Phrankly Focus – Ugly Duck 

This is the first post in a series called Phrankly Focus. Phrankly is the best way to find where your favorite local businesses source their ingredients from and where you can find specialty products you love. I’m working with Phrankly to highlight some of the spots that take their sourcing seriously and how it makes an impact on their business.


Rochester has a coffee scene that is far more impressive than many cities of similar size and Ugly Duck Coffee has made its mark in the East End as an indispensable industry gathering place. Owner Rory van Grol opened the brick and mortar location in 2016 after working at Joe Bean Coffee and then operating a very popular pop up cart for a year.

I took some time to sit down with Rory to get his take on sourcing for Ugly Duck. If you want to learn more about the process behind opening the shop check out the podcast I recorded with Rory on Food About Town.

Ugly Duck is a specialty multi roaster coffee shop that features beans locally and from around the country which gives people a unique chance to keep up with what the rest of the industry is up to. Deciding where to source from is more than a numbers game for Ugly Duck:

“Quality of the product is important, but building a relationship with the people behind the product is just as important.”

Ithaca’s Gimme! Coffee Leftist Blend is always on as their house espresso which has served them well since the cart opened. It’s the kind of product you can depend on and consistently be happy with. For me, the rotating second spot is where the magic happens. One day you’ll see Middle State from Denver gracing the grinder and then a beautiful roast from the coast from Kuma Coffee in Seattle or Toby’s Estate in Brooklyn.

“Knowing how you connect with a product is different when you’re a multiroaster. You’re not dealing with farms directly, you’re interacting with different roasters around the country.”

Part of what makes Ugly Duck special is the attention to detail that Rory and his team give the whole experience. If you’re a mocha fan, you’ll find your fix with Ugly Duck’s rich and luxurious version that features local dairy from Ithaca Milk and a dynamite chocolate sauce based on Hedonist Chocolate in the South Wedge.

What I found interesting was our discussion about the choice of milk. I don’t use any milk in my coffee drinks so I don’t often think about it, but it’s such an important part of the coffee business. Milk is the base of so many drinks both flavor and texture wise and is a true agricultural product, so that brings up all sorts of issues.

“Being able to talk to people that are open about their practices and how they are producing the milk is key. Any coffee shop serves a lot of milk and the decision on where to source from is critical.”

This attention to detail extends to the design of the space which is essential for any coffee shop you want to spend time at. The shop has a modern, austere look that is anchored by custom made furniture from the Rochester based Staach. It really just ties the room together!

“We try to work with people that specialize in what they do for a living. We let those businesses do what they do best and work with them to make it exactly what we are looking for.”

If all their conscientious sourcing hasn’t convinced you, Rory has won Best Barista in the Rochester City Newspaper Best of Poll for two years running and also happens to be a genuinely engaging person to spend an espresso with. Sidle up to the La Marzocco machine and have a chat with your barista about what espresso is on and what to expect. It’s just a good idea in general to spend a few minutes to learn more about what you’re doing, what you’re eating or drinking and where it comes from. Not only will you be more informed, but you’ll find out if the places you go care about what they are doing.

Keep on watching the Phrankly Focus for awesome spots that excite their customers like Ugly Duck Coffee in Rochester. Until then keep eating and let me know if you find something we need to feature here!

You can listen to Chris Lindstrom on the Food About Town podcast or check out his food blog, Foodabouttown.com. Share any dining tips with him on Twitter and Instagram @stromie.


Also published on Medium.

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