First Look: Fidel & Co. in East Village

It’s not often that the opening of a new coffee shop generates a lot of buzz. You expect it for a new brewery or a restaurant opened by a well-known chef, but a coffee house run by a newcomer? That’s one that usually flies under the radar. Not so for Fidel & Co., the new East Village establishment that is currently holding soft opens ahead of its grand opening day. Social media posts and local publications have kept Fidel & Co. front and center for nearly a month now, with so much chatter that you have to wonder if the place is overhyped. Thankfully, I can confidently say it is not; indeed, Fidel & Co. might be the most impressive new food business I’ve ever covered.

Fidel & Co. is the namesake of owner Fidel Samour, a former administration staffer at Children’s Hospital. The son of El Salvadoran immigrants, Samour didn’t gain an appreciation for coffee until eight or nine years ago. After making his first French press coffee, Samour began seeking out roasters and specialty coffee shops while he traveled. He soon linked up with Raul Rivera, an El Salvadoran coffee producer and a business partner of Fidel & Co. Rivera, along with John Allen of Onyx Coffee in Rogers, convinced Samour and his wife, Sarah, to start a coffee business of their own.

“That visit with them, being in their cupping lab, being in their training lab, seeing them roast, hearing them talk about things,” said Samour. “One, I realized how little I knew. But it really cemented my love of coffee. It was a very interesting journey to get to today.”

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Samour’s Fidel & Co. is basically made for Instagram. The “Coffee Bar” lighted marquee above the serving area is a beautiful focal point, accented by warm natural woods and brick painted gray. The yellow door facing 6th St. is a can’t miss highlight; even more dramatic is the Fidel & Co. mural on the Shall Ave. with traditional El Salvadoran styling.

“This space became available, and I’m really proud of what the architectural team has done to really bring that vision to life,” said Samour. “I’m very excited about that.”

It’s eye-catching, no doubt, but even more outstanding is the menu. I tried half a dozen beverages and found myself exclaiming over all of them. The classic pourover is expertly made, and the small, graduated pitcher reminds you that Fidel & Co. is paying attention to every detail. The simple shot of espresso is served with the traditional sparkling water; the entire experience tastes and feels like it came from a coffee shop that’s been doing it for decades. A cortado (espresso shooter with a little steamed milk) was served at the ideal temperature, making for a quick, delicious caffeine hit. The cappuccinos were like liquid velvet, balancing milk and espresso as well as you could ask for.

Samour has brought on Garrett White as his barista trainer. White’s experience at Onyx and at the recently closed Meteor Café has given Fidel & Co. a noticeable jump start. The barista staff is knowledgeable and capable, and the craftsmanship of the beverages show White’s influence. Even more than making good drinks, White is focused on making sure customers have an unforgettable experience.

“If someone comes in and asks what our recipe is for espresso or our pourover, not only is it available, but grind settings are written down, we’ll tell you everything we can,” said White. “Approachability is a big thing that I want. A big part of me starting in coffee was the intimidation, not knowing the difference between a cappuccino and a latte. If people have questions like that, I want them to feel comfortable to ask.”

The other side of Fidel & Co. is the food. Samour’s heritage is El Salvadoran and Mediterranean, and he brings both sides to the dishes he presents. You won’t find hummus at many coffee shops, but here you have a distinctly citrus version with plenty of spice and olive oil. The whole wheat sourdough toast brings a sharp bite that’s appreciated, in this and other dishes. Take the Banana Toast, where the sourdough cuts through bananas, housemade crème fraiche, pecans and honey. And of course the mainstay avocado toast, topped with Mediterranean za’atar and served with Fidel & Co.’s own escabeche.

Have I convinced you to visit Fidel & Co. yet? I hope so. This is truly one of the most complete debuts of any food business to open in Little Rock in a long time, with a staff and menu that seem far more advanced than they have a right to be. There’s still a lot more to come, including a grand opening date, the installation of a roaster and training room, local craft beer on tap, and sourdough bread baked fresh in house. But don’t wait for those updates. Fidel & Co. should be immediately at the top of your list for new Little Rock spots to visit.

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First Look: Fidel & Co. in East Village