Photo by Chris Casella

A World Without Wi-Fi

It feels a little strange to walk into the Fox in the Snow Café. There are actually people talking to each other! Actual, real laughter. Not the hum of computers, or the clack-clack-clack of keyboards. Tables aren’t filled with silver laptop walls, separating people like mini Chinese screens.

Conversation fills the high-ceiled space because there is no wi-fi. Not a wi, not a fi. And while this is not necessarily a new idea, it’s especially obvious at Fox in the Snow as it is the kind of café that people want to sink into and stay for hours. With its high, high ceilings, verdant plants, and glowing light, it’s the kind of café that has eased itself into the area and become a third space overnight.

“We want people to meet and talk and interact with people—our bar is low so people are closer to the baristas,” said Jeff Excell, partner. “Wi-fi is the opposite.”

“It’s a visual thing too,” added Lauren Culley, partner. “We also like the loudness of people talking.”

Having opened in late October, Fox in the Snow has already been adopted into the rhythms of the neighborhood. From a concrete block orphan of a building, to a warm and welcoming hangout, the newbie offers not just exceptional coffee, but crazy good pastries and baked goods. The scones and cinnamon roll and donuts and muffins and all the baked goodness are rolled out in a room with a glass wall; it’s mesmerizing to sit and watch the breaking of eggs and the creaming of sugar.

“I knew we wanted to be in Italian Village and free-standing,” said Culley. “We wanted a garage—those doors—and last January, we saw this ad on Craigslist with no picture and we had a meeting the next morning. It was bitter cold…”

“We saw this and the layout felt good—it’s intuitive. The space guides you.”

Culley knew people thought the building was a little off the beaten path, but also had faith that the area would welcome their passion project. “Once we got the building, we’d sit outside in two folding chairs and watch the neighborhood—people with strollers, with dogs, young people, people on bikes…all those things were here. We are beyond happy to be here.”

Excell is the coffee and manager side of the enterprise, while Culley is all things bakery. “My mom baked bread and I have vivid memories of her making bread,” said Culley. Surprisingly, mom’s fresh bread wasn’t what hooked Culley on baking. “After grad school, I worked in book publishing and editing in New York.” After awhile, I realized a desk job just wasn’t for me…and then one day I was at the Brooklyn Flea and I had this warm mozzarella and kale pesto bread, drizzled with olive oil and handed to me wrapped in paper. To this day, it’s the best thing I have ever eaten.”

Having had an epicurean epiphany, Culley sought out the baker and immediately started volunteering for him. From there, she went to a French patisserie, and on to a laundry list of shops, picking up tips along the way. “One day, I just quit my job and started baking.”

And while Culley’s love for baking didn’t blossom at her mother’s apron, she does have a recipe that comes from the kitchen of her youth. “My mother makes kick-ass cinnamon rolls; all the women in my family do,” she said. “I make them now, but I’ve tweaked it, like, there’s no Crisco.”

One would think that Excell, who is meticulous when it comes to crafting a cup of coffee, would have this amazing story about the power of java. One would be wrong. “I grew up with Folgers instant—my dad drank a lot of it,” he said. “My first experience with coffee wasn’t an actual cup of joe, it was taking Folgers grinds and putting them in my palm with some sugar and eating it at band camp.”

Excell became interested in the intricacies of coffee while in college in California. “Honestly, I had been a waiter and wanted to work at the coffee shop with a bunch of cool kids.” And while he is precise about the temperature of water and the exact way to bloom grinds in a pour over, he is completely void of any coffee condescension. “That makes my flowers wilt when I hear about baristas being pretentious,” he said. “Coffee is fun and a good thing—I want to celebrate that.”

Culley is an Ohio girl and Excell is a California guy; the two met in New York City while working at the legendary Blue Bottle Coffee, one of the early epicenters of Third Wave coffee. However, Culley always knew she wanted to come back to Central Ohio and open “something.”

“I believe, now more than ever, that Columbus is a really wonderful place for small business,” she explained. “There is a sense of community here that not in other large places. The pride here is incredible. Every third person is wearing an Ohio t-shirt.”

“Coming from New York,” added Excell. “You’re competing against every distraction in the world; here people have ownership over things. No one is jaded.”

For Culley, Columbus is the biggest small town, full of young people—a place where everyone seems to know everyone else. “I was out somewhere and this guy nods up at me, and I asked, ‘Where do I know you from?’” added Excell. “And he said, ‘Just Columbus.’” 

Fox in the Snow is located at 1031 N Fourth St. in Italian Village.