Proud Mary Coffee has always done things a bit differently. Owner Nolan Hirte took a huge jump when he expanded the Australian-based roastery into the United States in 2017, and he isn’t afraid to take a few risks in the name of innovation.
Featuring a vast array of fully custom gear that would make any gearhead swoon, Proud Mary’s newest location in Austin, Texas, is perhaps their most ambitious yet. After a lengthy buildout (pushed back several times due to pandemic-related hold-ups), the cafe officially opened its doors in September 2022.
We took a peak behind the curtain to see the nuts and bolts of this cutting-edge cafe in action.
Arts And Crafts And Coffee
The building is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention; it’s situated on a busy street in South Austin with no visible sign from the outside. Instead, look for stone walls, an angular roof, and long glass windows, then walk around back to find the door with a portafilter handle, handmade by Hirte himself.
“Nolan’s a very tactical guy. It’s about the touch and feel, the arts and crafts,” says Jak Ryan, global coffee lead for Proud Mary. Ryan oversees the coffee program across all locations, including service protocol, quality control, and training. “Everything has intention.”
Hirte’s craftsmanship can be found in every inch of the cafe, from the custom wooden tap handles to the large community tables. The building, which housed an upscale New American restaurant and a fried chicken spot in its past lives, was designed by Michael Hsu Architecture. The firm was also behind notable Austin restaurants like Uchi, Easy Tiger, and another Aussie-born breakfast joint, Two Hands.
Proud Mary’s fresh interiors were designed by Nolan’s wife and co-founder, Shari Hirte. The space is one big conversation piece, from the train station clock to the vintage Japanese speakers to the 96″ freezer mounted to the wall.
“Proud’s is always about the entertainment value,” says Ryan. “Entertain first, educate second.”
Most of the equipment is one-of-a-kind, from the aforementioned freezer with four attached Titus Nautilus grinders to a five-group under-counter Synesso espresso machine. Customized equipment doesn’t come without its challenges, however. Proud Mary is lucky to have technicians from Synesso and Austin-based BinxCorp a phone call away when things inevitably go awry, says Ryan.
“We really couldn’t do any of this without them,” he says. “I’ve learned more about freezers in the last six months than I ever thought was possible.”
Cafe Menu, Restaurant Energy
Upon entering, a barista will greet you at the hostess stand. You can either place an order for takeaway or be seated for table service (a souvenir from Australian cafe culture, where an all-day brekkie menu is a must). Or, if you’re feeling curious and social, seat yourself at the wraparound bar.
The extensive menu ranges from green smoothies to draft cocktails to “deluxe” pour-over offerings ranging from $10 to $14 per cup, served in clear stemless wine glasses. Everything is pre-dosed—smoothies in reusable containers, teas in tins, matcha, and mocha pre-whisked—and organized to promote efficiency, says Ryan.
“The victory is in the preparation,” he says. “If I have all of that done, I can spend more time interacting with you during your time with us.”
Four baristas are spread out behind the bar in sections during peak hours. The flow feels more like a kitchen than a cafe; a kind of organized chaos sprinkled with direct, no-nonsense communication and frequent banter. Additional floor staff runs table service, guiding guests through the menu, sending orders to the bar and kitchen via Toast tabs, and running fresh coffee grinds (to assess the fragrance before brewing), beverages, and breakfast to seated customers.
Proud Mary’s intention is apparent in every detail: make the best possible cup of coffee and give people something to talk about.
Gadgets And Gizmos Aplenty
When making gear decisions, Proud Mary is committed to innovation. Each choice can be traced back to a desire to put quality first, which means maximizing flavor—and doing it in style.
- The Centerpiece: A 96″ wall-mounted freezer holds 12 brown bottles of single-origin coffees at -6 F. The three right-most hoppers are for “Showcase” espressos (single-origin offerings from the same country), and the other nine are for the “Deluxe” pour-over menu, with cups ranging from $10-$15. Baristas change the grind setting on the face (a la a Mahlkönig EK43), turn on the grinder, then a volumetric doser drops the beans into a custom Titus Nautilus with 98mm burrs, which glides on a track like a library ladder. Baristas check each dose for accuracy before brewing.
- Brekkie or Bust: Food is a must in Australian cafe culture. An open kitchen lets guests see all the magic happen right before their eyes.
- Tea Time: Proud Mary boasts an extensive tea menu. Each tea is pre-dosed and brewed with a corresponding apparatus: ceramic pots for traditional teas, clear vessels for peppermint and lemongrass (to show off the fresh kitchen ingredients added to the tea leaves), and gaiwans for high-quality Pu’erhs.
- On Tap: Cold Brew is dead, according to Proud Mary. Instead, the roaster offers a snap chilled single-origin coffee and draft cocktails on tap, featuring custom wooden tap handles made by owner Nolan Hirte.
- Brewing in V-City: For a manual brew, take a trip to “V-City,” an area of the bar with three medium Origami drippers, Hario scales, and kettles (always heated to boiling). Brews drip into vintage glass carafes sourced by Nolan and Shari Hirte.
- All About that Spro: Espresso is prepared on a fully custom under-counter Synesso (mostly parts from MVP Hydra) with five volumetric group heads and four steam wands, spread out evenly along a curved bar. House espresso is ground on a Mazzer Robur S grinder and brewed at a 1:2 ratio in 22g VST baskets; single-origin offerings are ground using the three right-most Titus grinders under the freezer and brewed at a 1:2.5 ratio in 20g VST baskets. Espresso is assessed and recalibrated daily with a refractometer.
- Wild or Mild: Two drip offerings are brewed using a Curtis G4 ThermaPro Twin and large carafes with timers. Baristas ask customers whether or not they’d like milk, then serve the corresponding roast. Batch beans are pre-dosed and ground on a Mahlkönig EK43.
Proud Mary Coffee is open from 7-4 daily and is located at 2043 South Lamar Boulevard in Austin, Texas.