Fox in the Snow Cafe Takes Family Business to a New Level

Melissa Kossler Dutton
Fox in the Snow Cafe owners Jeff Excell and Lauren Culley with their children, Roman and Maeve, in their German Village shop

Editor’s note: This story is from our Spring 2020 issue, which came out before the coronavirus outbreak took hold in Ohio. Fox in the Snow Cafe decided to shutter its operations for now, but recently shared a recipe and video of Lauren Culley making the business’ signature buttermilk biscuits. (See the “Related content” section for that story.)

Going to work in the morning is a family affair for Lauren Culley and Jeff Excell. The owners of Fox in the Snow Cafe regularly bring their children as they travel between the three Central Ohio locations of their coffee shop/bakery.

“The kids are at every shop most days,” Excell says, describing the experience as a privilege since few parents can mesh careers and family life so completely.

Incorporating their children into the workday was a natural progression for the couple, who moved to Columbus while dating with the intention of opening a coffee shop and bakery that they could expand to multiple locations. The pair, who met while working at a coffee shop in Brooklyn, followed Culley’s hunch that the city was ripe for a coffeehouse that featured quality, rustic baked goods. Excell had worked as a barista and a manager at Blue Bottle café and Culley, an Urbana native, trained there as a baker after working in publishing for several years.

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In 2014, they opened their first Fox in the Snow in a renovated Italian Village building once used for making bricks. Since then, they’ve gotten married, had two children and opened two more locations, in German Village and New Albany.

It’s been a busy few years, but the family and the business have thrived. Fox in the Snow, which has earned plenty of favorable reviews from local foodies, was recognized by Food & Wine on its 2019 list of “The Best Coffee Shops in America.”

The Fox in the Snow shops have been a solid addition to the already-strong coffee scene in Columbus, says Nicholas Dekker, author of the blog Breakfast with Nick. Culley and Excell serve up “a double whammy” by offering “exquisite pastries” as well as coffee, he says. Customers also seem to appreciate how the business encourages community by not offering Wi-Fi and creating seating arrangements that support social interactions, Dekker adds.

Culley and Excell hope that when their children are older, they’ll appreciate the boldness their parents demonstrated by taking on so much at once. “I hope our kids recognize what it takes to be an entrepreneur,” she says. “The bravery, the fearlessness you have to have to own your own business.”

Excell is excited that Roman, 3, and Maeve, 1, will have the chance to watch their parents at work. The California native often accompanied his father to his teaching job and on field trips, and enjoyed seeing that side of his dad’s life. “It was really cool to see all those kids look up to my dad,” he says.

Bringing children to work is not without challenges, Excell admits while trying to soothe his daughter, who was ready for a nap. “As hard as it can be sometimes to get work done, I feel like I can never complain about it,” he says. “It’s such a privilege. I think they will benefit from it. It’s good to see your parents in another way.”

It also changes the dynamic for their staff, says Culley, whose employees have not only worked alongside her through both pregnancies but have seen her tending to and nursing her children. “It humanizes us. You get to see your employers in a different way. There’s a definite vulnerability that comes with it,” she says.

The presence of the children also creates a warmer, more caring environment, she says. “It is more of a family atmosphere when your actual family is with you.”

Customers and employees seem to respect the way Culley and Excell manage things, says Kathleen Pratt, co-owner of Tandem Coffee in Portland, Maine, a Fox in the Snow supplier. It’s obvious that the couple is passionate about their family and their work, Pratt says, recalling how Culley brought newborn Maeve to the opening of their New Albany store just days after giving birth.

“I’m very impressed with their capacity to take that much on. It’s a testament to how they function as a team,” Pratt says. “They have big aspirations. Things I think other people would shy away from because it seems daunting, they go for.”

This story is from the Spring 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.