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Meet Ashley Lopez of Department of Coffee and Social Affairs in Lakeview

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashley Lopez.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Ashley. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Department of Coffee and Social Affairs is an award-winning specialty coffee company headquarter in London, United Kingdom. The first Department of Coffee and Social Affairs opened in London’s iconic Leather Lane Market in late 2010. It was the culmination of 18 months’ work spent searching for the perfect shop and perfecting our craft. As we grew, we quickly understood that whilst a good location and quality coffee were crucial, the key ingredient to success was our people. The enthusiasm, knowledge and professionalism each member of our team brings, help define and differentiate us in a quickly growing market, as more people understand the pleasure derived from a ‘proper’ cup of coffee, rather than, well, that other stuff.

Currently, with 15 locations operating in the United Kingdom and growing, our ambition has always been to bring Department of Coffee and Social Affairs to more people every day. With our CEO, Ashley Lopez, being from the Chicago suburbs, we see an opportunity to export our awarding winning success in London to the United States. We couldn’t think of a better city to make our debut then Chicago.

Each of our shops has its own personality. Our philosophy is that no two shops should ever look alike, but we believe that whenever you come to any Department of Coffee and Social Affairs you will consistently find our own great coffee and our great people.

Less known about Department of Coffee and Social Affairs is the meaning behind the second part of our name ‘Social Affairs’ which refers partly to our customers coffee drinking experience, but it also refers to our humanitarian work. We measure our commercial success equally to our social impact, we think that, every company, everywhere, should do the same.

As an organization member of our team are both board members and volunteers for a number of UK and international charities. These include the award-winning Charity Pump Aid which provides safe clean water to over 1.35 million of the poorest people in Sub-Saharan Africa. We work on a number of joint awareness and marketing campaigns to raise awareness and funding for Pump Aid. We provide mentoring and administrational support to The Afri-CAN Charity. Their mission is to create, finance and mentor sustainable programs, NGOs and social ventures in Sub-Saharan Africa to alleviate poverty and hunger, to improve education, to provide skills training, and to provide employment. They focus on the poorest communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

We also support the London-based charity Team Up, Team Up trains volunteer undergrad students to tutor disadvantaged children in private lessons. We also fund the Central London Rough Sleeper Committee events which are held every 2 weeks providing hot meals and support to the homeless, where our staff are regular volunteers at these events.

We see our expansion into the US as an opportunity to also grow the “Social Affair” aspect of our business and we look forward to working and establishing relationships with local Chicago charities.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
As every startup probably experiences there are the highs and lows. A lot of trial and error to figure out what works.

My Chairman Stefan told me when I first got started that there will be more bad days then good but the good days will be so good that they will make those bad days’ worth it. That is something I remember regularly when I am faced with difficult times and I can say he couldn’t have been more right.

The company also has a very experienced Board of Directors that provides a lot of support and direction to the senior management which has really helped us as we grew.

In addition to this we are a very close-knit group of people and have very much a family like attitude towards each other and the way we work.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We specialize in serving single origin coffee. Our Coffee Programme is made up of two elements. One element is the range of single origin* coffees we have on offer at any given time. The second element is our Barista Training Program. At any given time, our shops always have a choice of two single origin espressos and up to four different single origin filter coffees running throughout the day. Our Coffee Programme takes our customers on a journey of single estate coffee farms from around the world. We recognize the important role of sourcing and roasting play in producing quality coffee and the quality of baristas we have ensures all the hard work done, from the farm all the way to the roastery, is not wasted. We pride ourselves on our Barista Training Program.

Additionally, we see coffee shops as hubs of a community and we work to ensure the space we create is welcoming and comfortable for our customers. Customer experience is extremely important to us and another element of the business that we take great pride in. We have great people who work for us that understand the importance of customer service.

With our experience in opening 15 stores in the UK we feel confident we can deliver an amazing coffee drinking experience to the people of Chicago and we look forward to getting to know our customers and understanding more about what they want from their new local coffee shop.

What were you like growing up?
I was born and raised in Elgin, IL and went to a small private Catholic school. I come from a very close family, my parents are amazing and have always been unbelievably supportive in everything I do, my brothers are two of my best friends and we would do anything for each other, so needless to say I have an amazing support network.

I grew up playing sports competitively and I think that experience added to my already natural competitive nature but it also helped to shape my ability to lead a team and understand that it takes more than one person to make something successful.

I went to college at Winona State University in Minnesota and studied law. While there I had the opportunity to work for an amazing law professor. During my senior year when deciding what to do after college she ended up recommending me to a Master’s program in London. I had about two weeks to accept the offer and I ended up accepting. I moved to London when I was 22 to do a masters in Law and Finance, I didn’t know a soul, I still think back to that decision and can’t believe that I did it.

When I finished my masters, I got a job working in an investment bank where I got the opportunity to work for some amazing people two of them being the founders of Department of Coffee. I was asked to join the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs in an operational role when it first started and as we began to grow the business I took over as CEO in order to execute the growth strategy of the Board of Directors. I grew the business from 2 stores and 10 employees to 16 stores and 100+ employees over the past 3 years.

It has been a dream of mine to bring Department of Coffee and Social Affairs to the US, being able to share what we have done in London with friends and family in Chicago is a dream come true.

The opportunity, support and mentoring my Chairman has given me has been incredible and I have been incredibly lucky to learn from such a successful and experience businessman.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 800 W Diversey Pkwy.,
    Chicago 60614
  • Website: departmentofcoffee.com
  • Email: hello@departmentofcoffee.com
  • Instagram: @deptofcoffeeIL
  • Twitter: @deptofcoffeeIL

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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