I would say one of THE MOST asked questions when I sit down to talk coffee, business, etc… with other is this:
How did you get into coffee?
The answer? I have no clue. No, really. I think I have written before that I really backed into coffee more than blazed some known path from college to coffee shop.
I was a music guy (well, more like someone that liked to host, plan, promote and manage music) and this was the day of the “Daily Buzz, Java, Grind” sort of shops. You know.. the ones with the little stage for open mic nights and poetry readings and church services. That was what we had and what we all knew and what I felt like I needed to own. Remember – I wanted to have a place to host “art” and I knew that coffee had to be a part of it.
Fast forward (cause I said I would be brief)…..
I fell in love with coffee. The process. The people. The craft. The art. The taste. The opportunity. The Space. The…
I loved everything about it and knew I needed to learn more. I had to. So I started looking around and came across this company called Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup (now called Bellissimo Coffee Advisors). Weird name but they had this “coffee school” in Portland Oregon that was a 1 week intensive. Jenni and I figured if we were going to do this thing that it would be wise to spend the money to travel there and take part in one of these weeks before spending EVEN MORE to launch this coffee company we were going to call Cafe Evoke.
(Side Note: Before I go on – I REALLY wish this hadn’t been before digital camera phones and stuff because I’m sure there would have been ample space for pictures but the truth is, I have no pictures from these days which is a huge bummer. I mean, in the olden days, we had to walk uphill in both directions in the sn….. Anyway – carry on.)
This was a one week intensive. That sounded hard. It was 3 days of business school (which I had just gotten out of, remember) and then 2 days in the “lab”. Yikes. We grabbed a hotel room and made plans to spend the week (and maybe more) in Portland Oregon for this school. The first morning, took the light rail down to the class and had to walk through this crazy building and head up a few floors.. (I said I would be brief, I’ll move on)
We walked in to the “class room” which was in a narrow hall across from the “lab”. Ed and Matt and Matt’s dad Bruce sorta ran the show at this point for Bellissimo and Ed was in charge of teaching the bulk of the business side of coffee. I felt like he knew EVERYTHING. We talked budgets and planning and staffing and ordering and hours and menu and so much more. For 3 full days, we dove deep with 10 or 12 others to learn all we could to take back to our companies – some already going and some dreams like ours.
After those three days, we hit the lab and got to experience life behind several of the main brands of espresso machines and grinders. We got to talk about granita and blenders. We made sample panini and other cafe style foods. I was blown away, really.
We also got our first crack and making espresso and steaming milk. Matt showed us all about latte art (which Jenni smoked me on for sure) and it was life changing. That sounds like a big way to put it but that was the truth. I was IN.
But it was more than those 5 days of “school” that changed the direction of my focus. It was the culture and the people we got to experience before and after class that got me. Visiting cafes. Getting introductions to other owners and managers. Asking questions. Being vulnerable with our “plans” with people that actually knew what the hell they were talking about. Taking the bullets out of the plans and rebuilding each page piece by piece with even more solid advice and ideas.
Ed and Matt and Kylene and Bruce and the others showed me what it was like to care for your industry and craft and to take the small details seriously.
I think the real part of my “schooling” actually happened the following week. We decided to stick around and the Bellissimo crew invited us to CoffeeFest (which at the time was WAY bigger than SCAA’s Expo) in Seattle. So we drove up and grabbed a room near theirs and got absolutely BLOWN AWAY by this industry. What in the world was happening??
Matt took us around and introduced us to some of our our most long term coffee friends… friends from EspressoParts and Nuova Simonelli and La Marzocco and Bunn. Friends from coffee roasters from all over the place and some of the country’s top baristas. We ate great food. Drank strong drinks. Sipped espresso and talked about life and industry and all the things in between.
Hell – Bruce and his wife took us all out to dinner (what a treat) and then to see the KC and the Sunshine Band. Wild times.
I am a huge proponent of learning all you can about your craft. These guys helped me plan out the space when we opened in 2012 and even a few years prior to selling EVOKE, I was still asking Matt questions and advice about the coffee business. Invest in yourself and make those connections.
Most importantly – allow each to change your life.
(footnote: I could write so much about all of this as it just brought back lots of memories. Be on the lookout for more about Coffee Fest and that sort of thing in the future!)