Morning Ritual with Ally Garvin of Neat Coffee
A few years ago, we were running a pop-up coffee bar at General Store in San Francisco. We got to talking with this incredibly friendly woman, and learned that she was about to open a coffee shop in Orange County! That was how we first crossed paths with Ally Garvin, founder of Neat Coffee in Costa Mesa, CA.
From that time on, we’ve watched with admiration as Ally has created and grown Neat Coffee into not just a coffee shop, but a beloved fixture of the Costa Mesa community, and one that reflects her warmth and passion for coffee. When you walk into Neat, you can count on a friendly reception, an expertly dialed in cup of coffee, and some of the best toast we’ve had in California!
A couple years in, we were thrilled when Ally reached out to try Canyon on-bar! Neat has since grown into the go-to spot to experience and enjoy Canyon in Orange County, and we feel so lucky to be partnered with Ally and her amazing team.
On a sunny Saturday morning, we drove down to Costa Mesa to visit Ally, her husband David and their baby daughter Millie! Read on to learn more about Ally’s morning ritual, her path into coffee, and the story of Neat!
Do you have a morning ritual? Has it changed over time?
I've weirdly envied people with a morning ritual but I like change, especially in my day to day routine. It helps me feel like I'm not just going through the motions but truly experiencing all that the new day has to offer. My ideal scenario is for every morning to be different but there are a few things I aim for to set the day up well. Getting outside within minutes of waking up helps broaden my perspective. Hearing the birds and sounds of neighbors walking their dogs makes my problems seem smaller and puts me in a place of gratitude. I also like to move my body in the morning whether it's stretching or going on a quick run. As someone who can easily get stuck in comfort, I find that early movement sets me into forward motion for the rest of the day. Waking up before my one year old daughter to have time to myself drastically improves my day. And if I can get one easy thing checked off my list, it puts me in a good headspace for conquering what's next. My absolute favorite part of the morning is sipping coffee while Millie drinks her bottle. Whether outside on the hammock or on the floor in her room, unhurried time with her is something I'll never take for granted.
What was your path into coffee? Was opening a coffee shop something you always dreamed of doing?
I had never given coffee much thought before wandering onto a coffee farm in Uganda in 2010. My husband and I had just gotten married and were living in Gulu for a year working with some friends' NGO's when we took a trip down to Southern Uganda for David's birthday weekend. While staying at a lodge, we were told about a coffee farm just up the road and upon visiting, something inside me lit up. It was incredible to see the trees, pick ripe cherries, strip off the fruit and parchment, roast a bag of green beans over an open fire to then brew the next morning at breakfast. I fell in love with the process and knowing how this delicious beverage makes its way to our cups.
We’re [maybe obviously] very big fans of what you’ve created in Neat! We love how warm and inviting it is, and at the same time the coffee is always dialed-in so well! It’s friendly and approachable, but professional, and clear that the coffee is respected and valued. What’s your secret? Or, maybe put another way, what’s your vision for Neat and what it provides?
When I initially opened Neat, the only third wave coffee shops I knew were a bit snobby and elitist. I wanted to create an atmosphere that was firstly welcoming but with a big emphasis on the quality of the coffee. I knew from working in other shops that customers would turn into regulars when they had a genuine connection with their barista, not just when their espresso was perfectly dialed. We're all craving connection and at Neat, my goal is to create space for that to happen. My hope is that Neat exists as a peaceful haven for neighbors and friends to gather around amazing coffee and great food.
My team is incredible. Led by manager, Mark Duvall, they are the ones pushing us forward when it comes to the quality of what we serve. From making jams, to choosing new roasters and dialing everything in, their passion for coffee and food is what makes us shine. I had the pleasure of working with Ashlee Barbito who created our food menu and helped put us on the map with our incredibly simple but elevated avocado toast and highly underrated pan con tomate. And a big shout out to my very first employee, Tyler Calvert who taught me so much, I'm forever thankful to have had the opportunity to work with such wonderful individuals.
For the first 9 months running the shop, I did everything myself and unknowingly created a business centered around me. I was quickly getting burned out and could only do so much. I found that hiring people who can carry out my vision of creating a welcoming space while adding their own coffee knowledge and bit of charm is the key for making a broader impact. Each team member that has ever worked here has played an integral part in making Neat what it is today.
What do you enjoy most about having a coffee shop?
Running a shop is hard but there are so many things that make it worth while. I get so much joy seeing friends from different parts of my life meet at Neat and hit it off. It's also pretty crazy to walk in and see nobody I know, like wait, other people know that we exist?! I love sourcing my ingredients or products from other small businesses and working together to promote each other. I love being in a community with other like minded shop owners who are more about sharing information and resources than competition. Recently, I've enjoyed planning events for the community like movie nights and marketplaces featuring local small businesses. Selfishly, I love having a home away from home where I can always pop in and see a friendly face. It's also pretty special to raise Millie here and show her what it looks like to be a badass business owner.
A lot of my usual outlets outside of coffee have changed since having a baby but I have a passion for the city of Costa Mesa and making it a better place to live for all types of people. I'm also easing my way back into running which has been a love of mine since high school when my dad and I would get up early to run together before school. I love everything outdoors, especially the ocean. We are lucky enough to be 10 minutes from the beach and we often find ourselves there multiple times a week to catch a sunset or take a little walk. But ever since having Millie, I have turned into a huge homebody. Being at home with David and Millie is my current favorite place to be.