Guillermo’s Coffee arrived on the scene in 2006 at a time when almost no local coffee shops existed in Little Rock, and very few of the big chains were seriously invested in bringing coffee to the state. It quickly made a name for itself over the next several years as the premier coffee destination.
Guillermo’s changed ownership in 2013, just before the most recent surge in local coffee shops. Unfortunately inconsistency, lack of barista training, and frequently out of stock items made Guillermo’s a bit of an afterthought in the Little Rock coffee world.
New father and son owners Jim and Josh Alley, who took over the shop on April 1, hope to not only restore Guillermo’s back to the top of the Little Rock coffee scene, but take things even a step further.
“When (original owner) Hans Oliver had the place it was the best in the city for good reason. We really respect the work Hans did by paying attention to detail and focusing on quality,” Jim Alley says. “We want improve the overall quality of all products and bring a heavy focus on customer service.”
The location of the shop is tucked away behind a Chili’s on Rodney Parham, which does not do it any favors for being easy to find. To go to Guillermo’s it has to be a bit of a destination. The Alleys seem to understand this.
Starting with an overhaul in the coffee is the first order of business. Josh will take over roasting duties and has been training heavily on the latests roasting techniques. They plan to start carefully sourcing beans, including several planned trips to growers for better bean selection. They also want to make sure everything is fresh and in stock, so beans will be roasted more frequently to keep stock up and good.
The Alleys will make a slight change to the shop name, becoming Guillermo’s Coffee, Tea, and Roastery. The name change comes from the two new focuses of heavier distribution of their coffee beans and a renewed focus on tea.
“We really want to be a destination tea shop. We are bringing in the Rishi tea, which is best tea brand available in our opinion. Then we will complement it with all of the proper drinkware,” Josh explains. “We want to put as much thought and effort into the teahouse part as the coffee business.”
Aside from a few minor changes, the look and feel inside will remain the same. The Alleys have plans for an extensive overhaul of the back of house including new and better organized kitchen equipment. They are also working with a top (still unannounced) local chef to create a new menu with a focus on quality and consistency to match their coffee and tea offerings.
Along with the kitchen and brewing overhaul they want to put a heavy focus on customer service. Often the coffee shop was staffed with one employee responsible for taking orders, making food, and serving as barista. This naturally meant often long waits to get food and drink. They hope to alleviate this by staffing properly and making sure one of the owners are on site at all times.
The Alleys say the changes should be rolling out over the coming months. The more immediate changes are a drop in coffee bean prices and a fire sale on the previous tea brand.
“The quality of the coffee is going up, but we found that the prices were just too high,” Jim says. “So we worked on what is a much more reasonable pricing structure for our whole beans. So not only are you getting better beans, it is a better price as well. We really want to see our in-store bean sales and quality get back to the point it was when Hans was roasting.”
Guillermo’s has remained open through the transition, but they do plan to hold an official “grand re-opening” later this month to kick off some of the new initiatives. We will update later in our weekly Rumbles news roundup when a date is announced.