When Black Sheep Coffee makes the leap from its home city of London to the United States, the first shop to open stateside will be on Mockingbird Lane in East Dallas.
“Usually, companies that are successful in the U.K. always open in New York,” says co-founder Gabriel Shohet on a video call in late January 2023 from London. “We looked at all the data and we felt like, actually, Texas is on the rise of all states in the U.S.”
“Everybody seemed to be moving to Texas.”
Shohet, too, will eventually move to the United States — though probably not to Texas. Once Black Sheep gets established in East Dallas, Shohet and Black Sheep co-founder Eirik Holth are planning to expand the company to parts of Phoenix, Austin, Atlanta and Miami.
A second reason why Dallas is Black Sheep’s first stop in the U.S is because former Dallas Mavericks player Kristaps Porziņģis invested in the company. Dallas “was Kristaps’ turf,” Shohet says of the time the deal was made. The NBA player has since been traded to the Washington Wizards, but Black Sheep’s co-founders kept their Dallas plan and say that their 7-foot-3 supporter is expected to attend the summer 2023 opening.
The Black Sheep name
Shohet and Holth have opened more than 50 coffee shops, but they still talk about the company as if it were a start-up.
When the company was established in 2013, the two “had no money whatsoever” and had recently quit their jobs to chase a coffee industry they admittedly didn’t understand.
“We didn’t have enough money to buy the espresso machine, so we had to rent it for the week,” Shohet says.
They constructed the first shop themselves in 2015 in London — “watching YouTube videos about plumbing,” Shohet says — believing that they had a coffee idea that hadn’t been done elsewhere: They wanted to make espresso drinks with robusta, a coffee bean that’s less popular than arabica because it’s known for being bitter. Shohet believes, then and now, that high-quality robusta can compete with arabica. It has more caffeine, less acidity and makes a thicker crema.
“Why does it have such a bad reputation on the market?” Shohet asks. “We realized it had to do with the way robusta was processed, often for commercial grade coffee or instant coffee.”
They started traveling, trying to find high-quality robusta coffee beans that could work at a craft coffee shop. Some of their favorites today come from farms near Bangalore, India, and in Uganda, near the border to Rwanda. All Black Sheep shops also have arabica beans, some sourced from Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia.
“What we’re kind of famous for is the robusta revival,” Shohet says. “You’ve either tried [bad] robusta or great arabica. Nobody had tried specialty robusta.”
Black Sheep roasts its own beans, which allows it to control how the espresso ultimately tastes. After the company has opened several shops in the United States, the co-founders say they plan to build a roastery to avoid shipping beans overseas.
The company name has everything to do with the co-founders’ mission to be different.
“When everybody was talking about 100% arabicas and we announced the robusta, we were the black sheep of the industry,” Shohet says. Their motto is “leave the herd behind.”
What to drink
Black Sheep’s most popular drink is the Black Hoof, a twist on bulletproof coffee made with espresso, coconut oil, cinnamon and milk, Shohet says.
Iced cold brew and organic smoothies are also popular.
Shohet is proud of the “free coffee board initiative,” which he expects to continue in the United States. At shops in England, Wales, France and beyond, regulars can choose to leave their fully-stamped loyalty cards for someone who can’t afford a drink. There’s also a board where customers can make a purchase toward someone else’s free drink.
“Customers often write kind messages on the stickers,” according to the company website.
The company made a commitment to expanding internationally when it reportedly raised 13 million pounds in 2019. Black Sheep started franchising once it hit 50 stores.
Shohet notes that franchises are better understood in the United States than in Europe, and that the Dallas shop could be a franchise if the co-founders find the right partner.
“I don’t know if it’s urban legend, but the Egg McMuffin and Big Mac were launched by franchisees [of McDonald’s],” Shohet says. “It’s a partnership with people who care about the brand as much as we do because they’ve put in their savings — and they’re part of the journey with us.”
The company’s next phase of growth in the U.S. will be focused first in Dallas and Austin.
Black Sheep Coffee will be at 6240 E. Mockingbird Lane, Dallas. It’s expected to open in June 2023.