The Latte Art Evangelist
One hundred and two: it’s the number of lines Daniel Wayne is able to pour on a clay-brown rosetta-leaf latte that he serves at Lola coffee bar – a European-style coffee shop that brews along the narrow section of Roosevelt Street and 3rd Avenue.
Curating latte art is a relatively new tradition in Phoenix, and it’s thanks to Wayne that many coffee shops entertain their patrons with culinary masterpieces behind the bars.
Wayne started out as a teenager working at Cost Plus World Market in Scottsdale, where he fell in love with the coffee atmosphere. Following his time at Cost Plus, Wayne worked at Coffee Plantation in Tempe on Mill Avenue to see if he wanted to pursue a career in coffee.
Wayne helped them start their Biltmore location, where he met Damian Serafine, who had lived in New York three years earlier and knew how to brew. After a while of working together they decided to open up their own coffee cart.
“We went to a cabinet maker with a picture and asked if he could make it for us. We set it up on Central right in front of the hub building [and] made about $20 a day,” Serafine says.
Since their coffee cart was the first of its kind in Phoenix, the health department didn’t know how to officially license it and decided to give them a hot dog vending license.
They got the hot part right.
After making $20 a day (and eating frozen burritos as a reward), they caught a break from one of their regulars, a native from Seattle who was a general manager with Aramark.
“He came by one day and he said he was doing an RFP for the Phoenix Convention Center [that included] all of [the] coffee service inside and the Phoenix Symphony Hall, and he said, ‘Why don’t you put one together and see what happens?’ So we put one together and we got the contract, and from there we exploded throughout the Valley,” Serafine says.
Exploded was the perfect word.
The duo had a regular shop at the San Carlos hotel, a kiosk at the Bank One building, one at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, the Hub location, the Phoenix Symphony hall and exclusive rights for gourmet coffee in Phoenix Civic Plaza, which included three full espresso carts and a permanent café. All thanks to one customer.
“We had a coffee empire at that time because there really wasn’t competition. We wanted to make good coffee and make it fast,” Wayne says.
After seven years of dominating the coffee market in Phoenix, Wayne split the company with Serafine and traveled through Spain and Italy to see how coffee culture should be.
“We learned in Italy and Rome the best coffee culture in the planet. You go in there and see giant espresso machines [and] these guys are flying on the machine,” Wayne says. “They have twenty cups lined up, and they are just one after the other. That’s the way things should get done.”
Upon returning to Phoenix, Wayne and his then-wife left in 1999 for Seattle, where he opened up Lux coffee in the Belltown neighborhood near Pike Place Market.
“The barista level of expertise there was way above anything that they had here because the market was saturated. So I had to get good fast, and so we opened the shop and we did latte art. In a four-block radius there was 12 coffee shops,” Wayne says.
Among his successes, Wayne’s wife had a baby and their relatives, who mostly lived in Arizona, wanted them to move back. So they did.
After being back in Arizona for a year, Wayne wasn’t sure what to do, so he got a job working for a catering business. But on his first day of work he drove down Central Avenue by a building that had been on the market for three years.
Curiously, Wayne walked into the place and encountered the owner – on his knees, praying.
“[The building] was in shambles, it was a disaster in there. [The owner] was like, 'Its been on the market for three years and no one’s even called on it.' And we said, 'What are you looking for in here?' And he said, 'Somebody that does coffee and art,' and we said, 'That’s what we do, we’ve been doing it for years,'” Wayne says.
“We shook hands within about 10 minutes, and then the next day I rented a paint sprayer and painted the building,” he says. The store was named Lux, and while working there, Wayne had a large degree of success, both with the shop and with his latte art.
“As far as latte art goes, I was really into it for a while. I was on the Food Network for my latte art. I took my crew to Las Vegas for an international competition.”
Though Wayne has sold Lux and now operates solely at Lola, his mark on coffee in Phoenix cannot be ignored. In a three-mile radius around ASU’s Downtown campus there are four coffee shops that do latte art, and there are a lot more in the rest of Phoenix and the surrounding cities.
And to think it all started with a cart.
Grinning, Serafine, who now owns One Coffee Company off Central Avenue and Washington Street, remembers their time working together.
“He’s super fast, and we both are, that’s our thing, we can get through a line no problem. His barista style is exceptional quality and exceptional speed,” Serafine says. “We were like Lennon and McCartney behind the bar.”
Reach the reporter email@example.com.