A Lesson in Community: Part I: A Rising Tide Raises all Ships
This sounds like a simple idea, but I’ve learned that the simplest ideas can have the biggest emotional impact. It’s one thing to think about opening your own coffee shop/cafe/bar/restaurant and an entirely other thing to do it and put your entire self (emotionally, physically, and financially) into it. If you’re like me, you’ll worry about every single thing that happens there in the early days (and middle days and later days, but especially the early days). You’ll worry about the person that accidentally tripped over the door, you’ll worry about the person whose phone died and they don’t have a charger and you don’t have one for them to borrow, you’ll worry about the person who was mad that you didn’t have 32oz slurpies. Of course, all of those things are ridiculous to worry about, but you’ll do it anyway because you want to create a space people feel happy and comfortable in and you want them to come back. You need them to come back. You’ll never know how that feels until you have your own place, and if I’m being honest I don’t recommend that everyone open their own concept. You have to be a specific kind of person to do it, and not everyone is that person. In fact, most people aren’t that person, even though it’s easy to get to a place where you feel like you’re that person. More on that another time.
My relationship with coffee shops changed completely after opening Amethyst. It was almost impossible for me to go to another shop on my days off because I couldn’t just sit there and enjoy it. I was always thinking about how many people were coming through the door, what time of day it was, what their labor cost must be, etc. It was awful. The spaces I used to feel so at home in turned into just a series of bodies and moving parts for me to look at and analyze. It made me feel pretty manic for awhile, until I sat down and thought about some things.
It’s one thing to hear someone say a phrase, and another to internalize it. The two phrases I had yet to internalize were:
‘It just takes time’
‘A rising tide raises all ships’
Time. Lets talk about that. I used to think of time in a matter of minutes, i.e. how many more minutes can I sleep and still get to work on time? Hours: if I worked 40 hours last week, can I get away with working 30 this week and still pay rent? Now, I think about time in a matter of years. Where will Amethyst be in 5 years? What’s the goal for next year at this time? And guess what? 5 years is going to feel like 2 minutes. A year and a half, which is how old Amethyst is now, feels like only moments. Amethyst is growing so fast I can’t keep up, and it’s great, but really it. Just. Took. Time.
The Denver food and beverage scene is just wacky right now. Every freaking day something new and cool opens. It’s great, it’s scary, and it’s overwhelming, but we’re doing a really good job at building our reputation. Denver is certainly gaining notoriety as one of the strongest cities for coffee in the US, and that’s because everyone is doing their best to be awesome. I love the Denver coffee community and there is no other place I’d rather have started Amethyst. We’ve gotten nothing but love and support from our fellow coffee folks, and we try our best to give that back. A rising tide really goes raise all ships, but it’s tricky because tides go in and go out, and you have to get used to that ebb and flow.
A couple of weeks ago a woman was sitting at my bar and we were chatting and she goes:
‘It’s so busy in here! Every coffee shop I’ve been to in Denver in the last week has been so busy!’
I was so stoked. That was the moment that it all really hit home. It had been a rough month or so for numbers and that week we had finally been on the up swing; so it made my heart happy to hear that it was happening for everyone else, too. I love the Denver coffee community, and I truly truly want the best for everyone. That doesn’t mean I don’t get jealous when someone else does something cool, but I do my best to turn it into support and not some weird deep-seated emotion that eats away at me. I don’t like to admit it when I’m being jealous, but it’s a normal human feeling and I’ve come to appreciate normal human feelings. It means I’m normal. And also a human.
Moral of the story? Before you decide you want to open a coffee shop, I hope you’ll define some things for yourself. What does it mean to be successful? What does it mean to be a functional and encouraging part of your community? What does it mean to have unadulterated support for your fellow professionals? Are those things important to you?
You’ll probably never have concrete answers to those questions, and they will most likely evolve as you grow, but the important thing is to start thinking about them sooner rather than later. It will help, and if you’re going to open a business you’ll need all the help you can get ;)