Lamplighter: carrying the torch for quality coffee

In 2009, owners of Lamplighter Roasting Company opened a coffee shop a little off the beaten path in The Fan. It’s now an RVA favorite, and they just opened a sister location in Scott’s Addition.

  • Who: Owners Noelle and Zach Archibald, Jennifer Rawlings
  • What: A new, streamlined Lamplighter, termed a “roastery with coffee bar,” to complement the original Fan cafe.
  • When: Opened late March
  • Where: 1719 Summit Avenue, Scott’s Addition
  • Why: To expand Lamplighter’s roastery and educate RVA’s growing coffee culture.
  • Coffee/Dishes: Ethically-sourced coffee beans from around the world for espressos, cappuccinos, along with pour over and chemex coffee. Addison Street location cafe sandwiches include: The Quilt, woven bacon BLT with red onion, garlic aioli and mixed greens; and the Goat Herder’s Daughter with goat cheese, grilled leeks, fennel, and asparagus on focaccia.

— ∮∮∮ —

Americans drink over 330 million cups of coffee each day. It’s the second most valuable commodity in the world behind oil, but how many coffee drinkers can say for certain where coffee beans come from, or that coffee beans really aren’t beans at all–but seeds from a cherry-like fruit?

“I think people have no idea what they’re consuming,” said Noelle Archibald, co-owner of Lamplighter Roasting Company, which recently opened a Scott’s Addition location. For many years, Archibald, born and raised in Richmond, was one those coffee drinkers who knew little about those cups she drank.

It was after moving to Portland in 2003 that Archibald became more discerning about her cups of Joe. “I could tell the coffee was so much better” she said. Curious, Archibald wanted to know why the coffee was so much better.

At that time, baristas were royalty among Portland’s coffee culture. Unfortunately, Archibald thought many of them were “snobby and pretentious” and unaccommodating to her curiosity. One coffee house that was accommodating was the now-defunct Half & Half.

To learn about coffee preparation first hand, Archibald applied and was hired, but was forced to understudy for a month. The devotion management and baristas had to perfecting espressos and cappuccinos seemed absurd. “I thought they were way too obsessed,” she said. That obsession eventually rubbed off. “I became one of those people,” she said, smiling.

Not only did she learn how to prep, press, and pour, but she also learned the importance of cultivating coffee beans and roasting them for optimum taste. But Archibald thought coffee was merely a passionate hobby of hers. “I never expected to have a career in coffee.”

She returned to Richmond around 2008, but the great coffee she drank in Portland didn’t come back with her and she faced an uneasy realization: “I was never going to get the coffee I was accustomed to drinking.”

She eventually met Jennifer Rawlings, who, some years ago, had run a Richmond coffee shop called 17.5. The two recognized their mutual obsession with coffee and decided to partner to create a roastery and cafe, with Archibald’s husband, Zach, creating the menu.

After the location they settled on for their new shop fell through, Archibald decided to check Craigslist one last time for available spaces. She found an old gas station for rent at 116 Addison Street in the Fan. “I drove around forever and couldn’t find it,” she recalled. But when she did finally did find it, she got goosebumps. “I could instantly feel that that was going to be the space.” Lamplighter Roasting Company opened in December 2009.

“Nobody thought we were going to be successful,” Archibald said. “We’re young. We don’t look like typical business owners.” What trumped the naysaying, Archibald said, is a simple, successful premise: “The coffee is expertly roasted, expertly prepared, and the food is really good.”

— ∮∮∮ —

Lamplighter coffee beans come from farmers across the world: Africa, Central America, Indonesia, Hawaii, and others. Archibald said that many advertise their coffee as fair trade, but unfortunately, fair trade coffee doesn’t guarantee the money from the premium price reaches the farmers themselves.

“We consider our beans to be ethically-sourced,” Archibald said. The owners use their supply brokers to ensure that the farms that supply Lamplighter’s beans provide living wages to its workers and that farms are conservation-minded. “We’re looking at the whole picture.”

If the background of that picture is the ethical relationship with their bean suppliers, the foreground comprises the cups and plates that go in the hands of Lamplighter customers. “We wanted to build our name and build it on quality,” Archibald said. “I’m not going to use junky, crappy ingredients.”

That quality is what helped the success of Lamplighter exceed the original expectations of its owners. The only downside was that bustling business at the cafe made running the roasting company difficult–much of the roastery’s work was to keep up with the cafe’s coffee demand. Plus, in addition to the cafe, Lamplighter has over 40 commercial accounts, supplying businesses like Proper Pie Co., Dutch & Co., Saison, Rappahannock, and Acacia.

Not only does Lamplighter provide their account holders with coffee, but with training on how to properly make each cup, cappuccino, and espresso. The busy cafe made it difficult to facilitate this education and training. “We needed room and space and time to grow ourselves.” Which, after looking in Church Hill and Manchester, the owners landed on Scott’s Addition.1

“We’re not looking to create a carbon copy of our other place,” Archibald said. “That’s a cafe,” describing the Addison Street location. “This is a roastery with a coffee bar” with “grab-and-go” items.

The new, more streamlined location has no bulletin board or Wi-Fi. Instead, the owners want the Scott’s Addition location to foster coffee, friendly chatting, and friendly chatting about coffee. “We want the most exciting thing to be the drink in your hand, or the conversation you’re having,” Archibald said.

While the new Lamplighter closes on Monday to the public, it uses that time to provide training for its employees, those interested in learning how to be baristas, and even employees of other coffee houses.2 “We want to do our part to elevate the barista culture in Richmond,” Archibald said. On Fridays at 4:00 PM, the location also offers free public cuppings3 and tastings.

On May 1oth, Lamplighter will host an open house. There will be live music and a “latte art throw down,” a competition among members of the public to make the best tasting, best looking lattes.

In the coming months, Archibald said that the Scott’s Addition location will expand its hours. The owners will then turn their attention to increasing their commercial accounts, the direction Lamplighter wants to head in as a business.

“We would rather have tons and tons of commercial accounts than have more and more locations,” Archibald said.

Lamplighter is located at 1719 Summit Avenue.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. Several of the properties around the new 1719 Summit Avenue location were owned by former real estate developer Justin French, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2011 for embezzling over $11 million. 
  2. They are now in the third week of classes of a five-week series. Each class is four hours. 
  3. Deep sniffing of coffee before slurping the coffee. Here’s a fun tutorial on the practice

photos by Erin Soorenko

  • error

    Report an error

Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

There is 1 reader comment. Read it.