French Truck has rolled across parish lines. As part of the Friends of Whole Foods Market program, French Truck Coffee opened a free-standing location inside the Whole Foods Market at 3420 Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie. The store soft-opened Aug. 20 and holds a grand opening celebration Saturday, Aug. 24.
It is the five-year-old roaster and retailer’s first location in Jefferson Parish and the first inside a grocery store. It also brings the tally of French Truck locations to eight, with five in New Orleans, one in Baton Rouge and one in Memphis, Tennessee.
“It’s a win-win for us,” says French Truck founder Geoffrey Meeker. Instead of a standard licensing agreement that would allow the grocer to use the outside brand but staff the counter with its own employees, this location is truly a French Truck store — with its own staff, products and design. The shop offers a full beverage menu and bags of specialty beans not sold elsewhere in the Whole Foods. Its food selection currently is limited to pastries but will be expanded.
The next French Truck brewing in Mid-City on the Lafitte Greenway is slated to open in the summer of 2020.
“We are at a point right now where we will probably continue to look for great locations, but we don’t have anything that we can announce,” Meeker says.
Meeker says his team has its own approach to assessing a potential location and sometimes defies conventional wisdom.
“We have proven we can find off-the-beaten path places that might not always seem at the onset like a good idea, and they end up being kind of fun and funky and interesting, and people come,” he says. “We jokingly say that we’ve become a destination coffee shop, instead of just the neighborhood coffee shop.”
He says French Truck’s Uptown location on Dryades Street is their busiest shop.
“People thought I was nuts for choosing a place that didn’t have parking, wasn’t a main thoroughfare… but people love that little house,” he says.
Since French Truck’s first location opened in 2014, the company has trained more than 200 baristas, and he hopes that's improving product knowledge and appreciation with customers.
On trips to growing areas, Meeker samples 40 to 50 coffees a day and swaps stories and information about the business with other regional roasters.
“That’s really where the inspiration is now — how these regional roasters are changing the lives of these farmers, especially in places like Columbia, Peru and Guatemala, who used to grow a lot of coca,” he says. “Now they are growing coffee instead because we are able to spend a little more on the coffee we buy from them, so they can spend more on quality.”
Meeker tests beans from the shop at his home using his preferred equipment, a Technivorm Moccamaster drip coffee maker and an OXO grinder/scale.
“I go to the shops and say, ‘Okay guys, what’s your favorite right now?’ And whatever they tell me, that’s what I’ll pull,” he says. “The only one I usually don’t drink is the dark roast because we work so hard to go find those flavors, and the dark roast tends to be more about the flavor of the roast, not the bean.”
Because the company’s focus is the bean, customers should not expect to find anything “unicorn” in French Truck stores. Or pumpkin spice or other seasonal trends. “We try not to put a location in the place where we need whipped cream and sprinkles to succeed,” says Meeker. “We enjoy having people who are culinarily curious, who come in and get pulled down the rabbit hole with us to try new things.”
The Metairie store grand opening is at 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, with an espresso toast with Meeker, samples of French Truck offerings, live jazz and photo opportunities with the yellow French Truck. The new location is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.