Posts in About Us
Meet Greg

It only seems fair to answer some of the things Jon did in the last post. It would be weird to interview myself and Jon is buried in roasting until the new roaster gets here in a couple weeks so this will kind of be a hybrid of answers and a stream of consciousness. I promise I'll still try to make it interesting.

G1 - You said it would be weird to interview yourself and yet here you are, starting this off in an interview format. That's weird.

G2 - It definitely is.

G1 - Well then, moving along. What drove you to coffee and starting Bridge City with Jon?

G2 - I have been asking myself that question recently as things have become more involved and difficult moving the business forward. It hits me randomly how different this is from the leadership consulting I was previously doing. However, while the motions may be different, the core motivation has remained the same. When I personally feel off kilter or get bogged down with what I view as slow progress since we are currently in the bottleneck phase of growth, I have to keep coming back to my desire to impact people's lives through work. That's what has remained constant through everything, the motivation to bring life to people by providing them with purpose and value at the place most of us spend the single biggest chunk of our waking hours.

G1 - I really thought you would drop the interview format by now.

G2 - Yeah, me too. I'm not quite sure why this is still happening. I hope people find it nearly as comical as I do.

G1 - Since we're still doing this, you mentioned providing people with purpose and value. Describe that a bit more.

G2 -  Purpose is defined as "the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists." I have learned the hard way that when we don't know our purpose, life can lose it's color, beauty, and vitality. To be sure there are a myriad of ways to numb ourselves to that truth with temporary distractions or fixes. But when we're quiet and alone with our thoughts, if we don't believe we have a purpose it's really hard to believe we have any value. Regardless of where someone comes from or what they have done or not done, they have a unique set of skills and talents. Sometimes individuals aren't aware of what those skills are, but they're still there waiting to be mined out. The entire motivation driving Jon and me to build Bridge City is to help people figure that out about themselves. When someone is able to discover the intersection of their deepest passions and greatest strengths it swings the door wide open to feel a deep sense of purpose and understanding of their value as a person. Sometimes that light bulb moment may occur in the first few weeks someone is employed with us. Other times, as in my case, it may take someone years to figure it out. But I can guarantee you it's worth spending those years to figure it out and we want people to leave their time with Bridge City with an understanding of what they're looking for, even if they haven't found it yet. 

G1 - How does that tie in specifically to coffee?

How that all relates to coffee, my answer is very similar to Jon's. Working in a coffee shop will require our employees to learn a specific set of skills but they are mostly learnable regardless of their background. I want to be clear that neither Jon nor I mean to insult baristas by saying it's an easy job, because it's not. I'm a pretty bad barista. My lattes look like my four year old daughter made them. But I'm working on that and can still make a delicious cup of coffee, I usually just throw a lid on it so you can't see what it looks like. That's what we'll expect of our employees too. Not that they would win latte art competitions, but that they would make consistently great products (better than me) while learning the importance of striving for excellence in their work and taking personal satisfaction in what they create.

G1 - What excites you most about Bridge City?

I love studying what makes truly successful leaders. I don't mean people who walked on others to "win" or capitalized on an opportunity presented to them to achieve financial success or fame. I mean people like Ernest Shackleton, Nelson Mandela, Irena Sendler, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Though they were all presented with tremendous adversity and every opportunity to throw in the towel they continued to push forward. But they didn't push forward because of a desire to win or be the best. Rather, they kept going for the benefit of those who they were serving. They were fully aware of their purpose and were able to keep the end goal front and center in their mind with the awareness that if they didn't, the people following them would be worse off for it. That's what excites me about Bridge City, fostering deep, personal growth in people so they can lead themselves effectively and in turn hopefully lead and inspire others as well.

G1 - To be fair to Jon, what is something random or funny most people don't know about you?

I love comic books. Yes, I am aware that makes me a huge nerd, my wife regularly makes sure I remember that. I put all the impressive business books and biographies on bookshelves so people see those when they walk into our house. But I put the really good stuff like Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, and Superman on shelves in my closet. My reading list currently consists of Action Comics, Superman Doomsday Clock, and to remind me that I am in fact an adult, Walter Isaacson's biography on Leonardo da Vinci. I also have pretty big coin collection. 

 

Story Behind The Name Bridge City

The Work of Building Bridge City

I have been obsessed with greatness. It feels good to get that out of the way because my obsession with it has hindered me from getting anywhere close to achieving it. Funny how life works that way sometimes. The thing you think about the most constantly eludes you because blind focus on it becomes like walking through a forest while looking down at your feet the whole time, which we all know will guarantee that you run face first into a tree.

Part of the definition for the word "drive" is "motivation, ambition, single mindedness, doggedness, tenacity, commitment, aggression, vigor"; informal "get-up-and-go." Drive is what made some of the most successful people great: Elon Musk, Michael Jordan, Marie Curie, Bill Gates, Peyton Manning, etc. I'm not at all advocating that hard work and dedication aren't integral to truly achieve success, because I believe they are. But on the road we choose to walk we all have a choice to put our efforts into building a monument shaped after ourselves for our own glory or to build something bigger than ourselves. Something that outshines who we are because it's not about us. Rather, it's about building something for other people that continues working and succeeding even if we're not a part of it.

Story Behind The Name

Non profits provide some of the most meaningful, needed services for people who need a leg up. I'm fortunate to have been a part of some, like Purple Door, and witness others in action. Often they are very specialized in the populations they serve. While this specialization allows them to serve people in ways no other organizations can there can also be quite the adjustment for participants when they phase out or move on from the non profits services. I want to be clear that this is not criticism, it's simply reality. But this is where we want Bridge City to thrive. Our goal is to work alongside non profits, mainly who serve youth, to help young adults transition well into the real world, which is often cold, harsh and doesn't give a damn where or how you grew up. Our goal is to pick up where our partner organizations leave off and bridge the gap between non profit services and real world employment. We will also hire people who are not involved with our partners in any capacity, but hopefully that explanation communicates what we're trying to do.

Einstein

Back to my unhealthy obsession with greatness. In all honesty, I'm terrified to live a life of mediocrity that is forgotten the moment I'm put in the ground. I'm not writing this so any of you who know me send a text or email trying to convince me otherwise. In fact I would appreciate it if you didn't. The reason I'm including it here is because if Jon and I ever try to separate or elevate ourselves above what we are trying to accomplish or who we are trying to reach, we have failed. If all we try to do is be great, we never will be. I think Einstein said it best, "Try not to be a man of success, rather try to become a man of value." Which is similar to the drive behind our mission statement: Building hope and value through coffee. We want to inspire hope in our employees that life is worth living and can be so much more than just getting by.  And we want them to leave their time with us knowing how much each one of them matter - that they are of value.

What Will You Do With This One, Fragile Life?

Life is Fragile

This post isn't necessarily about tangible steps we're taking to build Bridge City Coffee, but rather why we are building it. It's different than the other posts, but I think that's a good thing at this point in the process. This is also the most personal one, which is difficult, so bear with me.

My wife and I just returned from a 2 week trip to Portugal for our anniversary, which was much needed. The last few years have been full of a lot of pain and frustration while learning difficult, but necessary, lessons. To be sure there were good things in there as well, but it seemed dominated by difficulties. To stay true with our commitment to be as transparent as possible, the trip was also very timely for us since my wife and I recently had a miscarriage. Our move to Greenville was made for a handful of reasons but the main one was to get a better handle on our lives so we didn't just continue treading water to barely stay afloat. Needless to say, having a miscarriage right after that was a huge punch in the gut. But it wasn't even a regular one. It was more like you just finished a marathon and are trying to catch your breath from all the running, then out of nowhere you get sucker punched right in the gut. So Portugal was much needed. Then the morning I woke up after getting back I find out a friend from college died in a freak medical accident just 5 months after getting married. Literally right as I am writing this my sister just texted me that my uncle died. Life is a bitch sometimes. But it can also be beautiful, and fragile. Sometimes, even in the midst of pain and confronting our mortality, all I need to remind me of the beauty in life is to see my daughter smile and to hear her laugh. That little girl has the power to heal a multitude of pain for me.

God

I don't believe truth is relative - it is absolute. But so many things we label as truth, and therefore believe are absolute, are in reality not. I'm a Christian. Simply reading that statement likely elicits one of a handful of reactions: "Cool, I am too! I can probably keep reading these posts and trust what this guy says." "Christian...hmmm...wonder what that actually means. Is he the right kind of Christian? He better not write anything liberal or in support of gays or he's not for real."  "Oh, Christian. Probably a weirdo, not going to read this anymore."

I've struggled with publicly identifying as a Christian on this blog. Not because I am ashamed of believing in Christ and spending my life trying to follow Him. Rather, if you're just reading this online and we don't know each other it's easy for you to filter everything else I say through a preconceived notion of what a Christian is to you. And to be honest, I am ashamed of being associated with the well-earned predominantly negative perception of Christians. There were times in my life I likely contributed to that stereotype but I have long since distanced myself from those actions. I would wager everything I own that Jesus did not want His followers to be known as Westboro Baptist is or as an oppressive, judgemental religion. Anyone with half a brain can read through the Gospels and understand that. He also nowhere says that science is evil, Democrats are going to hell, or that Baptists are best. I love science, astronomy, don't prescribe to a particular denomination, and have two close friends who are gay that I don't believe are going to hell simply based on their sexual orientation. All topics for another time, maybe an in person meeting at the Trappe Door if anyone wants to do that. All that to say, I believe Christianity is so much more than an oppressive, exclusive, stale religion. I believe it is an inclusive, revitalizing, compassionate, forgiving explanation for why we are here, how we are supposed to live, and why the universe is so amazing and complex.

Bringing It All Together

How does all of this relate to Bridge City Coffee? It relates because we want to build something truly impactful for the individuals who drink our coffee, follow us on social media, or walk through the doors of our shop by operating as a loving, wise representation of the way we believe Christ wants us to live. That just happens to be through the means of a coffee roastery and (future) shop. To be honest, building something like that is a really hard thing to do. Because as Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr all proved in different ways, you can't please all the people all the time.

It's difficult to know how to hold the tension of standing firm and turning the other cheek as an individual, let alone an entire business. We are called to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves and to remember that while we are never to compromise the absolute, unbending truth we believe in, there is also a time for everything, which sometimes includes simply listening to someone rather than being forceful with them - Proverbs 25:11-14. Above all that, one who professes to be a Christian is to remember that even if we are the most eloquent and convincing speakers, or understand the mysteries of the universe and excel in academia, or even have faith strong enough to move mountains while giving away everything to the poor -- even if we die for something, if we don't have love we gain nothing.

Well, now you know a large part of what is driving us to build Bridge City. Love is a tall order. It involves sometimes being submissive and looking like fools while at other points involves being bold and declarative about things we'd rather not be for the sake of someone else hearing the truth. We will falter and fall short at times but we're damn well going to move forward trying to make this world a better place for people who need a leg up -- from the farmers we work with, to our employees, to the customers who drink our coffee. Life is too short and fragile to not add some more beauty and love to it.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

About UsGregory Ward
What Is Bridge City Coffee?

Quick important detail on where we currently are while this is being written – It’s the beginning of April now and my wife and I plan to move from Denver, CO to Greenville, SC sometime around June. Jon is going to do our first pop-up cart at a First Friday event at Textile Hall this week. It's a good bit sooner than we anticipated to actually launch, but we're not complaining! Just have to get ready for it.

Some Background

I love good coffee.  I enjoy the way it tastes and how it wakes me up in the morning. I love how therapeutic it is to make. I love how it makes me think about things in a healthy big picture perspective with the journey each single coffee bean goes through to end up producing my morning fuel (more about this in an upcoming post). In addition to all that, I love the community, massive life or business decisions, and simple relaxation that all occur within the walls of coffee shops.

Through a quick Google search I found 50 independently owned coffee shops just around the downtown Denver area. That number doesn’t include any big chains like Starbucks and Dazbog or places like Dunkin Donuts that serve coffee drinks. So throw in the big chains and you’re easily close to 200 shops. That’s a saturated market to say the least. Out of all those shops there is one like Purple Door Coffee and simply put, Purple Door is one of the biggest reasons I want to create Bridge City Coffee.

I heard Mark, the executive director, speak at a 1 Million Cups meeting. I was fascinated by what they were doing and approached Mark following the meeting. After a lot of conversations and meetings with Mark I’ve been on the board of Purple Door for 6 months now. I still have a hard time not being overwhelmed when I go to the coffee shop or roaster and see the employees doing their jobs. There is a truth that hits me like a ton of bricks every time - I am witnessing each individual employee having their lives renewed while they are gaining applicable life skills and simultaneously learning about their worth and dignity as individuals. It’s not just a job, it’s the restoration of people’s lives. That’s why Jon and I want to build with Bridge City Coffee.

Mission and Structure of Bridge City Coffee

Two of the main differences between Purple Door and Bridge City will be the target demographic of employees and how the business will be structured. Purple Door was born out of Dry Bones, an NP that does amazing relief work for Denver’s homeless youth. They wanted something further down the scale from relief work more into rehabilitation and development, hence where Purple Door was conceived.  At Bridge City our goal is to catch people and equip them to succeed before they end up in need of serious relief or deep rehabilitation.

The way Bridge City will be structured is similar to a for-profit B-Corp (Benefit Corporation). We’re still working on honing in the exact percentages, but a percentage of our net profits will be reinvested back into the employee’s communities, some partner organizations, and the farming communities we source our beans from. We’ll call it the community fund. Of the community fund, Jon and I will work with the employees to help them reinvest 50% of the community fund directly back into the communities they are from. 35% will go towards partner organizations around the Greenville area, and 15% will go toward the farming coops and communities we work with.  One of the main drivers behind forming as a for-profit entity is to empower the employees with the knowledge that they are earning their own wages and keeping the business afloat through their hard work.

We'll write about the mission, goals, and unique factors of Bridge City in later posts. Part of the beauty of this blog (hopefully) is the dynamic nature of it all during the construction of the company. We may plan for one thing only to learn that it won't work and we have to pivot. Again, that's the terrifying and unique nature of writing something in the thick of it all. So keep following us, we'll make it worth it!

Why This Is Being Written - Personally

I grew up in the rural North Carolina mountains playing soccer most of my life. Our town’s slogan was “2 hours from anywhere.” To fill you in if you’re not from a small town in the south - The hierarchy of sports begins with football head and shoulders above everything else. Baseball, basketball, track, golf, and wrestling descend in varying orders on a totally separate plane from football. Then far off somewhere in a muddy cow field you have soccer.

Anyway, when I was 13 one of my best friends, Zach, and I received letters asking us to play in a soccer tournament in Sweden. It was one of those things that a lot of kids probably received. But it was still a trip to Europe and the chance for some exposure to coaches and recruiters for club teams we never had where we lived.

I’ll never forget stepping on the field to practice before the tournament. There Zach and I were in Sweden with the rest of the team assembled from different states on the east coast ready to impress the world! I’ll also never forget what happened when the gravity of it all hit me and I self-destructed. My nerves got the better of me being around so much talent and I decided that it would better not to try and to fail rather than to give it everything I had and fail. I have regretted that decision the rest of my life and took more than a decade to truly get over it.

The point of writing that is to illustrate why I am doing this blog in the first place. While there is still a huge chance of failure, I refuse to be that 13 year old boy on the soccer field wasting his dreams away again because something is difficult and not guaranteed. If I fail this time it won't be for lack of effort and it won't keep me up at night wondering what could have happened if I had only tried. As painful as it could be to publicly fail, we want this endeavor to begin with the same level of authenticity we plan to fuse into our sourcing, operations, hiring, and final products. So we invite you to follow along as we attempt to build Bridge City Coffee and feel free to spread the word!

 

Why This Is Being Written - Broadly

Though there are many helpful and great books out there about people overcoming immense odds to achieve success, all of them I have seen or read are written after someone achieved that success. “Things were really tough, you know. Let me tell you how I worked through x, y, and z to get where I am now.”  There is nothing wrong with that at all. You know you will be entertained and receive helpful advice along the way. But you also know they succeeded at some point in the book while probably failing a few times along the way to present teachable moments.  Regardless of what happened, though, the outcome has already been determined.

I want to write something in the thick of it all where nothing is determined because everything is still being being worked for. On the journey to Mordor, I’m still in the Shire. For those of you unacquainted with J.R.R. Tolkien, if I’m traveling from Denver to Australia I just parked at Denver International Airport. Essentially, there is a long way to go. We have a map detailing where we want to go, but getting there is far more involved than simply planning a route. Also, I don’t have Gandalf, so that kind of sucks.

Honestly it is quite terrifying to start this. There is a sizeable possibility I could be writing the slow demise of my dreams, which began taking shape 9 years ago, for anyone to read…Perhaps I’ll write it all privately then publish it depending on what happens…Who am I kidding? No one is going to publish that. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first steps, Rome wasn’t built in a day, he who wants to build very high must dig very deep, and all that, right?  Here we go!