- October 14, 2020
For Lelu Coffee Lounge owner Jennifer Smith, coffee has long been about more than just finding a well-sourced bean — it’s been way to build a community.
For 12 years, Smith has owned and operated Lelu Coffee on Siesta Key’s Ocean Boulevard. In that time, she said she has been able to not only hone a relationship with her customers, but also with other entrepreneurs in the area.
“Lelu has just evolved into this massive sense of community,” Smith said. “Children grew up there, people shared emotional moments or milestone moments there. So much life and growth and excitement has happened at Lelu.”
That’s why it was difficult for Smith to make the decision to close her shop, which she did Jan. 19.
Although she said she loved her time on Ocean Boulevard, Smith said it was time to start a new journey: a consulting and wholesale coffee distribution company.
Smith opened Lelu Coffee in 2008 with equipment from Cool Grinds, a coffee shop she worked at during college in Tallahassee.
Though the decision to open a shop came easily, a name did not. Smith knew she wanted one that would evoke surfing or Polynesian connotations, but she couldn’t find a good fit.
That is until one evening when she was watching the movie “The Fifth Element” with her husband. The movie features a character named Leeloo, which Smith liked. She later found out that Lelu is a small island in Micronesia.
For the past few years, Smith has been working on Lelu Enterprise, wholesaling cold brew coffee. As the success of her consulting company and wholesale business grew, Smith had to make the tough decision to close her storefront.
“I can’t be in seven different places at one time,” she said. “Twelve years is a really great timeframe and now I just need the space to be able to grow and expand.”
Although she is starting a new chapter, Smith said she will always be grateful for the love and support she felt on the key.
That love is still coming as more than 1,500 people left comments and messages for Smith on social media after she announced the coffee shop would close.
One supporter, Kaylyn Parker said she had “so much love for Lelu.”
“I spent some of my happiest, sunshiny days working from my laptop, sipping on iced coffee in tropical bliss,” Parker said.
But residents will still be able to start their day with a cup of Lelu coffee. Smith is working to get Lelu’s branded coffee served hot in several Sarasota coffee shops and bags sold in markets across Florida.
Additionally, people can purchase bags of coffee to make at home, and Smith says she can’t completely stay away from selling it herself. She plans on holding pop-ups throughout Sarasota once a month so residents can still buy the coffee straight from her.
Smith is looking for a space from which to run her new business, but she’s in no rush. The building would need to accommodate a distribution center, a commercial kitchen for cold brew, an education space and a retail space, plus she wants a location that has the same dynamic beach vibe as Lelu.
“It’s very important to me that I’ll be able to bring the Lelu family back into that space,” Smith said. “I just can’t wait to see everybody again because I am so grateful for every single interaction I’ve had over the past 12 years.”
And for those worried they won’t have a coffee-shop hangout in the Siesta Key Village anymore, don’t worry. The building will be turned into another coffee shop.