Unfiltered with Shawn Chopra and Justin Timothy Temple of good neighbor featured image

Unfiltered with Shawn Chopra and Justin Timothy Temple of good neighbor

A design-focused coffee shop, boutique hotel, and retailer that’s bringing true connectivity to the Baltimore arts and culture scene.

Our team at Cohere has long admired the design community that Shawn Chopra and Anne Morgan, partners in business and life, have built in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood with good neighbor. And, they haven’t been at it for long. good neighbor’s coffee shop with design-focused retail launched in 2020 - right during the height of the pandemic. Never mind that, they steadily won fans and built fruitful partnerships with many local artists and makers. Soon after in 2022, they launched their Design Garage space where architects, interior designers, and really anyone who signs on for their Trade Program can get exclusive access to coveted international brands like Finn Juhl, Frama, Normann Copenhagen, Hem - for whom good neighbor is often the only Mid-Atlantic retailer.

To follow, in 2023, they launched good neighbor guesthouse - a 7-room boutique hotel on the two floors above their beloved coffee shop and retail space. Meant to be an extension of their (very well-designed) feeling of home, and an opportunity to showcase the work of both Baltimore makers and artists, alongside of Shawn and Anne’s Indian and Egyptian roots, we were honored to work with them to tell the story to local, national, and industry press.

Cohere partner Chris Richards sat down to have a conversation with good neighbor Co-founder Shawn Chopra and Director of Brand and Marketing Justin Timothy Temple to work with them to tell the story to local, national, and industry press, touching on fostering collaboration without competition, the highs and lows of bringing guesthouse to life, and what’s next for the good neighbor team.

good neighbor guesthouse, Photo by Justin Timothy Temple

Chris Richards: Justin, you are good neighbor’s Director of Brand and Marketing; how did you become a part of the team and what drew you in?

Justin Timothy Temple: My relationship with Shawn has really evolved over time. I remember attending a soft opening as a customer. It was right at the beginning of the pandemic, so it was a time with a lot of unknowns. When I think about good neighbor, at least in that period, it was a place of grounding, of stability. It was part of me and my partner's routine weekly, going on a Saturday morning. In a world that was just very chaotic, we knew that every Saturday, we were going to be there in that line no matter what.

And then it built from there. I knew we were going to Shawn and Anne [Shawn’s wife and good neighbor co-owner]. So it was very much a place of affinity. A place of feeling like there was some space that we could go to, that was enjoyable, welcoming and safe. We [Shawn and I] wound up hanging out more socially, rather than professionally. And so when the opportunity came to help understand a thing that they were working on from a marketing perspective, it was just a very casual ask. But as these things go, one thing turns into another, then we’re talking about more work together. And then a few months after that, you're part of a team.

guesthouse lobby, photo by Justin Timothy Temple

CR: good neighbor has drawn a lot of lines between various cultural and artistic communities in Baltimore through the shop and guesthouse; it’s something that Jack from Dwell noted in his recent piece. Tell us more about how you like to build partnerships with artists and potential collaborators.

Shawn Chopra: We definitely don't feel like there should be any kind of competition between artists or makers’ work. We see it as, the more channels that an artist, or maker, or designer, or writer, or anyone has, the more chances that they have to get their work out there and be part of the Baltimore community. In terms of being a collaborator with good neighbor, it's just genuine collaborations, you know?

good neighbor ends up being that space where the collaborations tend to happen pretty organically, which is really nice. But it’s also about not being shy. If we're doing design week or design events and different people show out, I’m not shy about asking them, "Hey, we'd love to work together. We'll have to find a way to see your work in this light, you know? Or do you have any visions of your work in a space like this?"

There's so many people we want to collaborate with - and when the time is right, everything aligns. I don't try to push things too hard.

A good example is our collaboration with Shan Wallace. I've been a fan of hers for a long time. I saw her at a few different artist talks before I had good neighbor. But never really knew if she thought about anything at the store once it launched. And then all of a sudden, she shows up at an event, I said, "We'd love to work together." One thing led to another thing, and she has her collage with us now, and did a shoot here with Hypebeast, and it’s cool how it all just comes together.

good neighbor cafe space, photo by Justin Timothy Temple

CR: How did this ethos influence the creation of guesthouse and what was it like to bring that concept to life?

Shawn: For us, it’s one big design process. Same as with the coffee shop downstairs, or the design warehouse down the street - there's always two phases. There's the design side of it. And then we also run the whole construction process. And I should say, at the beginning, you’re also sitting there trying to figure out what the operational side of it would be, right? Then you have the visuals, the website, and the overall experience. In all of that, there’s both good and bad moments.

[With the construction] There’s hard moments, whether it's with the city or unexpected costs - things that we didn't know we needed, but now have to apply across seven rooms. Those are the moments where you think, is this going to be worth it? Because as a founder and owner, your brain is always on. And as someone who's part of the design of everything, you're on both sides of it. You're the client, but you're also the beneficiary. You're trying to fund up the project and trying to get your vision out as a creative person. And then invested in your vision surviving operationally, too.

Within all of that, the good is always there - how collaborations come together, how when you design something and envision people experiencing it, you can’t really see it all come together until it’s physically done. There’s all the happy mistakes, or little moments, where things turned out better than I even thought they would - where a collaboration is more fruitful than we expected, or the way Justin shoots something shows it in a new light. That’s the beauty of guesthouse, there are so many of those little gems in how it came together.

good neighbor, Photo by Justin Timothy Temple

CR: And what are you hearing from guests? How is the guesthouse experience sitting with people who stay with you?

SC: We hear that everybody, broadly speaking, is rested, recharged, and comfortable. At a foundational level, that's the goal, right? There's a high-mindedness that we have; we want people to be their best creative selves. That’s a tall order and not everyone might use that language around it, but we just want people to feel comfortable, because if they feel comfortable, they feel safe. From a brand perspective, that’s a really good place to be - to see what we’re providing as what it’s like to stay in a loved one’s home, a place where you’re really familiar. You’re loved and going to be taken care of. And we really feel like that’s how it’s being experienced.

guesthouse room (pyramids), photo by Justin Timothy Temple

CR: The buzz around guesthouse seems to have had a really positive impact on how the artistic community is perceived and highlighted in Baltimore. Can you both talk about what it’s been like to see the attention and positive press that good neighbor has brought to the city?

SC: Definitely. My wife and I, we've been here for 12 years now. We thought we would be here for four years, and that's a lot of people's experience in Baltimore. You come for college, you come for school, or get a job for a little bit. And you say, "Okay, I'll move on after that." And then the way we were embraced by the community here, the way we made friends, the way we felt connected to the city - we felt like it was such a special place and that more people should build a life here. Build a family, you know? So our four years has now been 12 years and starting multiple businesses.

Of course we want good neighbor to be a positive for the city. We're using good neighbor as a platform to say, “Look at what you can do in Baltimore. Look at the beauty of Baltimore. In terms of brand, makers, press - look at what Baltimore creates. Look at its artists, makers, baristas, chefs - they’re creative people and look at what they create.” Baltimore is an intersection of arts and culture, and I think we’re in the middle of it. Our job is just to nurture that energy and be a safe place for it to grow.

We use design as our medium to bring people in. It has to be for everyone, and everyone, at some point, thinks about what they are going to eat or drink. So the coffee shop was our entry point. And in that journey of someone trying to get a coffee, we hope we can draw you into all the amazing things Baltimore has to offer.

JTT: For me, I'm a life-long resident of the city. I grew up here - well, Catonsville, specifically, but moved into the city proper 15 years ago.

Baltimore is so infinitely fascinating, because there's always this community that is ready to creatively thrive in the city. And the only reason that it doesn't happen is because there's systemic incentive to keep the status quo.

What I love about the centricity of good neighbor around creative community is that it shows you don't have to wait for anybody else to allow or grant permission to do a thing. We just need to be creative and as externally creative as you possibly can and the enjoy the outcomes that come from that. I think that the more people that see that, the more permission is granted, it’s an osmosis effect. Then more risk taking will happen, more audacity will happen, “more devil may care” will happen. And the populace at large will be unwilling to accept any less.

In the past five years, I've seen the city be more embracing around a creative culture, and really try to platform itself around a creative culture, more so than I’ve ever known in the entire time that I've lived in this area. We can’t trace that all to good neighbor of course, but I do think we play a role because we’re always giving ourselves license to say, “How can we be a platform for these creative individuals?”

There's a culture shift that is responding in kind, because either you're going to embrace that creative community that's thriving and growing, or you're going to be the ones left behind at the end of the day.

SC: That's the right answer. That's the answer, hard copy.

good neighbor design camp 2022, photo by Justin Timothy Temple

CR: I love all of that. It’s so inspiring to all of us at Cohere, too. Talk to us about the next phase of good neighbor, do you continue to expand your concepts?

Shawn: It's a good question. Truthfully, we didn't see good neighbor doing all this. And maybe that was just naïve, but for me, it was just a lifelong itch to kind of figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. Anne and I both come from immigrant families; the priority was to get to these stable careers. We listened to them, and we saw their struggle, too. But there was always this itch.

With this space, this is what I wanted to see come to life. We love the team here and seeing everyone’s talents being used and showcased. For me, guesthouse is the extension of truly building our idea of “home” - it’s a natural extension of what we did at first. As we move forward, I’m excited to see what naturally ends up happening between collaborations and the platform we’ve built.

good neighbor guesthouse, Photo by Justin Timothy Temple

Cohere is a creative agency working with visionary founders, entrepreneurs, and makers on hospitality, culinary, and community ventures. This encompasses hospitality marketing, hotel brand identity and design, naming, menu and print collateral, social media, public relations, and creative advisory services.