Photos: Michael Valiquette
When you walk into Superior Merchandise Company for the first time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed—and maybe even a little intimidated—by the amount of care put into creating the space that surrounds you. Luscious plants cascade down the shelves of a retail section so carefully curated that you can’t help but stop and look at the collection of locally made ceramics, delicate minimalist jewelry and hand-knit hats sporting the shop’s logo before you make your way to the counter to place your order.
It would be one thing if the gifts this small coffee shop in downtown Troy offers were purely aesthetically pleasing ones. But the menu—both its design and its contents—gets the same amount of attention as the rest of the shop, and it shows. Thoughtfully crafted seasonal drinks (like this winter’s Warm & Fuzzy, a salted coconut cream caramel latte with a hint of fresh rosemary that lives up to its name with every sip) accompany a consistent offering of coffee staples, like pour-overs and traditional espresso, as well as a rotating selection of craft wine and beer.
Who is behind all this?
Meet Felicity Jones.
Jones, 30, a graphic designer, and her partner, Mike Romig, 34, opened Superior in fall 2015. The couple, who celebrated their seven-year anniversary in December, decided to buy the building that houses the coffee shop in 2013, inspired by their experiences at other third-wave coffee and design shops. Jones, who has a degree in visual communications with minors in studio art and art history from Cazenovia College, never thought she would run a business the way she does now, let alone run a coffee shop. “I wanted to design greeting cards,” she remembers.
After she finished school, Jones wanted to start a graphic design business. “My plan was to open a freelance graphic design studio for myself, just a tiny little space, but then have the front be like the curated retail that Superior is now,” she says. “But then I met Mike and it turned into this way bigger, cool dream.”
In the earlier part of the 2010s, Romig, who works full-time as an air traffic controller, recalls that there weren’t any shops in Troy that compared to the “transformative coffee experiences” he and Jones were experiencing as they traveled the country together. “I found myself hanging out in Troy a lot during the day because I work odd hours, and so I kind of needed like, a bright, airy space that I could go and hang out, and where I felt kind of energized by natural light and coffee,” he says. “I wanted this thing to exist for me to enjoy, so I thought, you know, maybe I just have to make it.”
This is where her original business idea of opening a small curated shop morphed into their idea of opening a small shop that was equal parts retail and coffee, Jones says. After two years renovating their building on 4th Street, researching specialty coffee, and solidifying their brand, the shop was ready to open. But they were missing something. “Knowing that neither of us were coming from a coffee background, like, we needed to find that person who did,” Jones says.
This is where Matthew Loiacono, the shop’s director of coffee (aka the “Coffee Dad”) and Caitlin Daniels, their head barista, came in. Both Loiacono, 42, and Daniels, 29, have been working at Superior from the beginning. “We’re like, the OG staff,” says Loiacono, whose experience working in coffee spans nearly two decades.
Before Jones and Romig met him through mutual friends, Loiacono had worked at Uncommon Grounds in Saratoga for 14 years. During his time there, he discovered that his talents not only included management and crafting delicious beverages, but also green coffee buying and roasting. “Moving to Superior was 100 percent a natural progression, like taking everything I learned from the production side and service side and then applying that to a new setting,” he explains.
Now, Loiacono is using his skills to spearhead Jones’ and Romig’s next venture: an independent coffee roastery, Touchy Coffee, of which he is also a co-owner. “It’s great because we each have a very specific talent, and all of those three things have developed through Superior,” he says. “It’s been smooth and fun to work with Felicity, obviously. Especially in that project, we get along extremely well and I feel like we all bring a great amount to the table.”
Daniels, who’s been working in coffee for 12 years, brings–according to Loiacono–“unsurpassed” coffee knowledge behind the bar at Superior. But Daniels’ talents, much like Jones’, extend far beyond pulling perfect shots and pouring gorgeous latte art. If you’ve ever walked past Superior, you’ve likely seen the intricately designed (and always changing) chalk A-frame out front. That’s all Daniels.
Along with her gorgeous A-frame art, Jones has also used Daniels’ artistic talents for the shop’s newest merchandise, including bubble lettered logo, shirts and Touchy Coffee’s holiday blend. “Not only has [Felicity] become one of my best friends, but as an artist, she pushes me and kind of gives me a freedom to do whatever I want,” she says. “I would not have gotten that any other place I’ve ever worked before, which is a great feeling.”
A large part of what makes Superior, well, superior, to other coffee shops is Jones’ impeccable taste and keen eye for detail. “It feels really easy to me,” she explains. “I don’t know if I was born with it or where the hell it came from, because neither of my parents are super artistic.”
Her gift for doing everything thoughtfully and with great intention goes beyond her tireless efforts to make the shop special, though. Jones not only oversees the day-to-day operations and creative direction of Superior and of Touchy Coffee, but she also runs her independent freelance graphic design business. “There’s so much to do and so many different ways for me to be creative,” she says. “I’m never bored.”
And how could she be? Whether she’s perfecting her latte art at Superior or conceptualizing a brand design for a business, Jones finds inspiration in every opportunity she’s given.
Take, for example, the graphic design work she’s doing for Phasey Co., a New York City-based brand that focuses on making functional foods for better menstrual periods. Founded by Asha Carroll, a holistic nutritionist and reproductive educator, in 2019, Phasey transforms the work Carroll had been doing in her professional life into a new medium. “I was put off by the sterility I was seeing across other brands in the modern period space and wanted to create a place for people with periods that felt accessible and not so serious,” she explained via email.
Carroll first met Jones when she stumbled across Superior on a trip through Troy. She “instantly fell in love” with the shop’s aesthetic. When it was time to design the Phasey brand, she messaged the shop on Instagram to find out who their designer was. That connected her to Jones.
“We’re living in a new golden age of consumer brands right now, and there are so many brands out there doing the same thing over and over and over with fonts, colors, materials,” Carroll says, adding that nothing “feels fresh” anymore. With Phasey, though, Jones has helped her create a brand that is “shockingly fresh and unique,” she says. “It’s helped us really stand out on the shelves and in the Instagram sea,” she says.
Jones’ designs continue to demand the attention of brands and consumers alike. For Phasey, she’s helped create a brand that aims to destigmatize the negative aura surrounding the conversation about people with periods. Her design includes bright, eye-catching explosions of color and retro fonts. At Superior, her minimalist sketches and doodles and love of all things weird home in on the shop’s simplistic, yet incredibly artful aesthetic.
“There’s a lot of individual little things day-to-day that inspire me. You know, like an unexpected color combination out on the street or like…the way the light hits something,” she explains. “But then internally, I just have this like, intense drive to create this life for myself that is ideal. I’m just intensely passionate about everything that I do. I don’t feel 100 percent inspired all the time, but that ultimate goal is kind of what keeps me going through the day-to-day little shit.”
“Everything I do isn’t creative and beautiful, but it’s that ultimate goal of living a creative, soul-satisfying life that keeps me going.”
Her partner recognizes that drive. “Seeing her grow as an artist and a professional is really rewarding,” says Romig, who, as Jones describes it, takes care of the “big picture” side of things (i.e. financials and scheduling) for Superior. “I feel like we’ve formed this really cohesive thing, and it’s really satisfying.”
Jones’ passion for her craft is apparent to everyone who walks through the doors of Superior. She’s as comfortable making an order of, arguably, the best avocado toast in the Capital Region as designing concepts for the store or her clients. When people have questions about Superior’s carefully curated retail section, she answers them confidently, proud of the unique opportunity her business provides to independent makers and other small businesses.
“I have an intense appreciation for home objects,” Jones says of her decision to fully deck out Superior’s retail section with pieces crafted by independent artisans. “I wanted to share these beautiful objects that I was obsessed with because like, for the most part, I feel like 90 percent of people in the Capital Region probably hadn’t heard of any of these artists that I was freaking out about.”
Yiyi Mendoza, a local ceramicist and co-owner and creative director of Yesfolk, a Troy-based kombucha brewery, has been collaborating with Jones as both a contractor and client since 2017. Not only does Jones collaborate with Mendoza to create unique handmade mugs and other flatware used at Superior, but she designs the labels used for Yesfolk’s products.
Mendoza calls her professional relationship with Jones a very reciprocal, collaborative, and open process. The two met when Mendoza and her husband and co-owner of Yesfolk, Adam, moved to Troy from Long Beach, Calif. She says that they had been “spoiled” in Long Beach, where multiple third-wave coffee shops like Superior operate on every block, so finding Jones and Romig’s shop was exactly what they needed when they moved to Troy. Before Yesfolk grew into what it is today, Mendoza says Jones and Romig supported their dream, hosting the brewery’s first pop-up at Superior.
Mendoza and Jones bonded quickly because of their shared aesthetic tastes and intense passion for their crafts. “Our professional and personal relationship is kind of very intertwined, because you can’t help to feel personal and positive about someone when they are so supportive of something that you’re trying to create,” she explains. “I feel really grateful and endeared that they shared their space, really, for us to grow alongside them.”
Jones’ friends, co-workers and chosen family admire her unparalleled work ethic. “She is someone that is fully capable,” Romig insists. “Any task that she takes on, she’s going to basically kill it.”
Loiacono explains that, in his work at Superior and Touchy Coffee, his intention is to “always make beautiful things.” Whether those things are connections or drinks, that goal has grown exponentially since he started working with Jones. “I think that working there has definitely strengthened that specific note in my life, I guess, because they demand that,” he explains.
Mendoza, whose own creative path as both a professional ceramicist and creative director of Yesfolk mirrors Jones’ almost exactly, agrees. “She really inspires me because she’s got an incredible work ethic,” she says. “That is the reason why she manages to do and work on so many projects at such a high standard of quality.” Mendoza says even though Jones is always working, she still finds the time to cheer for her friends’ endeavors, which is “the most beautiful thing,” about Jones. “We can support each other in this kind of crazy thing.”
Reflecting on what running a popular third-wave coffee shop for almost five years while working as a freelance graphic designer has taught her, Jones says, “I didn’t even know I could work this hard. I feel like you can work hard and just be like, busting things out to get it done, but to be thoughtful in everything you do…that’s a big thing for me.”