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By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Eats
Jan 30th, 2023

photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK

Nick Carlson zigzagged his way into becoming the owner of Seventh Square Coffee, currently the only coffee roaster in Northeast Louisiana.

Born in California, his family moved around, passing through Idaho, the Carolinas, and Louisiana. “I’ve been in Northeast Louisiana ever since I was a young teenager. So I would call this home,” he says. While a student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, he switched from majoring in biology to construction, then back to the sciences. “I had no clue what I wanted to do,” he says with a carefree tone. After graduation, he considered a few career trajectories including wildlife management, but he ended up taking a shotgun approach, trying out random jobs with the hopes of finding the right fit. From banking to restaurant management, he gathered experiences until they led him to Ascent, a non-profit organization providing mental health services for children and adolescents. “It was the first time in my life that I landed somewhere. And I was like, this is it, this is what I’m meant to do,” enthuses Carlson. And yet, there was still a part of him that kept yearning. “I wanted to create things,” he says.

It began with a Breville Barista Pro and a spirit of just having fun. Inspired by the impressive latte art videos on Instagram and Tiktok, Carlson began to test his skillset at home. Soon, considering himself a barista in the making, he began sharing his frothy art with friends and family, which led to appearances at the Farmer’s Market at Seventh Square. “Yeah, so I didn’t really think about the name too hard when I went there, because I was like, this is just for fun,” he relays. What started as a Saturday morning hobby quickly gained traction, and many of his customers began asking about the location of his shop. “That kind of got me thinking, maybe there could be more.” Keeping his limited resources in mind, he began looking for spaces that he could share with someone and quickly found an opening at For His Temple Family Foods owned by Dana Milford. “And again, the reception was so much more than I thought it was gonna be,” he enthuses. After a few months, Carlson’s trajectory was clear—it was time to transition to his own brick-and-mortar. And so on December 2022, in 414 Wood St. West Monroe, the Seventh Square team established what has become a hub abuzz with conversation, casual hangs, and of course, premium coffee.

As far as curating the interior and food menu, Carlson recruited the assistance of Heather Land, modern-day homemaker. “Nick had a very specific heart behind the process of dreaming up his first true brick and mortar,” she says. “For me, this was a passion project,” continues Land who has “a soft spot for sharing her time and gifts with people working to create beautiful things that I believe in. It is the way I have found to breathe into the true local’s life here.” Guided by Carlson’s passion to create, foster, and nurture the community, Land directed her focus on creating a timeless clean canvas where he could “literally put his heart on the walls.”

Creamy egg white walls are minimally textured with sections of pastel colors and honeyed woodbines. Golden camel velvets and leather from barstools and booths ground the space and create a warming feel. “We drew from the wood of the original old counter we requested to stay in the space,” says Land. Pops of green come from a number of lush indoor plants strategically scattered around the space—succulents, snake plants, and a stunning fiddle leaf fig. And finishing accents include brass coming from the barstools, brightly colored skate deck art, the “larger-than-life” Joey Slaughter art piece, and their groovy coffee bag designs. “Alone, it finished as a lovely neutral space with a modern mid-century kind of vibe to both impress and also welcome,” informs Land.

Brainstorming menu items was another collaboration of the minds, as well as the tastebuds. Land began with the question, “How could we create a menu that matched the craft of [Nick’s] coffee in a micro mini space with limited everything?” In a way, the simplicity of the space was exactly the principal component of what would become the menu, coupled with enough complexity to leave people craving for another visit. Thoughtfully chosen and purposefully layered, Land’s goal was “not to compete with the menus of other shops, but to pave a new way and present simple things really well and consistently.” A customer favorite is avocado toast, topped with cucumbers, microgreens, black sesame seeds, and siracha. Carlson particularly favors the brisket breakfast tacos—two corn tortillas hold a layer of garlic pepper jelly, brisket, potatoes, and microgreens. More savory plates include the brisket kimchi panini and chicken pesto panini. On the sweeter side, customers can enjoy jam and butter toast, honey almond toast, overnight oats, and granola parfait, all of which are further enhanced with a cup of house-roasted coffee.

Currently, Seventh Square is using coffee distributors that work with small farmers and roasters. “The ultimate goal of ours is to have direct relationships with the farmers,” Carlson says. For the time being, his attention is directed toward the craft of roasting and dreaming up a plethora of coffee blends from the light, with sweet berry notes like the Seventh Sense to their ultimate dark roast Dark Matter, a smooth sixty-forty Brazilian-Guatemalan blend with rich dark chocolate and almond notes. Each unique bag is an ode to the aesthetics of skateboard culture with animated-style illustrations by Jeff Wheeler. “A desire of mine was to create iconic characters so you could have a sense of the coffee’s personality,” says Carlson, who has amassed close to half a dozen unique designs matching their array of coffee flavors.

“The most fun part of the business is being able to create things,” says Carlson, particularly referring to roasting and blending the coffee beans. It’s a meticulous process and he often gives a lot of thought to the flavor notes he is aiming to extract from the beans. From developing the roasts, coming up with graphics and names, and then rolling them out, therein can be found his creative control. “And it feels like it’s always changing, too,” he adds.

The barista menu boasts coffee in a few ways, including cortado, cappuccino, and latte. The current seasonal menu plays with go-to flavors, uniquely blended. Take the Winter Ladybug (peppermint, mocha, and sea salt) and St. Nick’s Ginger Boy (gingerbread, honey, and cinnamon). In the “Not Coffee” section, the chai latte has a steadfast following, as well as the matcha latte. Regardless of which brew you land on, customers can choose from any of their house-made syrups, such as vanilla, caramel, brown sugar cinnamon, lavender, and rosemary.

Carlson is still amazed at the level of engagement his coffee shop has experienced in such a short period. And though his product stands alone, he also credits the culture of comradery that has been established since day one—encouraging employees to have a sense of ownership. He makes sure that his leadership is based on kindness, staunchly believing that if his employees’ cups are not full, they won’t be able to fill that of others. “So their cups need to be overflowing in order for people to receive that,” he says.

Ultimately, Carlson hopes that his new business is a space that feels fun and inviting. “That’s our brand,” he says, referring to the brightness of their packaging and the care he takes with creating specialty coffee that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Seventh Square is where you want to go if you are seeking a lighthearted space where you can find joy at the bottom of a coffee cup.