Creators & Canines: Daniel Noguera & Lola, Urbana Cafe
Growing a Cincinnati coffee company and raising a puppy6 minute read
Daniel Noguera was sitting in a publishing house office outside Cincinnati, Ohio when he had that thought.
It's the kind of clarity that many of us reach at one point in our lives, but most people do their best to ignore.
"Is this really the job that's going to define me?"
It was 2012 and he knew he needed a change. The fear of the unknown was lurking. But like all creators, he was pulled forward by something greater. In Daniel's case, his was a love for Cincinnati, for coffee...and for dogs.
The next year, Urbana Café was born.
What began as Daniel pulling espressos from the back of a Vespa Ape in Washington Park has grown into four locations, roasting, ecommerce, wholesale, coffee classes, media projects, and more.
From the beginning, Daniel has navigated the growth of Urbana with his canine co-pilots. First there was Jack, then Frida, and now his new puppy Lola.
Urbana just so happens to be Team Harper's go-to coffeeshop, so when we started seeing an adorable new pup hanging around, we knew we had to talk with Daniel about her.
He caught up with us about puppy parent life, creating a dog-friendly shop, and Lola's typical day.
Tell us about Lola.
Lola Marie is a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. She's 14 weeks old. Lola’s personality is still forming, but so far, she's a goofy, sweet girl. Lola loves her sister Frida so much and wants to spend every second with her. Frida, on the other hand, can only take so much of the puppy energy. Fortunately, she's been incredibly patient with Lola.
To understand why I decided to bring a Swissy like Lola to our home and Urbana, first we need to talk about Jack—my co-founder and best friend. We'll get there in a moment though.
Oh, and I forgot how much I liked sleeping until I got Lola! Having a puppy at home is hard, especially when running a coffee business. Because of my profession I need to be up and ready early in the mornings. It's way more difficult to do with only a few hours of sleep. Thankfully, Lola is now sleeping most of the night.
How's life with a new puppy going? How's the training going?
We already started training some simple commands like sit and stay. Housetraining is our biggest challenge. I live in a condo in downtown Cincinnati, and to reach grass requires an elevator and four doors. Since Lola is learning how to master bladder control, I'm often rushing like a mad man in the middle of the night (and sometimes half dressed). Our success rate is high, but I can’t claim I haven't been peed on in the recent past.
Lola is a social dog and most days she gets to come to work with Frida and me. Lola enjoys saying hello to customers, two- and four-legged alike. She also finds my meetings at the cafe quite boring as she often falls asleep. Rude!
What's a typical day like with Lola right now? Do you always bring her with you when you're visiting your shops? What's that like?
Bringing the dogs to work definitely has its benefits. For example, when the dogs are around during a business meeting, you can see how everyone relaxes a bit more. People tend to interact with the dogs, which immediately softens the mood. Sometimes productivity dips a little, but, hey we are all happier.
I'd say Lola spends four days at work and three days off. There are mornings when I can tell she needs more rest, and it’s best to leave her home to relax.
Your shops are so welcoming of dogs. How'd you make that decision as a business owner? Has it created any challenges?
The shops are pet friendly. This was something we decided from the conception of the business. I'd say 99% of customers visiting with their pets are very respectful. We haven’t had any wild incidents. We just ask customers to keep their best friends on their best behavior, on a leash, and understand that not everyone likes dogs.
We are vigilant about customers with dogs and making sure that people are ok with this. Most of our customers enjoy seeing a dog sitting by their owners. You can see their faces as they pass by. Dogs have that effect on people. It makes us happier.
What's your favorite thing to do with Lola or what's your favorite thing about having a dog?
I love when my dogs are a complete part of my life, personal and professional. Lola is young and has much to learn, but ideally she will be able to come to the shops on a regular basis, travel with me in the van, and be a great companion at the house. I grew up with dogs, and it feels that life is not complete without them.
What's the latest with Urbana?
Urbana is like a growing teenager. There is always something going on. Currently, we are hoping to open two more cafés this year or early next year. We've been able to increase our footprint and offer real careers to our employees. That makes us extremely happy.
However, one thing that makes us overcome with joy is the fact that, in only a month or two, we'll be 100% single-use-plastic free. We are so close now. For years, we have been researching how to get this done, and now we have all the partners we need. We're currently working on a compostable coffee bag and bringing in cornstarch coffee lids, which were the last two missing pieces of the equation to be 100% off single-use-plastic.
That's great to hear! Ok, now tell us the story about Jack.
In 2008 I met Jack, aka, Giacomo. He was patiently waiting, laying quietly in a kennel at Petsmart during a pet adoption event. I was only there to get some supplies and in no way looking to adopt a dog.
While passing by all the kennels full of cats and dogs (and covering my ears as all the dogs were barking at the shoppers nearby), Jack stood there quiet and calm. On my second pass through the same aisle, I couldn’t resist saying hello.
After taking him for a quick walk, I knew he needed to come home with me. His adoption fee was $75 but I only had $30 to my name. It was time to put my negotiation skills to work. Happily, we came to a deal.
From that moment on, Jack was always by my side. Countless nights of study sessions while in grad school, road trips, good times, bad times, and of course, through the birth of Urbana Cafe in 2013. He was the constant. He was always there.
In 2019, Jack passed away, leaving a tremendous void. He lived a great life, but better yet, he made everyone’s life a little better just by being his goofy and loving self. We owe it to him and to every pet out there who deserves a second chance. Jack is the reason we get involved in helping dogs find homes and the reason why Frida and Lola get to be a part of Urbana.
Check out Daniel, Frida, Lola, and the rest of the crew from Urbana at @urbanacafe.