Crossroads

This post was written two months ago, but I needed to wait to post it because I had to get my life in order first.

I’ve known for a while now that my time at The Drip has been coming to an end, and in light of that, I began a job hunt. I found out that a couple of roasters were opening up their own roasting facility and coffee bar, and I approached them with the offer of my help. I had built a shop from the ground up before, so I suspected this would be a breeze. B and I met with them a few times, and we fell in love with their mission. This shop that they were building had the exact same mission statement as I’ve developed over time. They valued quality and community and aesthetic, and every detail that they built into this place was so carefully articulated – it was impossible not to want to be apart of it. After speaking with them a few times, however, we realized that when it came to the actual barista aspect of the job, they had very little idea of what they were doing. So naturally, I offered my help. I love teaching about coffee. I love training baristas. I love being able to be the person to put that spark in someone’s soul when they learn the difference between “coffee” and coffee.

In the meantime, I had decided to take it upon myself to start building the “coffee community” in Kearney. I hosted our town’s first ever latte art competition, and we hand delivered invitations to each coffee shop in town (all 11 of them, excluding ourselves). We had a decent turnout. Only eight people competed from two coffee shops, but we had four out of the 11 coffee shops show up to watch. It was a good run for the first time. Everybody got along and had a blast, and I made it into the last round going head to head with one of the most talented latte artists I’ve met in person. The local newspaper showed up, took photos, and interviewed us. We were on the front page of the paper the next day and featured on their website where I spoke about our mission to build up the relationships between coffee shops in Kearney and build a coffee community. I began to re-realize how important community was to me, how important education was to me, how important it was to build each other up, and how important it was to give this town the best coffee we can. I decided to put aside my pride and help the shops that needed my help.

B and I continued to meet with the roasters, and we gave our “professional input” to which they were really receptive. It felt good to share my knowledge. It had been months since I hired a barista, and I started getting the bug to educate again. The roasters invited us to guest barista for them at a big 80 person fundraiser they were hosting soon and said we could use it to see how we’d all vibe together. They could see if we were a good fit for them, and we could see if they were a good fit for us, and if all worked out we could talk about a future permanent position.

But the timeline on that was taking longer than I desired, and I felt like I needed to leave The Drip sooner than that position would allow. So I contacted the owner of a newer small shop to see if she had any hours that I could grab for a month or two before this position opened up, and I contacted the owner of a local small, but nationally recognized coffee shop for a potential to temporarily join their team.

The first jumped at the opportunity because she had just opened a new coffee cart and one of her baristas had quit, but the hours were 10 less than I was currently getting, the pay was $3/hr less, and she only had real hours for me for the month of December. With as many medical bills as I have to pay each month, I needed something more stable. So I offered her one of my baristas instead to cover the sporadic hours. This coffee shop is quietly known around town for having really nice baristas, a ton of potential, but having poor techniques. I’ve debated on and off about whether I should help them or not. I hosted a latte art class there once over a year ago, and the espresso was so watery that the class was a bust and I felt like a fool for even trying. I literally cried that evening because they were putting out such bad products and I desperately wanted to help them, but they were technically competition – and the owners of my shop wouldn’t let me do that. Which I understand. But my heart didn’t.

The next owner asked for some time to think about it because it was a situation that needed to be handled delicately and she was currently setting up a new holiday kiosk at the mall. It took her over two weeks to get back to me. In that time B and I had slung at the fundraiser the roasters hosted and had a blast. It still looked like a long way before the roasters would need us on board full time, so I waited patiently. I took her radio silence as her avoiding telling me that she didn’t want me on board – which I understood. I could see it being complicated to hire someone on who has built their own coffee shop and managed it for two and a half years. I see the potential issues, and I had no hard feelings about it whatsoever.

Until I saw the post on Instagram.

This company had posted about a holiday program they were doing where they would let you exchange your gift cards to competing coffee shops for their own gift cards for their full value. Within that post they made a point of bashing every other coffee shop in town, specifically saying that they went around town to all of the other coffee shops and tasted the products and they were disappointed in how watery the espresso was and how poorly the milk was steamed – etc.

So when I read this, I was pretty steamed. Because I know for a fact my products aren’t like that. I felt grouped in with bad shops, disrespected by someone that I thought had a mutual respect for me, and just flat out baffled by the audacity of someone to post such a slanderous thing on their business account about ALL the coffee shops in town. That post fueled my fire for a community. I wanted to build up every. single. coffee house. that I could get my hands on and make sure that their techniques were flawless. I was so fired up.

About two or three days after this post went live, I received a text from the owner of this shop asking if I had some time to sit down and chat. I agreed. I figured they would either try to tell me they weren’t talking about my shop in this post, or they would try to psych me out and make me feel like my products were inferior. Remember, at this point, I thought she had radio silenced me and avoided answering me about getting a position with their company. But I wanted to keep an open mind, because when I get heated about people’s intentions – I’m usually wrong.

So I went to this meeting. I spent almost two hours with the owner and things got deep. I won’t go into what she shared with me, but I will say I have a completely new perspective and respect for her, her business, her managing techniques, her baristas… everything. Towards the end of our conversation, she answered the question I asked weeks prior.

She told me that they had sat down for an hour and a half to discuss whether they should bring me on board. She told me that everyone there loved me. She told me I was talented and that she had so much respect for me. But they had to bench the idea of hiring me on for two reasons. One, because they didn’t have any open positions. Two, because I had become associated with so many coffee houses in town that it would be confusing for their customers. When they hire baristas on, they expect complete dedication towards their brand (which I totally understand), and if they were to hire me on, I would have to essentially cut ties with the community I had just started to build. So it was a decision I needed to make. I needed to decide what was important to me.

I had two options.

I could cut ties with these other coffee shops, keeping my skills and techniques to myself instead of using them to build people up, and dedicate my loyalty to her shop. In turn, they would invest in me as a barista. I would have potential to be sent to barista camp to become certified. I would have the potential to compete on a regional, national, and even global level. I would have a community within the company. I would be working with enough volume to actually progress with my latte art skills. I would have the chance to grow into the barista I’ve wanted to become since I was 18.

Or.

I could stay in the community, educate and build up these coffee shops, and essentially become an ambassador for coffee in Kearney. In turn, I would most likely not receive investment to become certified as a barista. I would not be able to compete in the barista competitions. And when I leave this town, all I will have is a reputation from a small town instead of continuing training to back me up.

Good god, written down it seems like such an obvious answer. My brain is screaming at me to take the investment. But my heart – my heart won’t even cross into that world. My heart knows this isn’t about me anymore. It’s about changing the lives of as many baristas as I can, because I thought I knew everything about coffee when I started at The Drip. I thought I was the shit. And the first time I tasted a single origin coffee, that first sip where the incredible aroma of coffee and the taste FINALLY connected, it was a moment that I’ll never be able to deny. And then training with PT’s Coffee in Topeka and learning what espresso really was and the potential it held changed my life, and I became absorbed in this culture. Once I realized I knew nothing, I was finally able to grow. But I would have never been able to experience that had people not been willing to share their knowledge. I never would’ve developed this unquenchable thirst for knowledge, or reach this ever climbing potential, or become the best version of my best self without these people who opened this world up to me.

So I knew in my heart, that I couldn’t forsake my community for my own personal growth. That’s just not who I am as a person. And that may come back to bite me in the ass at some point, but I believe it will be worth it.

Later that evening after I had that sit down with the owner, I received a Facebook message from the owner of the newer coffee house that I originally was interested in working for, asking if I would be available to help with an upcoming event and if I would be interested in coming on with them part time while they were getting things up and running. They offered a fantastic hourly wage, and I accepted.

I’m still praying for confirmation of this path, but my heart is telling me this is my path. I have a feeling it will be the harder path. I have a feeling it will be the one that keeps me awake at night. But I believe it’s the path that I’m supposed to be on. I think this path has the most potential for me to grow into the person I want to be. Or rather, am destined to be.

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