Jane and Scott Wolfe run Melba’s in New Orleans. From the outside, Melba’s is an unremarkable sandwich shop. What’s going on inside is so remarkable Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton stopped by to see what they’re doing.
Melba’s is attached to a laundromat, which creates an odd synergy. The laundromat is a 24-hour business, so the restaurant is, too. In a town where a parade can break out at any moment and sightseeing can keep tourists busy for weeks, they also have a bus converted to look like a trolly or streetcar for rent.
What really makes the place interesting, however, is how the Wolfes have incorporated social impact into the DNA of a sandwich shop and laundromat, suggesting that just about any business can if the owners try hard enough.
The crew at Melba’s.
It seems they have always had a passion for doing good in the community. They married young, earning GEDs rather than finishing high school. Jane not only finished a degree at Tulane in history and religious studies but also went on to earn a Master of Theological Studies at Harvard, graduating in 2015. Religion provides them with an ethical guide that directs their social impact.
Recognizing that some of their patrons don’t have a lot of books at home, in the laundromat, they have opened a small reading space for children who often accompany their parents. Stocked with books and child-size furniture, it is a safe space to develop reading skills.
To further celebrate literacy, the Wolfe’s regularly host authors in the shop who do readings or talk about their books, many dealing with local stories and issues.
They’ve also added a photo and brief history of local and national historical figures to each washer and dryer, so all patrons are exposed to a big of knowledge to go with every load of laundry.
The couple publishes the menu for the restaurant as a periodical, sharing local news, promoting reading and advertising the upcoming literacy events.
They’re model seems to be working. They boast that the business is the fastest growing in New Orleans. For 2018, Inc. put Melba’s on the Inc. 5000 list at number 123 and noted that it was the fastest growing business in Louisiana.
Jane and Scott have written a book, From GED to Harvard Then Inc. 500, to be published by ForbesBooks later this spring.
Ultimately, there is no single thing they’re doing that is so impressive that the Clintons would stop by to see what they’re doing. Instead, it is the way they have baked so many little things that help the community into the business.
Along the way, they haven’t lost sight of the need to provide a quality product. I’m no food critic, but I think they make an awfully good Po’boy.
Having a positive social impact is optional. The Wolfes prove opting into impact is just good business.