Jason Gol, owner of the latest hotspot in Plantation, can’t stop looking at his phone. It dings every two seconds, demanding his attention. But don’t be fooled. He is not texting a buddy or lost in a Pokémon Go battle. He is keeping his pulse on his newest endeavor, Ella Café, answering work texts and emails, updating Instagram posts, and remaining impressively present greeting customers and checking up on his staff to make sure every detail is managed.
At 39, sporting a baseball cap and casual shirt and jeans, the trim Gol could easily pass as one of his many customers, chatting over a steamy cup of Cafe Latte which, like almost all coffees served here, begins with a double-shot of espresso. Gol will be the first to tell you the idea for Ella Café, which opened in January, came out of his own needs as a coffee-drinking customer.
“I live out in the Acres in Plantation, and after traveling to Italy for so many years, I wanted to be in a place that makes coffee the way I like coffee, like a real Italian dark roast.”
Gol, owner of J Productions, a live production company that manages the lighting, sound, video, and stage sets for major shows all over the world, decided to open a coffee shop that would do just that. His background creating sets came into play.
“The entire aesthetics of this place was built — actually constructed — by myself with a couple of my guys. All this that you see here,” Gol says, pointing to the stylish, rugged panels decorating the walls, “it’s all reclaimed wood. I had the lease for nine months before I opened the place. When I came in here, there was no plan, no architect, no designer. I just kind of came in and built the place.”
From there, Gol focused on creating the right ambiance. To him, that wasn't just about designing a trendy space, although he did want to make sure his customers were comfortable with a lounge area featuring plush chairs and a fireplace as well as double A/C to ensure the place stays cool. “I want to sit in a place where I’m not rushed," he says. "I want to have a great atmosphere. I want music playing. I put in a stage where we can have performers.”
The stage is used for Open Mike Night, which has been a big hit, luring all kinds of virtuosos to the spot. Gol says, “We actually had a harp player that once dragged her entire harp in.”
While the harpist might sound like an anomaly at most South Florida open mikes, it's actually not that strange here. The clientele at Ella Café is a mixture: Businessmen come for meetings, as do families with young kids who are happy to clamor around the pint-sized kiddie table up front. Yoga moms make it a meet-up spot as well.
Gol put just as much thought and work into the coffee as he did into the space, sourcing his own special blend from a roaster in Hollywood. “It took us about 45 tries to get that blend,” Gol says.
In the beginning, he thought he’d begin with just fresh pastries and coffee. As popularity grew, Gol hired Les Harrow, an executive chef who has catered for stars such as Alonso Morning, DJ Khaled, and Jon Secada. Says Gol, “I didn’t want someone to just come in and make sandwiches.”
Ella Café’s approach to food is the embodiment of the organic process Gol embraces. There’s no actual menu. While the restaurant has branched out, the place still serves baked goods. As people make their way through the narrow entrance, they are greeted by a generous glass case (yes, built by Gol) housing the café’s indulgent homemade sweets. Popular choices are the hybrid doughnut muffin (exactly as it sounds) and the latte cupcake with buttercream icing made from the shop's coffee blend. The Power Bar, a mixture of nuts, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds held together with honey, caters to gluten-free diets.
Farther down, by the cashier, is an assortment of plated salads, flatbreads, and sandwiches, referred to as the International Gourmet Baked Cheese sandwiches. “Everything is there so you get to physically view it, and if you want to know the price, you ask the price – we’re not overpriced," says Gol. "You pay for a coffee $3 to $5. I want someone to make a decision on what looks good, what they want.”
It is clear Gol insists on excellent customer service. He trains the staff to be extremely customer-friendly, taking the time to carefully explain what each food item is as well as how each coffee is made. “It’s not about getting people through the door. If it’s your first time here, let us talk you through the coffee.”
This includes describing the 16 all-natural flavored coffee syrups prepared in-house, ranging from the popular vanilla (made by scraping vanilla beans) and caramel rosemary to seasonal gingerbread and pumpkin praline.
Such personal attention can cause a bit of a back-up with the line during peak hours, but customers don’t seem to mind. Even harried Floridians seem to check any traces of aggression at the door.
“Everything you order here is delicious,” one smiling customer tells New Times while waiting in line.
Gol's common sense approach and desire to please customers is part of what's making Ella Café such a quick success. “You may like pizza, but you’ll eat it, like, once a week. But coffee is a necessity. People need it every day. So what’s going to happen? Those people are going to come and they’re going to tell people, and then those people are going to come and they’ll tell people. So it’s going to continue to snowball.”
From its inception, Ella Café’s immense popularity has come through word of mouth and Gol’s knack for social media. The café's Instagram account showcases enticing pastries and lunch items beautifully placed on miniature wooden cutting boards, emblazoned with the café’s simple yet tasteful logo. (“We make all the boards at my production company,” Gol beams.)
“Jason has a specific vision of every picture on social media,” Alina Goryachikh, CEO of Allie PR, tells New Times. “He controls every part of his company. He knows all of his guests; he talks to them all the time. That is the key to success.”
Gol’s enthusiasm is authentic, electric, and contagious. He’s sitting on the edge of his seat, foot tapping, phone still dinging, drawing me in. Just then, my coffee arrives, an order he suggested after quizzing me on my coffee preferences: macadamia-nut milk cortado with the café’s signature “Hazelnut-Ella” syrup, a mix of hazelnut and Nutella. It is rich and creamy. The coffee is strong but not bitter, having a round, toasted flavor to it. The syrup adds a subtle layer of nuttiness and is not too sweet. It's almost too pretty to drink. When I say that, Gol replies, "Our latte artist is insane."
“It was all intended as a fun side project, initially,” Gol admits, while glancing around the bustling café. “Now, it just sort of turned into something a little bit larger.”
Ella, whom the café is named after, is Gol’s 6-year-old daughter. There are several portraits of her throughout the coffee shop. “All her friends know [about the café]," he says. "She doesn’t really care. I have a son who is three — he cares. When he comes in, he wants a cookie.”
Alona Abbady Martinez lives in Plantation, Florida. She writes about food and family on her blog, Culinary Compulsion, and is currently working on her book, My Culinary Compulsion, a global food memoir with recipes. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.