Fighting Starbucks’ Mass Coffee Ways With Australian Spirit: How Two Brothers From Down Under are Shaking Up Dallas’ Coffee SceneBY Lee Escobedo // 09.03.18
LDU Coffee brings a taste of Australian coffee to Dallas. (Photo via Unsplash.)
Brothers Adam and Mark Lowes opened LDU Coffee in 2017.
Dallas' LDU Coffee is a place to relax and enjoy a respite.
Dallas' LDU Coffee is the anti-Starbucks.
They came like birds in migration, in the aftermath of the second Great War. Defeated, war-torn Italians migrated to Melbourne, Australia, bringing with them all the seriousness of the motherland’s espresso lifestyle. Australia then was slow, the perfect temperature to absorb, distill and eventually enhance the traditions of Italy’s coffee lore.
Brothers Adam and Mark Lowes, who opened up the Dallas coffee shop LDU last December, grew up with coffee in their blood. There was no way around it. They were children of the Second Wave of coffee in Australia.
Folgers and Maxwell House became the engine fuel for their father’s generation in the 1960s and ’70s, bringing about coffee into the everyman’s life. By the time the brothers were in their late teens, Starbucks had began its descent into the modern world, disseminating franchises across the globe from its Seattle headquarters, providing specialized coffee with single origin beans and espresso based drinks, like lattes and cappuccinos.
“It took 20 to 30 years for coffee culture to manifest to what Australians were doing every morning,” Mark Lowes says. “The second wave was the next generation that thought ‘We can make coffee a little better than the old Italian boys.’ Third wave was when coffee became light, with new machinery, single origin and latte art.”
Mark describes Americans entry into coffee coming from the diner experience via drip culture, enjoyed by blue-collar and white-collar workers alike. Eventually Starbucks initiated the Second Wave, followed by Stumptown’s emergence in the mid-to-late 1990s, initiated by a younger intelligentsia inspired by Italian counter-culture.
This has since evolved into an artistic-based approach to the coffee business.
“Today, it’s become more and more minimalist, focused more on the market and less on coffee.” Mark says.
With LDU, the brothers use beans from nearby White Rock Coffee Roasters, but roasted in an Italian style from the 1950s. Mark makes nearly every specialty coffee order himself, translating to a near perfect consistency. This speed and accuracy LDU delivers elevates it to very arguably the best coffee shop in the greater Dallas region.
“Let’s just put out the best product we can.” Adam Lowes says about their the goal with LDU Coffee. “The language of coffee is in its infancy here. Why are we trying to talk to them in a PHD way about acidity? Even back home, we just wanted to run our shop like this.
“The conversation is not about coffee. We are much happy with being known to give a great experience. It’s coffee exactly how we like to drink it.”
Starting Down Under
The brothers had a shop in Perth called Low Down in for seven years. The shop was famous for its attention to detail coffee and its food, especially the Si Si, which the brothers brought with them to LDU Coffee.
This smoked turkey sandwich, made with roasted tomatoes, cheddar and a spicy aioli sauce on a toasted torta bun, has become within a year, arguably the best sandwich in the city. The brothers wanted to infuse the sandwich with elements of their new home, and found the crispy, flat Mexican torta bread to fit the aesthetics of the Si Si perfectly.
“The Si Si is eight years deep.” Mark Lowes says. “That’s a perfect sandwich that got even better here. You don’t have torta bread like that in Australia.”
“During the Third Wave is when coffee became part of the restaurant conversation,” Adam Lowes says. “Melbourne is our Seattle, our coffee capital. Food became a huge part of Third Wave coffee culture back home.”
They had a regular at Low Down who was from Dallas and extolled its virtues upon the brothers, encouraging them to come visit. After Adam visited a few years back, he instantly knew where they should start their new adventure, predating the Aussie coffee boom which is taking over America right now by two years.
“There’s biodiversity to the scene here in Dallas.” Adam says. “It’s either sterile or franchised, there’s no way of creating something in the middle that appeals to normals people sensibilities.”
Mark adds, “When I lived in Melbourne in 2007, there were dozens and dozens of espresso bars. Then it went to bigger, aesthetically pleasing designs. Twenty years ago all a coffee shop would do is grill sandwiches and make coffee in the densest parts of the city.
“When the coffee became lighter, it appealed to a much smaller part of the market. Then social media took off. It’s the worst thing that ever happened to the universe, much less food. Its all about building an Instagram product that appeals to millennials.
“Instagrammers come in one time or not at all. It doesn’t create any business.”
An Authentic Coffee Experience
The Lowes wanted to bring back and old school business model based on to-go ordering and personable, authentic interactions. Where the owners would be present in the process and the moment, creating lasting customer bonds based on a Humanist approach to commerce.
“Adam warned me that I had no idea what was going to happen with our service model,” Mark says. “We grew up as kids watching Italian and Greek guys running the cafes. They brought you water. They were asking if the coffee was hot enough and high fiving everyone as they went. It’s the European service model.”
To create a new service model in Dallas, they brought in the speed and fluidity of Starbucks with the craft techniques and options of the speciality shops like Houndstooth and Cultivar.
“All young baristas want to do latte art before they learn how to pour espresso or milk,” Mark says. “We do nothing online and will never do anything with apps or ordering ahead. We want to bring it back to the physical.
“I guarantee the dream of Starbucks is to have robots handing out takeaway coffee out a window, that someone bought on an app. We will see that before we die. It’s sick but it’s true.
“For 20 years they had the exact same profile that we do, Italian roasting. When the financial crises hit in 2008 they began to use automated machines. Now they use the cheapest beans in the world and mostly they’re rancid. It’s like selling someone rotted vegetables.
“Isn’t a cafe about physical reality and service?”
Adam adds, “It’s like walking into a morgue and trying to start a party. When we first got here the Aussie in us was trying to analyze it from an Aussie point of view: Are they happy with it? People here just enjoyed the experience. They don’t need to bleed the banana bread for everything it’s worth.
“Back home the Australian devours it as their last meal and over analyze it at the same time. Also, we don’t care what you drink, we just want to find out why you drink it. Coffee should be one less stressful thing in your life.
“We want this place to be a sports bar and not a library. It’s a crossover point, not an end of the spectrum point.”
If Starbucks represents the fast, automated end point, and speciality coffee shops like Houndstooth serve as the inaccessible, bourgeois, the brothers aim for LDU to forge the middle class, presenting artisan coffee for everyone. Mark appreciates the vulnerability Americans have with coffee, in comparison with Aussies, in that they are unafraid to simply ask for help when needed.
“Americans are good at verbalizing what’s on their mind. Australians will stand there with their arms folded for a minute looking at the menu,” he says. “Americans are going to come up and look you in the eye and tell you they don’t know what they’re doing. You can’t do anything other than take them from greeting to goodbye.
“Make sure they know what’s happening, what’s going into their drink. Closing the circle in on their experience. It’s not just about how strong do you like it, what milk do you use? We probably ask them too many questions. But at least you know we care.”
The brothers are fitting into their new home, while raising the coffee bar.
“In general Americans are so easygoing,” Adam says. “People talking about Dallas as being pretentious, but it’s not. In Dallas, at any time of day you can get anything you want at a world-class level. But with coffee, there’s only a handful of independent shops and Starbucks. There’s not this deep breath of options.
“DFW could do with 20 Houndtooths and LDUs, there’s so many people to diversify the conversation.”
To paint a picture of the type of neophyte customer they hope walks into their shop on any given day Mark is very specific.
“Imagine someone over 40 who knows nothing about specialty coffee walks into five specialty shops and has five bad experiences,” he says. “Coming into here takes courage.”
2650 N. Fitzhugh Ave.
Hours: 7 am to 4 pm daily