Posts tagged coffee
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. 

 

Sourcing and Why It Matters

Brief Update

Where to begin? We received our first order of beans from the Hingakawa Women's Association (more on them later), Jon has been up to his eyeballs in beans roasting over the past two weeks, I've been in discussions with some incredible potential partners, we purchased a new roaster, started with a great wholesale client, sleep has been harder to come by, and we're loving it! The feeling of controlled chaos I mentioned in this post has become both more controlled and chaotic at the same time. It's kind of like raising a kid or pet. You learn how to handle what they throw at you as it happens. But as soon as you figure one thing out they pull something new out of left field to throw your way. It definitely keeps us on our toes.

Community In Coffee

As I have mentioned in other posts, Mark Smesrud and Purple Door Coffee taught me how not to compromise the standards of a high quality product while still cultivating true, lasting growth in their employees. Parallel to that Scott Byington, the owner of Queen City Collective Coffee, has been instrumental in opening my eyes to the beauty and necessity of creating community through coffee every step of the way from sourcing to storefront. When I say community I mean relationships that are ongoing and real. I'm not talking about slapping a fair trade sticker on a bag then making one trip to a farm and taking some pictures to post online or put in your store. Scott has been integrally involved with farms around the world helping get their products to roasters in the US while also assisting them to improve their products and increase their own profits. He also knows that to truly help farmers and their communities we cannot just helicopter in at our leisure with good intentions. We have to listen: listen to who they are, the roads they've walked in life, what they need for their farms, what they need for their children and communities, and listen to what is most effective for us to do in their eyes, not our own. What works well here may be ineffective, or actually destructive, somewhere else. Because as much as we think we know, we don't know much.

Hingakawa

Scott has spent a considerable amount of time in Rwanda where the Hingakawa ("let's grow coffee") Women's Association is located. Oh Hingakawa, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Seriously, they are incredible. Scott has a close relationship with the person instrumental in building the farming network there to be what it is today. Many of the women who work with this farm, and another smaller one called Dakundakawa ("we love coffee"), lost loved ones and family members during the Rwandan genocide. Hingakawa has been incredibly effective at providing restoration and sustenance for these women and their children. Not only does it provide work and income, there is also a system in place that allows the women to cultivate the land around the farms to produce more income for their communities to use at their discretion for essential needs. As amazing and impactful as this is, the amount of revenue generated by coffee only goes so far. We're working to build a relationship with these ladies that best benefits them both as individuals and collectively in their communities. I'll write more on this as it develops and we'll have their beans available in our online store within the next couple weeks. Can't wait for you all to try them!

Learn More

These are a couple great reads from The Perfect Daily Grind on sourcing methods that explain what relational, direct trade, fair trade, and actually are.     

Micro Roaster? Here's What Producers Want You To Know.    

How Roasters Can Build Good Relationships With Farmers

This one is written by Torch Coffee and provides more info on Hingakawa.

The Story of Hingakawa Women's Coffee

 

 

 

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!