Tastemakers 2017: Lauren Culley & Jeff Excell of Fox in the Snow Cafe

Nicholas Dekker
Lauren Culley & Jeff Excell

Why They're Tastemakers

In late October 2015, Lauren Culley and Jeff Excell attempted a soft opening of Fox in the Snow. But the promise of a new coffee shop featuring scratch-made baked goods in a rehabbed garage was too tempting—a line formed out the door on day one. The nondescript industrial building on Fourth Street in Italian Village quickly became the latest word-of-mouth discovery (and Instagram darling): “Have you been to Fox in the Snow? Look for the fox painted on the side!” Our city's abiding enthusiasm for Culley's and Excell's creation has surprised even them, and our fandom (“Have you had the egg sandwich?!”) is being rewarded with a second location later this year in German Village.

A Chance to Connect

Culley and Excell have distinguished their coffee shop by focusing first and foremost on the customer experience. There's no Wi-Fi, for instance, and the counter and tables are built low to open up space between customers and employees. “Coffee to me is basically just hospitality with coffee thrown in,” Excell says. “I think a lot about how I feel when I walk into a shop. I think a lot about being a customer, what makes a customer experience good.” This is why, front and center, guests can watch baristas craft individual cups of coffee along a row of pour-over funnels. Likewise, Culley's delightful baked goods, laid out in artful displays on the counters, are purposely lacking labels. She's inviting conversation between customers and baristas.

Unexpected Success Both

Culley and Excell have expressed surprise at how quickly their shop has grown. “We opened the shop with four employees and expectations of selling just a couple dozen of each pastry a day,” Culley says. “After our first weekend, we knew we had grossly underestimated nearly everything.” Excell adds that he “secretly” holds high expectations for the café. “You have to be a little high on yourself if you are going to throw your entire financial well-being into an idea you had,” he says. “But to be honest, the welcome we got and the enthusiasm that Columbus showed has far exceeded my expectations.”

In It Together

There's no doubt this straightforward concept—a coffee shop and bakery—has been enlivened by the couple's sense of togetherness. “When I look at the café, even today, it's a combination of all the places Jeff and I have worked, all the places we've lived and the things that aestheticallyinfluence us,” Culley says. “Nothing can substitute for the high of creating something,” Excell adds, “especially if you are doing it with your best friend.” It's this love and devotion that transformed an empty garage with dirt floors into one of the city's most beloved outposts. Much like Fox in the Snow's egg sandwich, which enjoys its own cult following, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Lauren Culley

AGE 33

PREVIOUS GIGS “Book editor in New York City before I left to pursue baking. My first job, by some miracle, was as the kitchen manager for Blue Bottle [Coffee, considered a third-wave coffee leader]. … I learned almost everything I know about management and running a kitchen from my peers in Brooklyn.”

MUST-HAVE INGREDIENT “In the bakery, obviously, butter.At home it's, without question, salt.”

GO-TO DRINK Seltzer water with lime

Jeff Excell

AGE 37

PREVIOUS GIGS “Barista for 13 years, unpaid intern, skater, unsuccessful musician”


GO-TO DRINK “NYC bodega coffee, light and sweet”

DREAM DINNER DATES “Eero Saarinen (dead architect), Bob Moog (dead electronics pioneer) and Lauren Culley, the coolest and strongest girl I know, eating chocolate croissants in Paris with a bottle of wine, some cheese and a baguette somewhere outside.”