April 28, 2023
From tango lessons and sunrise yoga to local art and handmade empanadas, Giddy Goat is much more than a coffee shop.
by Page Leggett | photographs by Justin Driscoll
The first thing you notice about Carson Clough is his niceness. He’s running a little late for our meeting at Plaza Midwood’s Giddy Goat Coffee Roasters, a shop the Charlotte Latin alum co-founded with longtime family friends Lisa and Rhyne Davis. “I’m so sorry,” he says upon arriving with his yellow Lab, Calder. “ADHD.”
He’s disappointed I’ve already bought an iced vanilla latte. “I wanted to treat you,” he says, sitting down and asking if I’m comfortable before we start talking coffee.
Today, Clough discusses blending and roasting beans like an expert, but he wasn’t always a coffee aficionado. He drank it in college only during exams. When he graduated from Florida Tech’s MBA program (he jokes that his degree was in surfing), Davis asked him to join him and his wife, Lisa, in a new venture. Davis and Clough’s dad, Barry, had been business-school classmates.
Davis knows the coffee business: His family ran Concord-based S&D Coffee & Tea until selling it in 2016 in a $355 million deal. S&D sold coffee to McDonald’s and Bojangles, among other companies.
“Rhyne was already a pro,” Clough says. “I started looking into the industry and thought it was really cool. There are a lot of aspects to it — business, science, social — and I liked all of them.”
Giddy Goat takes its name from an Ethiopian fable in which goats feasted on a “magical plant that fueled them with energy and happiness.” The shop opened in 2019 in bustling Plaza Midwood with an amenity many area retailers lack: a parking lot.
Clough immersed himself in coffee culture. “I spent a year and a half on business development, learning about roasting and the chemical reactions that take place, grind sizes, different origins,” he says. But coffee that’s roasted on the premises — a key component of the business model — is not the only thing setting this coffee shop apart.
Carson Clough, Enzo Pazos and Clough’s pup, Calder
“Not a lot of coffee shops have the luxury of having a kitchen,” Clough says before touting the accomplishments of Tony Tognarelli, Giddy Goat’s culinary director, and Enzo Pazos, team captain. “They had this idea of bringing together Argentinian-style empanadas and coffee in the morning.”
“They’re baked — not fried — and all the fillings are made from scratch. They’re served warm. We want to provide a cool and convenient experience. We want to be quick without decreasing the quality.”
All the sweet and savory items, including pastries, sandwiches and salads, are freshly made in house except for one — an energy bar called Yon Bons made by customer and avid runner Jamey Yon.
Giddy Goat’s second level offers additional seating plus a bar serving beer, wine and cocktails, a two-sided fireplace and a rooftop terrace. The space can be rented for parties and events. The shop also offers occasional live music, Tango Tuesdays and sunrise yoga on Wednesdays at 7 a.m.
Giddy Goat’s primary offering makes its way onto the bar menu in the form of a coffee martini. In addition, their cold brew is served in espresso martinis at several local restaurants and bars, including its Plaza Midwood neighbor, The Workman’s Friend.
What else sets Giddy Goat apart? It has its own dog park. And there are rotating art exhibitions hanging upstairs, in the stairway and in the restrooms. (In college, Clough helped artist friends place their art in restaurants and bar restrooms in Chapel Hill. He found public restrooms to be a great venue for selling art.)
Lisa Davis, who trains the baristas, runs the shop’s art program. “She likes to be behind the scenes,” Clough says, “but she’s crucial to the operation.”
Making the g(rounds)
Clough compares the world of coffee to craft beer culture.
“It’s fun going to different breweries and trying their lagers, their IPAs,” he says. He’s often trying out different coffee shops to sample what others are offering. Clough is so nice, he doesn’t seem to consider other coffee shops competitors. He’s trained at many of them. “Queen City Grounds has helped me big-time,” he says. “They do a great job, and their roaster is an actual rock star.”
Sourcing is key, according to Clough. “The farmer has done all the work,” he says. “Making a good cup of coffee starts with the farmer. By the time you get green coffee (the natural color of the bean) — if you’ve done a good job sourcing it — then it’s just a matter of making it better.”
He’s learned to roast by watching other roasters in action. “I’ve seen all these different styles and, from there, developed my own,” he says. “There are certain tasting notes, a certain acidity, a certain body — and it’s up to the roaster to pull that out,” he says. “The analytical side of me enjoys that.”
But he adds, “My palate is still developing. I’ve got room to grow.”
Protecting Mother Earth
Giddy Goat has already expanded. A satellite location inside the Dowd YMCA will soon add more food offerings. “We’re keeping it simple but will have more grab-and-go, healthy options,” Clough says. “And we’re getting into the smoothie game.”
The Y is an obvious spot for expansion, given both Clough’s and Pazos’ penchant for fitness. (Clough played lacrosse at UNC Chapel Hill and is a triathlete; Pazos is a swim coach and triathlete). “We do what we can to incentivize cycling,” Clough says. “We offer bike benefits — if you bike here, you get a discount.”
He lives close enough to bike to work. “But Señor Four Legs here keeps me from biking as much as I want,” says Clough, who wears a prosthetic leg, pointing to his service dog Calder.
The shop’s healthy focus extends to the health of the planet. Giddy Goat composts and recycles, and uses compostable to-go containers and eco-friendly cleaning products.
“We don’t even have a dumpster,” Clough says. “I don’t know of any other restaurant that doesn’t have a dumpster. We only have rollout trash cans, recycling bins and compost bins.”
The world of coffee
Giddy Goat imports beans from all over the world, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, Rwanda, Peru, Kenya, Brazil, Colombia and Ethiopia.
The shop has recently begun blending beans from different origins. “It takes some skill to put together a blend,” he says. “Just because you have two great coffees doesn’t necessarily mean putting them together will improve them.”
I ask Clough if, now that he’s developed a sophisticated palate, there’s any coffee he can’t abide. His answer was characteristically nice.
“No,” he says. “If I go to someone’s house and they keep Folger’s in their freezer, that’s fine with me. It’s the experience that’s important. I can taste a difference between the beans roasted using Folger’s and the beans we roast here. It’s two different business models, and being able to tell the difference is really cool. But one is no better than the other.”
And finally, I wondered: “What makes a good cup of coffee?”
His answer? “The person serving it.” SP