and staging in restaurants there before coming to Milwaukee in 2011 to work for the SURG group, first at Charro but mainly to open SURG's new restaurant, 8-Twelve. After designing their new menu, he had a chance meeting with Stone Creek Coffee that changed his career trajectory.
"I was approached by Steve (Hawthorne) from Stone Creek, just as a networking thing," Patin explains. "I met with him and Eric (Resch) and we talked about their ambitions. I saw it as a unique challenge – to be different, to do something I'd never done before, and to work with it and change the expectation of what you get when you go into a coffee shop."
Patin's first days on the job were an education. He went through a series of active coffee classes and thorough training as a barista. He also studied what Stone Creek Coffee was doing, and looked for ways to improve upon it.
"The majority of our business is people getting their morning coffee to go," Patin says. "But, we want to elevate the level of the experience people are getting."
The Bay View Stone Creek now features a "Brew Bar," a space just outside of the seating area where customers can relax, hold meetings, and get an education in coffee. Patrons will have access to detailed information from the barista on duty. They can order coffee flights, drink coffee brewed via various methods – including pour-over, chemic and French press – and, as Patin puts it, "experience coffee on a whole new level."
Bay View is also serving as the prototype for other stores by carrying a series of coffee drink pairings.
"We took some existing coffee drinks," Patin says, "and paired them with different candies, cookies and small nibbles. We conceptualized and tasted, and what we've come up with is pretty awesome.
"The idea is, when we get where we want to be, we'll do new coffee drinks with new food items. The emphasis will be about really tasting the coffee, really tasting the food. Just like with wine or beer, coffee pairing has its place."
The process that will eventually transform all Stone Creek Coffee locations will happen in stages. Patin is currently in the process of developing numerous pastry items, which will be made in-house and served at every Stone Creek Coffee shop. The goal is to create quality items that go above and beyond, and that the company can eventually sell wholesale to other establishments.
"If an executive chef had to serve a blueberry muffin in a restaurant, it's not going to be a blueberry muffin. It will be something fit to serve in that caliber of restaurant." Patin says as he explains the goals of the new offerings. "Our blueberry muffin won't be ordinary."
And neither will the buttery croissants that Patin plans to infuse with compound butters. Or the tea cookie Patin flavors with cornmeal and figs. Every idea he mentions raises the bar to a new level. Rye croissants. Stuffed croissants. Biscotti made with chocolate and coconut or orange and fennel. Savory Danish stuffed with tomatoes and goat cheese. Banana walnut muffins made with buckwheat. Cinnamon rolls. Pecan rolls. And the list goes on.
"Local sourcing will be first and foremost," Patin continues. "As a culinarian, I'll always serve quality over locality. But, we want things to be local as often as possible."
Stone Creek Coffee will be sourcing their dairy from Kemps, maple syrup from Waukesha and cheese from Clock Shadow Creamery. They also plan to develop relationships with Bolzano Artisan Meats and Purple Door Ice Cream.
"It's about the relationships as much as it's about the ingredients," Patin remarks.
The new Stone Creek Coffee will reflect care and concern for kids, as well as adults. Bay View already carries Honest Kids organic juice, which contains no high fructose corn syrup. They've also transitioned to carrying quality bottled waters and four flavors of Fentimans botanically brewed beverages, which are naturally brewed with milled ginger root and other natural plants, barks and herbs.
As Stone Creek moves forward, food education will be a big part of the process. Just as they train their baristas on coffee, they'll also ensure that every employee has an understanding of the food pairings. Every barista will taste every item, and they'll be provided with menu descriptions like servers in restaurants.
"I'm treating my training program as if we were a fine dining restaurant," Patin explains. "Training above and beyond the scope of who we are."
This fall, Stone Creek will begin with a new beverage launch in all of the stores. The launch will feature custom-made mugs, pairings and revamped menus. Each location will also experience subtle changes to atmosphere and service. Plastic salt and pepper shakers will be replaced with porcelain. Water and iced tea will be served in glass. Busing stations will be replaced with busing services performed by friendly baristas.
"I know that we'll be providing a better experience. There's personal satisfaction in paying attention to that," Patin says. "People may not notice every little change. But, at the end of the day, their experience will be transformed in a very thorough way."
Patin sees his the transition from restaurant chef to coffee shop chef as a pioneering venture.
"In my career, I'm better served by having an impact on the culinary world," he says. "I'm not reinventing anything, I am working to reinvent what they do in coffee shops. Stone Creek is making some pretty bold moves. What other coffee shop will invest in a chef to do their culinary program? How does one transform a 20-year-old company? That's my challenge."
Very talented Chef! I'm glad he stepped away from SURG, He's better than that! Congrats brother..Best of luck!
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