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Quality, excellent customer service, and speed…the vision from day one…drive-through coffee was the way to go.

Gregory LaPoint

Chief Operating Officer, MOKA

Today we chatted with Gregory LaPoint of MOKA, we talked about the origins of the espresso, coffee, and tea business, how their coffee and products stand apart from other coffee shops, and what’s the next steps for this favorite coffee stop.

Transcript
Amy Gabay 00:05
Today we chatted with Gregory LaPoint of Moka. We talk about the origins of the espresso, coffee and tea business, how their coffee and products stand apart from other coffee shops, and what’s next for this favorite coffee stop. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.

Brent Hanifl 00:24
I’m Brent.

Amy Gabay 00:25
And this is La Crosse Local.

Greg LaPoint 00:28
Well, my name is Greg LaPoint. I was born right here in La Crosse, Wisconsin. What led me to Moka, a mutual acquaintance. Joan Wilson is the owner of Moka, all the Moka stores and a mutual acquaintance shared my name with Joan in October. Well, I joined the company in October of 2019. But we just had coffee and hit it off. And next thing you know, I’m at Moka coffee. I’m the Chief Operating Officer for the company.

Brent Hanifl 00:58
How did MoKa get its start? I know being from La Crosse Area and even you know visiting Madison from time to time, there seems to be quite a few and they seem to be popping up over the past couple of years. How did it, how did the ball get rolling on that?

Greg LaPoint 01:11
So Joan was in sales, corporate sales, and she spent a lot of time driving around, you know, Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Midwest, and she would go through Rochester often. And there was a location, which is obviously our first location off of 12th street and we call it Rochester South. And she always thought to herself, boy, that would make a great spot for a coffee shop. And then one day she drove by and it was for sale. And she just kind of took a leap of faith and opened up her first coffee shop there in Rochester, Minnesota.

Brent Hanifl 01:51
So you know, just checking out your website, seeing around here in there as we travel kind of around the Midwest, how does your coffee you know, and products, kind of stand apart from other coffee shops and things like that?

Greg LaPoint 02:04
Well, you know, a few things, I think, primarily we are in the drive thru business. We do have a few locations with swift lobbies. But primarily we’re drive through coffee. There’s three things that we focus on is the quality. We buy the premium beans, and work with an excellent roaster out of Oakland, which I can share a little bit more about the roaster in Oakland here in a moment. But it’s our goal that if you order your favorite drink in a store in Rochester, and then drive through Madison, you get the exact same drink in that store in Madison. So we focus real hard on our training and our customer service is really important to us. And we want everybody to feel like their hard earned money that they worked for week in and week out is appreciated, and we sure appreciate our customers. So we focus a lot on our on our customer service. And then the speed the you know, everybody we do our businesses, we’re kind of a waypoint on you know, people are on their way somewhere and everybody’s in a hurry on their way to work, whatever it might be. So when they come through our drive, it’s our goal to get their order, get their coffee made and get them on the road as fast as we can. So we do invest in that where you know, we add labor where we call them runners, we have our employees go out to the vehicle to get the order. And we used to do that all manually and the employee would go out, get the drink order, bring it in, call it to the bar, and then go out and get the next car. So recently in the next in the last few years, we did add tablets, they’re kind of like iPads that we that work with our POS equipment and kitchen monitors. So now the employees can go out, the runners can go out to the car, take the order, it directly goes right above the bar on a kitchen viewer. So I think we’re a little more consistent with that capability. So I think that was a good investment. But that quality, excellent customer service and speed. Another thing is, like I mentioned before is our roaster. We have a great partnership with a roaster out of Oakland, California. They’re the name of that company is Mr. Espresso and they’re a family owned company that came from Italy. And so, generational experience handed down, I think they have three generations in the business currently. And they use oak wood fired roasters, which is a pretty cool process. So there if you go into their roastery they have you know, stacks of pallets of dried oak that actually burn and heat the room and the roastaries up. And you know, it doesn’t really give the beans a smoke flavor, it’s just more for the heat. They say it has more of a moist heat to it and that’s supposed to be good for the roasting process. We’re really happy with our roaster out of out of Oaklyn there. Another key thing I think we are, Jamaican blend is one of our top selling coffees. It’s got a maple flavor to it. Our customers, we have a lot of Jamaican fans so we focus on the Jamaican cool brew in the summer. And so that’s primarily what what sets us apart.

Brent Hanifl 05:42
Just noticing that you know the trend, it seems like you guys have always kind of been in the drive thru business even more so now with COVID. It just seems like you’re in the right position just around the area seeing the lines of different cars and things like that waiting to get their drinks. So was that always the process? Was that always the attention to be a drive thru based business?

Greg LaPoint 06:02
Yeah, you know, Joan had that vision from day one. She thought drive through coffee was the way to go. And, and she hit it right on the head. She’s a visionary when it comes to the coffee business. You know, we’ve been around, a lot of people don’t know this. But we’re, I think this was our 20th anniversary in October of this year. That was long, long time ago when she, you know, started the first store and chose that model. And obviously, with the pandemic and everything else going on in the world. These days, the drive thru model is has been really good for just, you know, trying to keep things going in this market. It’s been a tough market the last couple years.

Brent Hanifl 06:48
On a positive note, what’s next, what are you excited for with Moka in the business or even potentially your own life?

Greg LaPoint 06:54
I grew up in the produce industry, from the time I was born, my family owned a produce distribution company. And so I, I didn’t actually start even drinking coffee until oh, boy, I think it was 2014. I started a startup or fresh meal kit business out of Ventura, California, and we set up fresh food meal, it was to the home delivery service. And so we had food manufacturing warehouses all over the country that we set up over like a six year span. And so I was in an airplane every couple days. And before you know it, I started drinking coffee and going to the different coffee shops all over the country. And it just I became infatuated with it. So when the opportunity came up to join with Joan, at Moka, it felt like a really good fit and, you know, coffees a great business, you know, everybody, coffee makes people happy. And we get to do that every day. Since I’ve joined the company, I look forward to going to work every day. As far as what’s next for the company, we’re always looking for the next location. It’s, location is key when you’re going to another site. We look at locations all over the different areas, we have four locations currently in Rochester, we’ve got five in La Crosse, seven in Madison. And we do have one licensed partner out in North Aurora in downtown Chicago. So we’re at 17. Currently, we’ve got a couple that we’re looking at for next year already. But I think besides just the growth of Moka, you know, I really enjoy just building the right leadership team. So we can stay ahead of the growth. And we want to make sure that we do have good leaders in place before we open a location because otherwise your quality will suffer. And so that’s kind of you know, the near term goal is finding good leadership and we’re working on our training processes, our policies and procedures for the company, and we’re drafting a whole new program. And because we do have ambitions to continue to grow at a pace that we can do with the right leadership in place. So that will dictate how fast we grow. Yeah, that’s about where I’m at currently.

Brent Hanifl 09:24
So it sounds like you know, it’s a great place to get coffee but also potentially a great place to work. So.

Greg LaPoint 09:30
Yeah is wonderful, you know, it’s something for me too, every business, it’s all about the employees and the customer. So it’s the people that make a great environment for employment or you know, as a customer, you want to be treated well. So, take a lot of pride in the people that we do bring to MoKa and I think it’s kind of magnetic, you know, Joan has had that vision and culture that you treat people the way that you want to be treated. And it just feels like those are the people that apply. It’s almost uncanny how many great people come to Moka for their, either their initial job or their long term career job, but it is a wonderful place to work.

Brent Hanifl 10:14
So on that note, where can people find out more if they want to find out about the business or the coffee or you know, just want to swing by one of the stores?

Greg LaPoint 10:22
We do have a website. It’s www.mymokacoffee.com. We’re in the process of refreshing that website currently. So we’re going to have some more information and we’re going to upgrade our online store as well.

Amy Gabay 10:41
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse Local. Find out more about us at lacrosselocal.com and you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.

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