Head Ghostie's First SCA EXPO

Head Ghostie's First SCA EXPO

Wowowow. The Ghost Town World is expandiiing… Allow me to welcome you to the first installment of the Ghost Town World official blog! *airhorns*

I’m LaVonce Goodlow II, & I’m the Director of Communications, the Head “Ghostie” in Charge, The Chief “STAN” Officer, “The 🗣️Voice” of the Ghost Town World brand; & I’m honored to be spearheading this here thang with an entry recapping my experience at this year’s Specialty Coffee Expo in Chicago!

This time last week we were in our Ford Expedition approaching McCormick Place to make our first steps onto the showroom floor, but before we get there… I want to take you back to the weeks leading up to our trip.


SCA Expo is an event where members of the global specialty coffee industry converge on a city to network, demo their latest products, or just be seen! Representatives from companies spanning every step of the coffee process, from bean to cup to the community it nurtures, show up from all over the world to make their presence known. This year saw one of the biggest turnouts, with well over 20,000 people making an appearance throughout the weekend…and yo, that’s SO many people…

Here at Ghost Town Oats (in the words of the CEO), “we’re building the company of our dreams”; a large part of that is crafting a work environment that encourages prioritizing one’s own health, and accommodating the various & ever-changing “capacities” of the humans on the team; understanding that productivity looks different for everyone & is, in most cases, directly connected to health. This was going to be my very first time at SCA Expo, and as we neared our departure date, there were quite a few seemingly prelusive “wellness” check-ins from other members of the team…🤭


“Okay, so, I just want to make sure you know that you can do whatever you feel like you need to do to get through this…”


“Step off the floor, take as many breaks as you need…”


“It can be really overstimulating…”


“How are you feeling about Expo?”


(I was fine.) For those of you who don’t know (or worse, don’t follow us), I also man the social media accounts, primarily our Instagram. Between this gracious level of care & concern for my nerves from The Squad, & watching the Expo-themed meme posts start to roll out in the days leading up to the event — seeing reels of people talking about how STRESSFUL and TRAUMATIC an experience it is: people falling out, snatching themselves bald, having panic attacks — I was like….HOLD ON?????


SHOULD I be worried? 👀


What’s actually going on??? And more importantly, why, if anyone is feeling this way, would you subject yourself to this environment or experience over and over again?! Like…..what’s going on, friends? Not to be judgmental AT ALL! But I couldn’t imagine. Fundamentally, that just doesn’t align with me! Y’all not about to stress ME out!!! Over some coffee?!?! NO!!!


(Peep my favorite instance of this in this post shared with the Marketing Squad IG.)


Couldn’t be me. Wouldn’t be me. I was going to make sure of that. (& spoiler alert: (thankfully) It wasn’t.) Again, *I*? was fine. At my best, I go into most situations with an open heart and mind, which leaves me in a space where I can flow, be present, & really take things in free of anxieties and other “noise”. It was going to be my first time not only at Expo, but my first time in Chicago, so I was just excited! I was Gucci (Ghostie?). 


I was ready.


Speaking of Gucci, one of the things I was most excited for was getting to debut the custom pieces of Ghost Town Apparel our “Chief Drip Officer” Chris Strickland, affectionately known as “Strick Da Ruler,” designed and curated for The Squad in preparation for Expo. I’d go into detail here, but I’m going to save that process for Chris to describe in the next installment of the blog, so stay tuned!!! 


What you should know is that every piece was incredibly and intentionally designed to fit the vibe, style, & function of each Ghost’s role on the team. And on a more superficial level, SO WE SHOWED UP LOOKING TF GOOD!!!!! Because as the saying goes, “when you look good, you feel good,” & I absolutely did both. So, THANK YOU CHRIS!!!!


Stepping into the convention center there’s a whooole lot to take in. You’re immediately greeted with in-your-face-installments from some of the biggest names in coffee from Torani, to La Marzocco, Breville, & so many more. Anyone you could think of that plays a role in coffee was there in some shape or form, & even though we’re currently SOLD OUT, so were we!!! While there’s 0 new stock available at the moment, thanks to back-stock from one of our biggest supporters, Martell of Sepia Coffee Project in Detroit, we were able to procure a limited number of cases to supply some of our favorite partners with some Ghost Town Oats for the weekend! We didn’t have a booth of our own this year, but between Dayglow outside the convention center walls, Matryoshka Coffee & Proper (via Created Co.), Sorellina Coffee, & Eversys, we were surely and effectively still Haunting the Windy City.

It wouldn’t benefit any of us for me to go into tooo much detail about the the ins and outs of Expo itself, because it’s definitely something to be experienced as opposed to described - but the most important thing to me, & truly, the most interesting thing, was getting to bear witness to the community that unfolded all around me. From being on the floor, to our pitch competition in partnership with the incredible Brewpoint Coffee, to pulling up at Drip Collective for the Spirit Tea party, as well as The First Sip by CCRE, there was so much to SEE.  

For me, I finally got to meet SOOOOO many of the faces and personalities I’ve seen & interacted with online over the past couple of years. It was kinda strange and alienating being familiar with them & in many cases, them not knowing me, because the interactions have been coming from the Ghost Town Oats page & not my personal (so for all they know they’ve been talking to Eric or Michelle (but y’all AIN’T!)), & it was very ironic to kinda end up feeling like an actual Ghost on The Ghost Town Squad… tee. hee. 🥲


But I digress!!!!! 



I got my start in coffee back in 2018 when I was hired as part of the founding team for the then newly opening Bloom & Plume Coffee in Echo Park. With this job I was trained by Stumptown (shoutout Erika!) & did the rest of my learning on bar with the expert coffee professionals who surrounded me. It was at this job that I met “The Chocolate Barista” Michelle R. Johnson for the first time, & Sasha Jones, the then-manager & current owner of what would be my next home with Cuties Coffee, where I would happily work until (trigger warning) the pandemic hit in 2020. (You made it, I’m proud of you 🙂) Between these two spaces alone, the Black, queer community I was fortunate enough to land in has served as the launching pad for many of the amazing experiences & relationships I’ve had the pleasure of living out & building over the past 6 years.


I give that brief insight into my coffee journey to (pay respects to, but also) put into perspective the “bubble” that I’ve been blessed enough to find myself in as it relates to the greater coffee industry. I was trained by some of the very best to recognize & prepare GREAT coffee (regardless of whether or not I enjoyed the taste of it just yet), & I’ve never really had to experience some of the more alienating feelings that many Black folks in specialty coffee have had to endure over the past 10+ years. 


Black excellence & community in coffee is all I’ve ever really known.


Thinking back, maybe even for the first time consciously in this moment, that may be a direct result of the work Michelle did with & as “The Chocolate Barista”; & that honestly makes what I’m about to get into all the more wondrous.



My history & experience in coffee doesn’t go much deeper than being a (star) barista on bar, but as many of us know, the world of specialty coffee goes much deeper than that. There’s a whole value chain of jobs being worked by real humans, from bean to cup, every step of the way, to ultimately produce the latte you receive from the hands of your local barista. To put it simply, that’s a lot of different roles one has the option to choose from if they hope to find their place in the industry; being on the floor at Expo amidst it all, this profound sense of possibility was almost tangible. And even THEN, it was still only the tip of the iceberg!


For most people, their journey working in the coffee industry begins behind the bar at the barista level: mine, Eric’s, Ezra’s, Michelle’s… 


”Made By Baristas” ain’t just no cute tagline over here.


It’s our truth.


It’s the reality of Ghost Town Oats’ foundation.


SO. In what I couldn’t think to describe better than as 'platonic compersion,' my FAVORITE part of Expo was being able to witness Eric & Michelle connecting with people they either inspired or had a hand in ushering into the industry, reconnecting with all these people they’ve basically grown up with in coffee, and ultimately receiving their flowers for the growth and impact they’ve made individually, as well as for what they’ve built together (Ezra included!) with Ghost Town Oats.


(Boy do I love a long sentence. 🙂)


Collectively, Ezra, Eric, and Michelle boast over 30 years of coffee experience. They’ve honed their skills through lending their hands to many different roles in the industry along the way. From daily espresso dial-ins, to barista competitions, Eric birthing baristas with Veronica & Glitter Cat, cupping, consulting, managing, palate-tuning, bus, club, ‘nother club, teaching/trainings, to Ezra’s Q Grader Certification, they’ve used ALL that expertise (& surely I left some stuff out) to formulate this product and build this brand that connects with & seeks to uplift so many people just like them. They were all known for being great baristas, but their work as great baristas led to the creation of this product that everyone loves, their peers respect & prefer to work with, & is genuinely and above all, GOOD. 


(the best on the market, I don’t give a FUCK, I’m saying it.)


As someone who cares so deeply about them & sees firsthand the work they put in day in and day out, it was really dope to see them re-entering the Expo space as founders, getting their flowers in this way from fellow industry professionals at all levels. 


Through Ghost Town Oats, through meeting and witnessing ALL these other people hold such vastly different roles within the coffee industry, it’s evident that coffee goes so much deeper and farther than what happens on bar. With Ezra, Eric, & Michelle alone, we’re seeing that baristas are capable of doing more than “just making a cup of coffee” - there’s so much that goes into it, and doing it well isn’t as simple as people think. Again, we were all known for being great baristas, but this past weekend was a demonstration of the reality that it doesn’t have to end there. 


In fact, there’s a whole world of people who are very passionate about coffee, & have found their purpose in building a career and fostering community within this industry — namely, the newest round of NKG PACE Partners, Zion Brown & Jasmin Mitchell, as well as the most recent grads, Shaa'ista Brown, Zakiya Imaninia, & Jalen Kelly. Observing the connections & relationships between these people, & beholding them as the very threads that weave so beautifully into the fabric that makes up the vibrant coffee community was a reminder of the importance of what it really means to be “Made By Baristas”. There are so many different career paths that one can follow within the coffee industry, & seeing folks find their lane among the endless possibilities for that is such a beautiful thing.


OH. & to cap it all off, the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity (CCRE) honored Michelle with the inaugural “Rose Nicaud Award”!!! Rose Nicaud was the first known coffee-vendor in New Orleans & is lauded as one of the first/most important Black women in coffee. Michelle being the INAUGURAL HONOREE of the award recognizing the most important Black woman in coffee………….you do the math. 🤯 IMPACT.


ALL IN ALL, Y’ALL, I had an AMAZING time at Expo. I came, I saw, I CONQUERRRRED!!!!! I even competed in my first live latte art throwdown with Matryoshka Coffee (this was not part of the conquering……actually…….forget I said ANYTHING)! After all the fear mongering (no shade lmao) & genuine advices/reminders to be mindful and to care for myself (🫶🏽 love my team), I heard more than a few people state that this was “definitely the best Expo yet” & saw nothing but smiles & good vibes throughout it all… Which made me so happy that it was my first, because that’s all I want for everyone, always. I walked away feeling so full, so grateful, & SO proud of my friends & the work we’re doing to change our own lives, as well as the lives of those in both our professional, & respective marginalized communities.


Out of 10, would I do it it again????


…7. 7/10.


Shoutout to all the dope and incredible people who lit up my lil’ Ghost Town World on my first SCA Expo!!!!!! I’ma try to name you all off the top of my head RIGHT NOW & I feel like I’m going to remember you all, but if you don’t see your name……you’re still loved:


Suni Mx. JADE, Chris, Caitlyn Strickland, Michelle, Eric, Maxie the Barista, LaChrista, LaNisa (together we made up the 3 La’s), Kid Fury, Yoshawn, Bart & the Coffee Blxck Crew, Melissa from EVERYBODY’S BUSY (I GOT TO GO TO EVERYBODY’S BUSY AHHHH), Erica, Aerius, Drip Collective, Prop, Darrell, Zion, Jasmin, Shaa’ista (not y’all getting name-dropped twice, your impact!), Lisa, Korie, Ms. Phylis Johnson, Khadijah of Laha Coffee!!!!!, JENN CHENNN!!!, Jordan of Angry Bee Coffee, Julian, Umeko (go get a spoon NOW), Tyler from Motoring Coffee, the sweet team running the packing room for all online orders at Dayglow Coffee in Chicago, the Spirit Tea crew, Abbey & the Matryoshka crew (those literal crew jackets???? need one.), Chris who stepped up & steamed my milk too thick in the “tag-team steam” throwdown round (I won’t ever forget u 🤍), Hana, Wei Chao & T of standstill.tea, Morgan (Drinks Coffee), Rebecca Fox of Brew Grind Water (best interaction of the weekend, sorry everybody else), Kim (an investor who reads all my newsletters to the end and hopefully this too 🥹) & Amy, Melissa Villanueva & the Brewpoint Crew, Tricia Lu, Erica, Sommer, Usama (who was one of the people I knew from the GTO IG who had NO IDEA who *I* was 💀), Bailey, Diana, Jennifer, the owners of Afro Joe’s, Andy of AndySunflower Cafe in CHI…


& special shout out to Ghost Town Oats’ SONS. 🙂…


…you know who you are 😉💞…


&…..ummm! …um!!!!! ……*vanishes*




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