Saturday mornings around our house begin early, although it has not always been that way. With a 2 year old daughter who likes to sleep in, getting up early is a bit of a chore. One mention of going to the market though and she is up and grabbing clothes out.
This morning is a perfect early autumn morning. As we pull up to Hillcrest Farmer’s Market, there is no mistaking our destination. It is the little booth on the corner with a line of about 20 people waiting on coffee.
Stephanos and Monica Mylonas have been working their Mylo Coffee Co. booth at local farmer’s markets for a little over a year now. They are a frequent hot spot for great coffee and even better baked goods. Their kouign amann, which is a flakey puff pastry with various fillings, has its own cult following. It frequently sells out before the market even opens.
The love and passion that Stephanos and Monica put into every thing they bake and brew clearly shows in the quality.
We decided to sit down with Stephanos and Monica to understand where their passion for food comes from, and how that has made them well respected in the food community.
Tell us where your passion for food began.
Stephanos: “Food is a staple. If you have someone in an establishment that truly cares, even if it is the simplest dish, it makes a huge difference in the food that goes out. I have a huge passion for food. I give credit to my family growing up for instilling a passion for food.”
“The real spark came though when I met Monica. Our relationship grew out of food. The confidence that I needed to make the leap to being where we are now came out of that relationship. The best discussions and arguments we have ever had came out of food.”
Monica: “At the time we were dating we were lucky to have the flexibility to experiment with food. We were able to bounce ideas off of each other and focus on creativity. It has really enhanced where we are today. I think we said love you for the first time while eating some cheddar we picked up from a local producer.”
Stephanos: “I think things would have been different if Monica went to culinary school. Culinary school is great, and I absolutely believe it is a great start for aspiring chefs. By not going through culinary school we never focused on how can we work on the process of making food. How can we do it quicker, cheaper, and for more profit. Instead we looked first at how we can make something taste great, then figure out the money part later.”
Part of what we are trying to do here at Rock City Eats is to look at food from an artistic standpoint. So much of art comes down to the emotion and the mindset of the artist. How do you see this coming into play with your products?
Stephanos: “It is something that is always at the back of my mind. In roasting coffee we are dealing with such small batches. A pinch of salt now is not the same as a pinch of salt in 2 minutes.
“We try to do everything manual. We are looking at a manual press cappuccino machine, we are looking at a very manual roasting process. We want to take a very hands on approach to everything we do. We are bringing raw, green coffee beans to our door and are making great coffees out of them.”
You two seem to have a real appreciation for local ingredients. How does that impact the dishes you make and have planned for the future coffee shop?
Stephanos: “My mother taught me that local, seasonal ingredients work best. I learned to take something grown near you and just do it justice. The ingredients themselves are what makes our food great. We just try to respect the produce we get from local growers.”
“My favorite thing is when I call up a grower and ask if they have this or that ingredient and they tell me yes, but you need to go pick it. There is something very special about walking out, picking an ingredient by hand, and then incorporating that into a dish a few minutes later. When you are working with local ingredients the best thing you can do is just to do them justice, and that is what we try to do.”
Monica: “We started dating in the UK, and at that time the local markets in the area were just taking off. Local food was huge and everywhere at the time. It really was a great time to be there.”
Stephanos: “I think spending time on a small island like the UK, and I am originally from Cyprus which is a much much smaller place, really forced you to use local ingredients. I remember growing up and going to a neighbor to get some eggs or exchanging this ingredient for that. You always knew who produced your food. The close culture really didn’t lend itself for a supermarket coming in and providing all the food.”
Monica: “I feel like that luck with local food has followed us. As we moved back to Little Rock, I am originally from here, it seems that the local food movement has exploded. People are far more aware of the local food scene. It is not hard to eat a meal here where everything has come from within 100 miles.”
Stephanos: “I thought growing up that Cyprus had the best tomatoes in the world. It doesn’t. The best tomatoes are here in Arkansas. I love the ingredients I get to work with daily here. We consider ourselves the luckiest people on earth to be here and work with these ingredients.”
Monica: “We came back to Arkansas originally for the support of family, and what has happened is that our family has come to include many of the local growers here. We sort of see it as our mission to continue to support and buy from them so that they can keep doing what they do.”
Stephanos: “The hardest working people in the food process is absolutely the farmers. If they spend months growing the most tasty fig in the world, all I have to do is serve it with something and it becomes a huge selling dish. I’ve done almost nothing in the process. I just use their awesome work and ingredient to transform it to someones plate. All we try is to do the ingredient justice on that plate.”
Artist always have their favorite items to work with. Tell us about your favorite foods to produce.
Stephanos: “Aside from just working with fresh ingredients I really love working with laminated doughs. I think it is reflected in our menu, we have 4 currently and hope to add a 5th soon, all using different doughs. I just enjoy that it doesn’t just take someone knowing the recipe to make it, they really need to understand the science behind it to make it exceptional.
“We try to continuously make something better. We try to make small, quantifiable adjustments so that we can attribute the change in flavor to a change. Our goal is for someone to come back a year from now and be able to tell a noticeable improvement in flavor. Just because you sell out of something does not mean it can not get better. It requires you to know and love your product. ”
Finally, you guys answered the big question that everyone has been asking. You announced your new store front last month after a lot of pressure. Tell me about how that process has gone.
Stephanos: “It was a lot of pressure. We had plans right away to open a store, but we wanted it to be exactly the right location. We were very patient with the process, but we were actively looking even 2 months into starting Mylo Coffee Co..”
“What a lot of people don’t know is we were very close a number of times to taking a location. Somehow there was always some reason we didn’t. What happened in that time though is it allowed us to grow and understand the community better. I am absolutely excited it happened the way it did and in the time period it did.”
“We are looking to open in early 2014. The great part is that we will still work the markets in this time, and we will hope to get permits early so we can use it as a research lab. We can try different roasts once we have our own roaster, or new baked goods when we have the space, and get feed back from the community to make improvements.”