Episode Description: In this episode, we get to know how Gretchen Williams got to start up her own business with Heartbreak Coffee Roasters and her experience working for Blue Bottle Coffee.
Heartbreak Coffee Roasters – http://www.heartbreakcoffeeroasters.com/
Posh Incredible Transformations – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/posh-incredible-transformations/id1377517663?mt=2
Youtube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyrz1fZpMDHSfGm7t29ieOA/featured
Website – Poshinc.com
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Intro – 0:00
- Not Trusting Myself in Being a Good Manager – 0:38
- Sometimes You Need Something to Do Work for You – 0:50
- The Challenge On Hiring New People – 1:10
- Learning About Trust and Working With Other People – 1:44
- First Starting Heartbreak and Opportunities – 2:24
- Holding Yourself Back – 3:35
- Building Skill By Practicing – 4:38
- Feeling It Wasn’t Good Enough – 5:51
- Putting In the Work – 6:31
- Opportunities That Were Turned Down – 7:11
- A Lesson in Interdependence – 10:32
- Having a Hard Time Asking for Help – 11:32
- Do You Know When Others Need Help? – 11:58
- Atuned to Other People’s Needs – 13:38
- Sensitive to Energy – 15:10
- The 5 Love Languages – 16:37
- Relationships – 17:15
- Anxiety, California, and the Social Level – 18:45
- Making Heartbreak Unique and Separate from Others – 26:30
- Things Are a Lot Harder in California – 28:16
- The Process of Opening Up a Business – 29:09
- The Health Department – 30:15
- Succeeding Means Surviving – 31:42
- Believing That Being Relevant and Having Wealth Is Success – 33:48
- The Essence of a Unique Place – 36:52
- Creating Something Sustainable – 39:40
- People I Know Vs. Those I Don’t – 40:18
- Having a Dry Sense of Humor – 43:09
- Being a Woman in a Male Dominant Coffee Industry – 44:17
- A Coffee Shop Experience in Long Beach – 47:45
- Tiffany’s Experience in the Coffee Industry – 49:10
- Not Being Taken Serious as a Woman – 50:18
- It Must Be Really Tough Being a Man – 53:10
- Not Being On Social Media – 54:25
- Introducing Something New to a Community – 55:20
- Learning About the Coffee Industry – 1:01:52
- Being Ok With Mediocre Things – 1:03:23
- I Love Good Service – 1:05:54
- The Competition Is the Person Who Would Go the 2 Inches – 1:06:24
- Working At Blue Bottle – 1:08:00
- Wanting to Create The Same Experience – 1:17:07
- The Turnover of Employees – 1:18:21
- Having the Best Service in Vietnam – 1:21:05
- Blue Bottle Has An Infusion of a Family Mentality – 1:23:18
- Places Hiring People With Specialty Coffee Experience – 1:24:11
- Something Unique About Blue Bottle – 1:26:42
- Taking the Time to Hire the Right People and Train – 1:30:32
- Closing – 1:34:22
Tiffany: I’m Tiffany Lopez and you’re listening to “Posh Incredible” podcast where I interview ordinary people who are making extraordinary transformations in their lives and for others. I believe we’re all here to transcend and assist the ones around us to grow into the people they were born to be. The pathway of awakening is a noble life pursuit, and it starts now. You know having a shop or like having people that work for you is like I don’t…one, I don’t trust myself to be a really good manager because I’m not.
Gretchen: I’m not either. I found that out, now that I’m managing.
Tiffany: Yeah. So that’s one thing. The other thing is like I feel like I have to be really, you know, like sometimes you need somebody to do work for you, but the right person isn’t available. So what do you do, do you wait or do you like hire somebody that you know is it right? And then, you know, that’s one thing that is challenging for me about hiring and bring on people, which is why I usually do contractors.
Gretchen: Yeah. And that makes sense because…well, that’s why I just do to do all the work myself because I think, oh, well if it’s not the right person then I’ve just wasted, you know, however much time training them and then just for nothing, and then I end up overextending myself. But that’s not really how I should look at it. People are capable of doing stuff for me, I just needed to trust them more.
Tiffany: Yeah. I think I’m learning something about trust too. Like, I know I can do everything on my own, but part of life is working with other people. And like sometimes being by yourself isn’t fun and so like, for me, it sometimes comes down to okay, this may not be exactly what I want, this may not be like the exact right fit, but does this person have the type of qualities that I could work with?
Gretchen: Yeah. No, for sure. I have a lot of trust issues with people in general, which is probably why I do have a hard time entrusting other people with, you know, my work. But that was one thing that I had to make sure that kind of, like, when I first started Heartbreak and there was a lot of opportunities that came up that I shut down or I didn’t pursue because it wasn’t exactly how I wanted it. You know, it’s like I had this vision for something and wasn’t exactly how I wanted it. And so I was like, “No, that’s not the right fit, that’s not the right fit, that’s not the right fit.”
Instead of, like, once I moved back to Mississippi and I was like, “Okay, I want to continue to pursue Heartbreak, I want to continue to do this,” but I had to kind of, you know, retrain my brain to realize I can’t…like, I’ll never be able to go from zero to 100 unless I have endless amount of finances and help, you know, and I didn’t. And so, you know, it’s kind of just like regain this mindset of as long as that opportunity or what I’m doing whether it’s hiring somebody or whatever is taking me in the right direction to get to that 100, then it’s a good decision.
Tiffany: That’s so interesting that you say that because remember at the, like, checkout stand at breakfast, I was like something I learned was that I was holding myself back from doing the whole consulting thing and building content. And one of those perspectives was, I don’t remember what it was right now, but another one that was holding me back was that I knew that if I started I would never be where I thought I should be. And so part of that was being okay with the process, being okay being really shitty at first. Because this vision that I had of myself and where I was at the time would never match up, and I had this like really high expectation of what type of caliber work I should be putting out, and what I should be doing, and how it should look. But the resources weren’t there, but not just the resources, the skill wasn’t there. And the only way to build the skill is to practice.
Gretchen: Sure, yeah.
Tiffany: So like being okay with not being where I wanted to be, but getting there somehow.
Gretchen: Right. Well, yeah. I mean, it’s like exactly what you said, just like this idea of like building something. If you’re creating something, you know, from scratch or you’re building a brand or a business or company or whatever, like even a freakin’ house, you know, like, you start with a blueprint and you have this idea of where you want it to be, but you’re not gonna close your eyes and then wake up the next morning and suddenly it’s there. You know, it’s a step-by-step process, and it’s a lengthy process, and there’s always going to be delays, and there’s always gonna be things that, like, go wrong. And it’s never gonna turn out exactly how you had envisioned it because it’s just not because things change like throughout that process. But it usually, in the end, is even better than, you know, how you envisioned it in the beginning.
Tiffany: True for me.
Tiffany: But before I started, I didn’t know that I even had that belief, or not the belief but like,I didn’t know that I didn’t wanna do the work because I didn’t think it would be good enough at the beginning. That was like one of those things I wasn’t okay with.
Gretchen: That like you couldn’t get it to where you wanted or…?
Tiffany: Within the blink of an eye. Like, I thought I could and then realizing that it’s…like things just don’t work like that, plus what’s the fun? What’s the fun in doing anything if you don’t put like some blood, sweat, and tears into it?
Gretchen: Yeah. It’s definitely not as rewarding. You know, I mean, if I had had the finances and the help, you know, from the get-go with Heartbreak, and I was able to just, you know, say, “Yeah, I want to open up a coffee shop and have a roastery and this is exactly how I want it and, you know, I could write a fat check to make that happen and not have to put any work in myself, I think I would be bored very easily after I had achieved that and be like, “Okay, what’s the next project? That was fun, I completed that task, now what?” And then I would just keep going from one thing to the next, to the next, to the next.
Tiffany: So, like, what were some of the things that you turned down for Heartbreak back in California that weren’t quite right, and then, like, do you regret turning them down now? Not regret, but like, do you think like, “Oh, wow, like, I guess I could have made my dream happen if I did that,” or something like that?
Gretchen: I think that there were different opportunities that had come up whether it was a second party who wanted to invest into help growing the business and, you know, I mean when I started, I was roasting from my garage and was basically, you know, just selling stuff out of my house online or doing pop-ups here and there, like I didn’t have a set location, and there were several people who had approached us about, you know, wanting to invest or open up a shop or partner with us and all this stuff. So it was mainly opportunities to open up a shop that I always turn them down because it was either, “Well, I don’t want somebody else involved,” or, “I don’t like that location,” or they would want it to be a certain way, which is different from how I envisioned it.
And so I could have easily achieved the end goal, which was having a shop, you know, a retail location a lot quicker, but at the same time, I didn’t…I felt like I if I had done that then I would have been a sellout for, you know, kind of this baby that I had created and what I wanted it to become because I was gonna let somebody else come in with their money and their ideas and then I was gonna get pushed to the side, and I didn’t want that to happen.
And so I don’t regret. I guess the only thing I regret is not maybe exploring those ideas a little bit more, and those connections a little bit more, just from the get-go, I shut it down. I was like, “No, I’m not interested in that.” Like, I don’t regret ever not having that happen. I think, you know, I mean, when I started it, I was in Long Beach, California, and now I’m in Oxford, Mississippi, you know, had those opportunities. Had I taken those, then my life path would have been very different. It probably would have been easier, but I don’t think it would have been, you know, as fulfilling and it might not be exactly where, you know, I wanted it to be. So I don’t regret it, but I do think I was very quick to be like, “No, that’s not what I want.”
And I was just way too picky because also I thought that, you know, I could achieve everything that I wanted to achieve without asking for help from other people. That’s not just like financially, that’s like anything, you know. And obviously, I’ve realized that that’s ridiculous. I mean, like, nobody knows what they’re doing, like what we talked about earlier. And there’s gonna be times where, you know, I need to ask for help from other people and that’s not a failure, you know, it’s just a learning experience. And that’s me growing as a business owner and as just a person in general.
Tiffany: I think that’s also a lesson in interdependence. We’d like to think that we can always give to ourselves what we need but sometimes we can’t. Like, for example, like we may just need a hug from somebody at the end of day. And to be able to ask someone even if it’s like a total stranger, like, “Hey, I need a hug, can you give one to me?” They either say yes or no, and then you move on to the next person. Like, “I need a hug, like, anybody wanna give me a hug,” you know? So to relate that to business, like sometimes in business you can’t always provide what you need for yourself. Like, for me a lot of times, I don’t know what it is that I need or don’t need. And so I need to figure it out or I need to like move or budge somehow.
Gretchen: Yeah. I know, definitely, I mean, yeah, I think I, in general, have a hard time asking people for help. And instead, I just assume that like people should know when I need help and they should offer it and then I get irritated when they don’t. But like, heaven forbid, I actually asked somebody. But, yeah, I mean, it’s ridiculous to think that…I mean, nobody’s got everything figured out.
Tiffany: Do you usually know when other people need help?
Gretchen: I feel like I just have the type of like personality where I usually am just like a giver. And so I usually just offer or I’m very much one to ask, like, how can I help or what can I do for you? And so I think because that is my mindset, and I realize that is not how the majority of people work, but I think because I am that way, then I initially always think, “Oh, well, people should be like that too.” And I also feel like I’m more kind of in tune with, like, just different people’s energy like in general, like, I’m very sensitive to that. And so I’m usually hyper-aware of, you know, if somebody’s feeling stressed or if they’re feeling anxious or, you know, like where they’re at.
But, yeah, and like I mean I realize, like…also too, I mean, I’m 32 years old and a lot of my peers are married or they have kids and they have a whole life outside of, you know, just…I mean, they have a whole bunch of other shit that they have to deal with and like, I’m here and I’m single, and it’s like, okay, I go to work, and then other than that, like, what else am I gonna do? So I think about like that stuff and like I have the time and energy to invest in other people and a lot of my friends and stuff, they’re just like drained with their own lives. That it’s not like, you know, think to help, you know, you forget that everybody else has other shit outside of work or their families or whatever that they’re dealing with.
Tiffany: Yeah. It’s interesting you say you’re sensitive and you’re like in-tune to other people’s needs and how they feel because I’m also very much like that, and I thought growing up my whole life, this is one of the pain points with my family, they’re very insensitive people. And it seems like they’re more sensitive to other people’s needs than they are to mine. And since I’m really sensitive and I grew up knowing like how other people feel that I thought everybody else was on my same level. Because when you’re young and you’re growing up, you don’t know anything outside of your own like perspective. But now, like the more I experience people, the more I realize like how unique that quality is. And that a lot of people, either one, like you said don’t have the energy or they literally don’t have that part, they don’t have that quality. And so the more I learned that the more, like, I can dictate to other people what I need since I can see sort of with my eyes but mostly feel what other people need and what they’re feeling.
Gretchen: Yeah. No, very much so. And I think just really like for me, it’s just been in the past like couple years that I’ve realized that that’s what it is. Like, from a very young age I was…well like, when I was in the sixth grade, I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and OCD. I think now like looking back a lot of my anxiety and stuff is like because I am very sensitive to energy and I soak in everybody else’s energy and so when I’m around that like I don’t know how to…like I didn’t know how to process that at the time. And like I’ve very much realized now it’s like, yeah, there’s like because I am sensitive to it and I very much kind of take on how other people are feeling, it can be very overwhelming like when I’m around a bunch of people or, you know, around certain energies for a long period of time.
But it is weird. It’s a strange quality to have, but it’s nice and, yeah, I don’t know. I think that for me, like, just yeah, dictating to other people like what I need or asking for help to though is very much like I think the way that I show love to my friends or to people who work for me or whatever is like doing stuff for them that I know that would help them out. And so because, again, like that’s what I do and that’s how I show love or respect to somebody like that’s how I receive it too. And so that’s part of the reason to where I think it’s kind of a thing of like, “Oh, well, I shouldn’t have to ask for help, like, somebody should just do it for me.” Which is ridiculous, because everybody shows love in different ways and receives it in different ways.
Tiffany: Yeah. I’m also like a big on-service type of person. I’m sure you know like the five love languages or whatever. There’s like service, there’s speech, there’s physical affection, there’s gifting, and like quality time, I think.
Gretchen: Yeah, I’m a big quality time person too.
Tiffany: Quality time and service are like my top two.
Gretchen: We’re like the same.
Tiffany: Yeah. And then like gifting would be the other one. And then verbal and then physical, probably, depending on the person. And so just wrapping my head around other people’s…like how they give love. Like I think that was something I not learned, but started to learn, yeah. Like, after my last relationship and acknowledging, like, how other people give it and then trying to appreciate it.
Gretchen: Right. Yeah. It is hard and it’s usually not until like, you know, if you’re in a relationship or, I don’t know, like for me like, yeah, my last relationship like I never was able to analyze and figure all of this stuff out until after I was out of it. You know, this would have been really great knowledge to know, like, while I was in the midst of it, but it’s never into like you’ve removed yourself from that. And you’re like, “Oh, yeah I could have done this, this, this and this is what this person was doing,” you know. But I guess that’s part of it and is the learning process.
But, yeah, I’ve definitely like realized…I mean I’ve been out of a relationship for two-and-a-half years, it’s like I keep learning more and more about, you know, other people and myself in a relationship. And whether that’s like romantic or just like with, you know, friends or, you know, people I work with in general. But, yeah, it’s interesting like just how different people are and how we all operate on just like so many different levels.
Tiffany: It really is. Speaking of like anxiety and stuff, you actually feel less anxious out here, like, I don’t know. Because like, in L.A. I felt like you were always stressed. Like, you just seem like way more relaxed and laid back. Is it because of, like, what was going on in L.A. or is it because…like, what would you attribute your…
Gretchen: Achievements to?
Tiffany: Yeah. You just seem like more relaxed and I don’t even want to say like happy because you were happy out in L.A., but it’s just a different like undertone.
Gretchen: I think there’s a lot. When I knew you in California, I mean, that was just like a really rough period for me in general. I don’t remember when it was that we met as far as like when I had moved back from Kansas City because I was away from California for two-and-a-half years when I was in Kansas City. And during that whole process was when I had like come out to my family and I was at home and I went to therapy with them, and I was just like in a bad state in general.
Tiffany: I met you right around the time that we started Outpost, which was in like 2013.
Gretchen: So that would have been not too…yeah, not too long after I had…because we started Heartbreak, I think, in October of 2013, and I moved back there in June.
Gretchen: Yeah, so it wouldn’t have been…so there’s a lot that I was going through like personally that had…like, I was a very much more anxious person and just depressed in general. And, you know, my relationship because of that was, you know, on and off and it was stressful and hard. And then I’m trying to start a business and I think that the older I got and like the longer I stayed in California too, it was a hard place for me to live.
And, you know, it is super stressful. I mean, you’re living in a place where it’s so expensive and, you know, for me, it’s like I’m living paycheck to paycheck and you work 24/7 just in order to be able to, you know, write a $2,000 check for your rent alone. And it was just like, the longer I stayed out there, the more I was like my, you know, work-life balance is non-existent and quality of life was not good. And, yeah, I was in just a bad place like in general. And once moving back out here, I do feel like I was able to, you know, kind of regain like a sense of myself, and granted, it’s been longer, like when was that, 2013, so it’s been, you know, five, five-and-a-half years since that time that, you know, I’ve been able to work through a lot of my own shit and feel more confident with like who I am as a person.
Yeah, I mean there’s a ton of different stuff that attributes to that, but I think too just like the pace of life here, in general, and the energy, you know, out there, it’s so like, go, go, go. And it’s like every man for themselves and I always…this isn’t true for everybody from California, but I usually like tell people when I’m talking about, you know, living in California and relationships in California whether that’s professional or friendship or, you know, romantic, it’s like relationships don’t exist without somebody wanting something else from the other person because it’s very much like a dog-eat-dog world out there.
You know, everybody’s trying to climb to the top of the social ladder that like for what, you know, when you finally reach the top, like, what is it for, but it’s like, you know, in here, like relationships are just different, like, I’m a very intentional person. And so like when I have friends, I want to know them and I want to know who they are. And I feel like out there everything is very surface leveled, much more so.
And so like that was really hard for me too is like I just, you know, a lot of like how I…like, what we just talked about, the different love languages and stuff like one of my big thing is quality time, but like just being able to connect with somebody because I am like an emotional person and intentional person and, you know, I mean the entire lifestyle out there was very different from like how I was raised and just how I am as a person and it was great when I was like younger and right out of college. And it was like, yeah, there’s all these things to do and all of these places to go, and then it was like the older I got, I was just like, you know, my priorities changed.
But, yeah, having like different intentions in relationships and just people and, you know, a slower-paced life has really helped, you know, my anxiety. When I do feel like I’m go, go, go, and I don’t have a second to breathe then it’s like, you know, that stirs up my stress and my anxiety. And here when it’s just like a little bit more laid back than it’s just like that’s helped a lot, you know. I mean, living out there, everybody’s like packed on top of each other. And here it’s, like, I can walk outside and I have four acres, you know, and my dogs are running around and it’s quiet, and it’s just way more relaxing. But I do feel way better here than I did out there for sure.
Tiffany: No, I can tell. Like, there’s a huge difference. I mean, granted, like, yeah, you had a lot going on. And plus it’s, like I said earlier, California is not a great place to start a business. Everybody knows that, but then you have, you know, on top of that like trying to start something in food and like having to deal with the health department. And then on top of paying your home rent, you have crazy retail like commercial prices also. No matter where you are in California really, like, it’s expensive.
Gretchen: It’s ridiculous. And I think I like I always had this pride thing too with like being in California. It’s like, “Oh, if I open up a coffee roastery and shop in California like in the L.A. area then like I’ve made it.” You know, because, like, society’s kind of set this standard of that’s where all of the cool, like, hip things are, you know, and if you can make it there, then you can make it anywhere. And so like for me it’s like kind of this like personal, just like pride thing to have like, “Oh, I have to make it work out here.” And because if I don’t, then I feel like a failure, you know, because everybody goes out to California. And they’re either trying to be in the industry or they’re trying to start something, and it’s really hard for people to do that. And then if they don’t, then they go back to where they came from. And, you know, because they didn’t make it, which is ridiculous. First off, like, exactly what we just talked about, one, it’s super hard to do and it’s extremely expensive and stressful. And it’s like, you know, for what are we doing this for?
And also with anything, like, I mean, there’s so many people and that’s why the markets saturated, but like with anything, you know, there’s 1000 different coffee shops, there’s 1000 different Italian restaurants, there’s 1000 different, you know, ramen places like every single market is supersaturated out there. And then you come to a place like this, and it’s like completely untouched. And it’s been so much more exciting for me because it’s like not only, you know, do I have the ability to open up a shop here and it’s in like financially I can actually do that, but also like, I have the opportunity to create an experience and a product for people who have never tried it, like how much more exciting is that than just…?
Tiffany: Really cool.
Tiffany: It’s a really cool thing to do.
Gretchen: And so, you know, I mean, yeah, I’ve had to get over the fact that like I didn’t fail out there. It was like…
Tiffany: I wouldn’t say you failed either.
Gretchen: Thank you. No, like, I didn’t. It was just like, you know, my life had a different path and Heartbreak had a different path, and it’s been great. And I wouldn’t change it for anything, but yeah, it’s definitely been…and, you know, part of that too is like, you kind of just go back to, like, I mean, this the idea of like, yeah, maybe the universe just had like a different, like…it’s hard out there in general, but maybe it was not much harder for me because that’s not where I was supposed to be, you know. Because here like it has been so much easier, it is easier working like with the city and everything is cheaper here and stuff like that. But I also feel like a portion of that being easy as because this is where, you know, I should be.
Tiffany: I also think it’s easy because you know how hard it is elsewhere too.
Tiffany: Here is an example, like things are a lot harder in California because of all the reasons you mentioned, because it’s expensive, because the health department is psycho, because it’s saturated, because everybody’s trying to make it there, but part of your adventure to California was to experience that, probably, so you could come back here and have little bit of an easier time.
Gretchen: No, that’s definitely true.
Tiffany: Because, like, had you started in whenever you got back to California, like 2013…
Tiffany: …if you would just come back to Oxford, like you may have had a difficult time with the things that you’re going through right now. If you had an experience like how difficult California was, I don’t know if I’m saying that right.
Gretchen: No, no, no. No, you’re absolutely right, like, had I not tried to open up a business when I was in California and had I tried to do that here whether I had been in California or not, it would still be difficult, the process is still difficult. You know, so many different things that you have to deal with from, you know, getting a business license to getting, you know, dealing with the health department, dealing with all these permits that you need to get in any place that’s difficult.
Because it’s like nobody knows all the shit that you have to get. And, you know, it’s never at the same location and they make you go everywhere to get all these different things, and you’re never gonna have everything and you’re just like, I wish there was one person who would sit me down and just be like, “You have to have this, this and this,” but, you know, it’s like connecting all of these dots. They’re like, “Oh, well next you need to go here and…”
Tiffany: It’s like a treasure hunt.
Gretchen: Yeah, totally. And a treasure hunt where they take all of your money.
Gretchen: You get nothing. But, I mean, yeah, like what you said about like the health department being psycho out there. In Mississippi, there is one health department, and it’s in the capital in Jackson. And because of like budget cuts…
Tiffany: Oh wow, one health department for the entire state.
Gretchen: For the entire state. And they have like, you know, different people in different areas like working, but, you know, out in California you have somebody come and they’re there and they do a very thorough inspection and it’s hard, you know, to pass like and get all this stuff. And here, it’s like it’s so hectic that because of just like budget cuts and stuff like, yeah, their main office is in Jackson, and there’s like a person who works Oxford that she does everything. And so she comes in literally like, “Okay, do you have hot water? Is your refrigerator working?” Pass. It’s crazy. It’s like a five-minute inspection and it’s like, wow, this is…like before I had him come down to my place in Water Valley, I was so stressed out about it. And I’m like, you know, putting up like all of this stuff that they say you need to have. And she was literally in and out of there in five minutes, and I was like, that’s it? That’s crazy. Which is great if you’re a business owner in the service industry, it’s a little alarming as a consumer.
Tiffany: Well, everything works out anyways.
Tiffany: So it’s funny how we have this idea of what like success and failure is or what success and failures are. Because you went out to California to like start a business and you had all these difficulties basically, like, nothing but heartbreak, which is like where the name of your coffee comes from, which I love the name. And then you say like, “Oh, it was a hard pill to swallow having to leave without ‘succeeding,'” like quotes over the word succeeding. And then like you realized you’re not a failure for leaving.
And what I think about this whole, like, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, the same thing in New York, like in California, both places have an insane amount of talent and you’re always competing for that spot. People are really ambitious and because there is so much saturation, you have to stand out even more. But what I’m learning is like it’s not about…like, succeeding doesn’t mean making it there. It means surviving, and like you survived for a long time and you learned a lot.
You got a lot like lot of knowledge and skills under your belt during that time, during those really challenging times. And like part of it is developing the confidence. And also, even during those hard times, you had opportunities and you never took them because they didn’t seem right. And like to be able to say no to things because they’re not what you want and also keep surviving and learning and building is like, I think, a really powerful lesson in confidence in itself.
Gretchen: Yeah. No, I actually…I mean, you’re right. I had a conversation with, you know, my neighbor and good friend Stevie who owns a yoga studio here in town just the other day about, you know, for forever…like, we live in a small town and forever there was, you know, no competition for her yoga studio. And now there’s, you know, all of these kind of like chain yoga like hip places coming in and, you know, they’ve seen the loss in like memberships but not like terrible, you know, and I actually had this whole conversation with her the other day about, you know, for the first time they’re kind of stressing about like their finances and, you know, marketing and getting more people to the studio and all this stuff.
And I was like, you can’t worry too much about it because, you know, especially like, I mean with anything like whether it’s my coffee, whether it’s, you know, the yoga studio, whether you’re a chef and you have a restaurant, like, unfortunately, we live in a society where success is measured by money and wealth, you know, but like what is the definition of success? If you are true to your craft and like your intention and like what you set…Like for me, it’s, you know, the type of coffee that I want to roast and the type of drinks that like I want to craft and the experience that I want to create for people. Like if I never budge from that, that is success and I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do.
And, you know, money should have nothing to do with it. It does, and the even like with money too just like in a day and age with like social media and everybody, you know, the way that we’re able to connect with people, it’s just like trying to stay relevant. That’s like people’s idea of success too is like as long as I’m relevant, as long as people still see me, and as long as they still are, like, you know buying this thing that I’m selling then, like, that’s success.
Like, it’s not, you know, and that’s what I was telling her. I was like, I mean, especially with something like yoga, like, you know, you’ve created a space for, you know, a community that’s like genuine. It’s not about like, you know, coming in here and just having the coolest instructors or, you know, the youngest, hottest people like teaching classes or, you know, it’s like your intention is pure and it’s a beautiful space, and even if your studio was taken away from you and you had to, you know, have people come to your house and like do yoga there, like, you’ve never budged from being genuine and true to what you believe. And like that should be what our society measures success by.
Tiffany: I agree with you. And I think even if it came to that…let’s just keep using Stevie’s example. At some point, you’re going to…like, here’s what I believe. For the people who were members at her studio and changed membership because of these other studios that are coming in, those people were gonna be the people that came and went anyways, they’re not the diehards. The diehards will stick with it. And even if that group dwindles down to like, you know, three people, like you said, you do yoga at home, but eventually because it’s such a unique thing, like word will spread, people will bring their friends, they’ll know the essence of the place is different than what they’re getting somewhere else, and they’ll either be attracted to it or they won’t. The more you stay like true to yourself, the more people who are also true to that will be able to find you. And so, like, you are really good example of never giving up. And so like if you just never give up then eventually it’ll all work out.
Gretchen: Well, yeah. And I think, yeah, you eventually kind of create the support system in the community that you need to be successful. I mean, that was one of the main things that I noticed like once I started here versus like in California. The amount of people who truly like believed in me and what I was doing and supported it was insane. Like, it was a beautiful thing, and I was shocked by it. But, like, it was awesome. And those people still, you know, support me. But, I mean, yeah, it’s exactly, you know, what you’re saying is like the people who…and those are the people like you want to support you and be around you, but the people who are truly interested in like supporting you and your craft and what you do, like, they will always, you know, be there. And that’s kind of what you eventually end up creating like that network of people. And, you know, it usually takes a while to get there, and to create that. And you’re continuously doing that.
But, you know, when you start to alter, you know, your intention or what you set out to do is when it’s like, sure, you might blow up and you might be a fad for a moment. And you might have more followers on Instagram, and you might, you know, sell more coffee, like, wholesale coffee to, you know, multi-roaster shops for a while, but like eventually, I think that will fade, you know. And I think creating something that is more sustainable, you know, for a long period of time versus just making a ton of money and then it dying or fading out is way more successful, you know, and way more, I can’t think, rewarding, you know, in the end, but unfortunately, we still have to make money to live.
Gretchen: And that’s the hard part is, you know, finding that line between not, you know, staying true to like your intention and your craft but then also like, you know, being able to make a living doing that.
Tiffany: I mean, like, I actually dream of being so comfortable with somebody that I could just lay down and close my eyes while I talk with them. You know, like, I dream about having these types of relationships and here I am just living the dream.
Gretchen: Well, I’m glad. I’m glad that you feel like comfort.
Tiffany: Well, I mean, I have known you for like a while and although I haven’t seen you in like, you know, a few years but back in the day, you know, we used to hang out a lot.
Gretchen: It’s true. Good time.
Tiffany: Like, I’ve always felt like really comfortable around you. But, you know, sometimes I interview people that I don’t know very well or like they’re in the business community and they’re like in a suit, you know, like across a table from me, and I’m like, I just want to lay down right now. I would just be so much more comfortable if I could lay down right now.
Gretchen: Yeah. I’m glad that you feel relaxed with me enough to lay down on my couch and you can close your eyes if you want to. But, I feel like it’s funny because I used to get that way too and like, you know, I mean, some people are way more uptight and some people are relaxed. But nowadays, it’s like my personality is just like I don’t…it’s not that I don’t take anything too seriously but it’s like, to some extent, there’s not a point to be like that serious about some stuff too. And so I’m like, everybody just needs to chill the fuck out.
But I was like, when I first started going to my chiropractor and I was like…she was very like…you know, I’ll just like joke about stuff or like be dumb and at first she was kind of like…she’s young and she’s a girl and I think, you know, part of it is just like being in that industry is hard to begin with and to be respected, you know. And so she was like very, kind of, professional at first, and with like this re-corrective therapy I was doing, it was three times a week and so I would see her Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and it’s 36 sessions. And so we became tight real quickly.
But I joked around at first and I was like, “You’re gonna be so annoyed and sick and tired of me.” And she was like all professional, and she was like, “No, I won’t.” And now, it’s just funny because she finally kind of like loosened up and got laid back. And now we’re like buddies. I saw her in Home Depot the other day. And because I’m injured and I can’t go now and I just yelled across Home Depot, and I was like, “Do you miss me?” She’s like, “Yeah, not at all.” But anyways, yeah, like people are too serious, I can’t take seriously.
Tiffany: I know, it’s tough. I mean, my humor is a little different than other peoples, like, I have like a dry sense of humor. I’ll say things that I think are funny in my head, and I’ll say them out loud and like other people usually don’t get it. And so like, I agree. I’ve taken myself even less seriously since the last time you knew me.
Tiffany: I think it’s just a better way to live.
Gretchen: I do too. I mean, yeah, like because that’s the thing. I mean, it’s what we talked about earlier to like really nobody knows what they’re doing. We’re all just here, we’re all trying to figure it out, and nobody’s better than anybody else even though they think they are. And I’m like, everybody just needs like to relax and laugh and, you know, that’s just kind of how I try to live my life and just deal with other people in general. I’m like, I’m not gonna take it too seriously because in the grand scheme of things, none of this matters.
Tiffany: So true. I want to go back to…this is a really good segue because you’re talking about how your chiropractors like was, you know, like very serious and professional because of like maybe who she was in the industry. But our industry is dominated by men, and they’re usually like older men. Not unlike the coffee shop scene, it’s a little bit different, but still like mostly male-owned, mostly male-operated, like, how do you find…and honestly, there are not a whole lot of women roasters. How do you find being like a woman in a male-dominated industry? Like an older industry also, coffee is an older industry.
Gretchen: Yeah. At first, it was tough. And, you know, we got a bunch of backlash, like, being two young girls like, you know, starting, and especially like me being a roaster, like, starting this coffee company. And, you know, even just like the scene around L.A., it was like, everybody knew who we were, but it was very much like, they don’t know what they’re doing. Like, she’s never trained under anybody, like, you know, they’re obviously like not capable of creating good coffee because, you know, they hadn’t been in the scene long enough or, you know, they don’t know certain people and all of this. It’s very much like just this like boys club, and if you’re not in it, then like, you’re not good.
And even since we started in like 2013, so like in the past 5 years, there has been a large growth in women playing different roles in the industry, and even as roasters. I mean, it’s still very much, you know, male-dominated, but there are a lot more women popping up here and there, you know, who are roasters. I mean, I just kind of had to tune out the noise, you know, from the get-go. I was like, “I don’t really care what everybody’s saying.” And, you know, I like my coffee and there’s other people who are buying it and it is what it is, you know. Yeah, I was just trying to do my own thing.
But I do feel like I had never really gotten too involved with like Specialty Coffee Association of America or maybe even Roasters Guild and stuff like that because of that. I already kinda felt like an outsider, and granted, I’m not going to not feel like an outsider if I don’t, you know, try to get more involved with these things. But I did very much feel kind of like pushed out from the beginning, so I didn’t ever really have a desire for that. But I think even more so than it just being like a boys club, I feel like specialty coffee, in general, had this kind of uppity, like, you know, snootiness about it. You know, it’s like all the sudden these baristas are wearing lab coats and they’re better than everybody else because they can pull an espresso shot. It’s like, what, anybody could do that really.
And so like that was my main thing with starting Heartbreak was, you know, I would go into all of these…I mean, I went into this one shop in Long Beach and I asked for a macchiato. But I was leaving the shop and I asked him if I could have it in a to-go cup. And they looked at me and they were like, “Do you even know what a macchiato is?” I was like, “Yes, I do know what it is and I’m sorry that I’m wanting it…like, I have to go and I need to get it in a paper cup instead of a ceramic.” But like just kind of this whole like idea of like, oh, I’m way more educated on coffee than you. And there was this total disconnect of like having really good coffee and then having good like customer service, which shouldn’t be a thing but it very much was.
And so like for me, from the get-go, I was like, how do I bridge like being able to educate people on coffee without sounding like…you know, without pushing them away and sounding like they can’t, you know, come in or like ask me a question without them feeling dumb about it, and then also like creating like a really good product? And so I think even more so than, you know, just feeling kind of out of place being a female, it was just feeling out of place in general because I felt like I didn’t fit in with these people who were just like very pretentious about their coffee.
Tiffany: I mean, I had a very short…I’ll tell you about my experience being a girl…like our business is majority women-owned. And I don’t think a lot of people know that, but like, the men like to think that they like ran it. So like my brother, when we started Barista Lab, he was like the guy who was like making all the decisions. So we had like a little bit of an intro into the coffee world because of that, and that’s how we got involved with like Handsome Coffee. And there is a lot of women in the industry. But for some reason, I feel like it’s so male-driven.
Gretchen: Well, and I mean, I think that’s still too just the world that we live in, in any industry, where it’s like men are still…like, they’re the ones who are taken seriously. You know, and I’m sure you experienced running a business differently than I did because, for me, it was two women, so neither one of us were taken seriously. But for you, it was probably, you know, it was you and your brother. And so your brother was the one who people took seriously more or like because he was a man, like he was the one that needed to take care of the problems or if people had questions and stuff that they went to him, because automatically, it’s just like that’s what you do.
And it’s like, I mean, I just feel like that, in general, like existing on this earth as like still a younger female, like, nobody takes me seriously. I mean, I went in and buy a car one time and I had cash and I told the guy like, “Yes, I’m buying this car and I’m paying cash.” And he left in the middle of a sale because he just didn’t take me seriously. And granted, I was like 23 at the time, but still I’m like…but it is. Like even just the other day I was on the phone and I had to call because we were having a shipment delivered to Uptown. And I had to call the shipping company and like, I got this text, it was like, “Call this number so we can set up a time to, you know, to deliver your shipment.”
I called them in then I was talking to some guy and he transferred me over to somebody else. And it was a girl and she answered the phone and she said, “Good afternoon, Mr. Uptown.” And I said, “Thanks?” And she goes, “Oh, I mean Mrs. Uptown.” And literally, my response was, “Well, that’s pretty sexist coming from a female.” But it’s just, you know, I mean, it’s just that like that is still in the mindset of like…and before I bought into the coffee shop, Uptown, it was a husband-wife duo who owned it. And the husband technically, yes, owned 50% of it but was never, like, was not involved.
He’s an attorney and his name is on some of the stuff, but like was never around the shop, it was mainly his wife who would run it and be around, and still like everybody who would like call about stuff would ask for Robert, you know. Even though, there’s two names on it, it’s like, I’m gonna ask for the man because he’s obviously the one dealing with stuff. He’s the one who’s gonna get shit done who I need to talk to.
Tiffany: So interesting. And everybody knows that, like, women do most of the work, right?
Gretchen: Oh, yeah. I mean, maybe not everybody, but…
Tiffany: So here’s a realization I had. It must be really tough being a man. Here we go. Let me break this down because we determined that nobody knows what they’re doing, right?
Tiffany: We’re all just in this world, we don’t know why, we don’t know what we’re doing, we’re just trying to live, and like trying to be happy. And like everybody looks to men to make decisions and to know what they’re doing. And they have to pretend that they know what they’re doing.
Gretchen: It’s true.
Tiffany: Because everybody depends on them to know what they’re doing. By everybody, I mean, like all the people who aren’t us, like us. So to have that assumption and to always be asked and then have to live up to it, like it must be a lot of pressure.
Gretchen: Probably is.
Tiffany: That’s something we don’t really have to deal with as women. It’s overcoming the…
Gretchen: But the difference is they’re still making more money than us for dealing with that bullshit.
Tiffany: I mean that’s true. It’s probably a lot of reasons why that’s still true that I don’t get into because, like, I don’t have the energy to deal with things outside of myself. And so that’s, like, probably a reason why I don’t, you know, like, I try not to listen to the news or like, I try not to…I’m like on social media. It’s because like, I have so much going on, like, in here, in this solar system, this one tiny solar system that I have with myself.
Gretchen: One-woman solar system.
Tiffany: Yeah. But…
Gretchen: I mean I hear you. I mean, I’m the same way, like I have social media for work, but like that’s it, I don’t have a personal account. I don’t like anything that it represents, and I don’t like kind of this…
Tiffany: One thing that you mentioned yesterday, or maybe it was today, I don’t remember. Yesterday was kind of a blur. So one pro of starting Heartbreak here, not starting because it’s been started already, but like bringing specialty coffee here to Oxford is that you’re introducing something new to the community. But, like, another challenge is like in introducing something new, you’re like having to re-calibrate everybody’s taste buds.
Tiffany: Because people don’t really know what specialty coffee is. And by not knowing, they don’t know that it’s better in taste because it’s different, and usually different means worse, and also it’s more expensive. And so, like, what are some more like pros and cons and like, how are you dealing with the challenges? Because having an open land and like an open space to do whatever you wanted to do it how you want it has its pros and its cons. It’s like, there’s always like an opposite side to things. I actually think it’s really cool that you have Uptown because it could serve as like a middle ground as a place where you can start to develop and start to teach while also giving people their comforts that they’re used to.
Gretchen: Yeah. I think it goes back to, you know, kind of what I was saying as far as like, you can’t go from zero to 100 and you just have to take steps that are going in the right direction. And so obviously, you know, me coming here, I couldn’t just open up a specialty shop that has a super limited menu that has, you know, no flavored drinks or anything, because, literally, nobody would come. You know, it was like only pour-overs and stuff like that. I mean, that is so far from…there’s a lot. I mean, it’s college town so there’s a lot of people who do live here who are familiar with specialty coffee because they either have it in their, you know, hometown cities or they’ve, you know, traveled to places that have it, but on a daily basis and part of their routine, they’re not used to that.
And so it’s been like a slow process, but it’s also been, I think, the right way to do it as far as like what you said, just kinda slowly introducing people to what specialty coffee is. And even before I had Uptown and even before I was roasting for them, you know, I was roasting Heartbreak and I was selling it at the farmers’ markets and I would do pour-overs and stuff there and it gave me an opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with people. Whereas, like, if I had had a shop and somebody came in and they saw, you know, the menu or they saw that, oh, wow, this bag of coffee that…you know, this 12-ounce bag of coffee cost $20, like, I’m not like buying that, that’s ridiculous. And I’m not there to have a conversation with somebody as far as like, well, the reason that it’s a little bit more expensive is because of this, this, and this.
And, you know, part of it is just educating people. And if I had somebody else there in a shop who was behind the counter and they didn’t really care about educating people, they were just there to get a paycheck and to work, you know, then you lose out on all these opportunities to, you know, just have a conversation with people about why it’s different. And, you know, why it technically, you know, it is better but everybody has different tastes, you know? And that’s what I’ve had to realize too is like also a huge part of being a roaster is it’s not just about like me and what I like. You know, at some point I have to cater to, not everybody, but I have to cater to a larger population of people than just me and my tastes. And I can do that without compromising, you know, my intention.
But, yeah, I mean, you know, what you said about Uptown too is great because I’ve had a space that is more of like a second wave coffee shop, but with specialty beans and it’s roasted lighter. And so you know, you can come in there and you can’t necessarily get a pour-over but you can get a light roasted, you know, Ethiopian coffee that super bright and floral, or you can get, you know, your mocha frappuccino with whipped cream if you want. And, you know, with having the coffee there and we have a bunch of different like blends and single origins that we serve on drip and stuff like that, it’s slowly, you know, having the opportunity to have this conversation with people, but also to, you know, change their palates and just, you know, have them experience coffee in a different way than they had for their entire lives.
And it’s been more good than it has bad for sure. But I think, you know, the main thing is just opening up that conversation and like educating people on it. Because, you know, coffee is coffee, it’s just something, you know, that doesn’t taste great and it’s just something that you make every morning and you drink it for the caffeine because it helps you. It’s nothing more than that, you know, to so many people because they’ve never realized that it was anything more than that.
And now it’s like, yeah, you can experience coffee in a completely different way than what you thought. And, you know, the thing is like you’re gonna have people who don’t ever want to experience it that way, and they’re not ever gonna like lighter roasted coffee, you know, and that’s fine. It’s been a process and it’s been…I mean, I guess it’s been a year-and-a-half now that I’ve been back here, but also made a lot of progress in that year-and-a-half, which has been really good.
Tiffany: What’s that, is that a duck?
Gretchen: It’s a dog.
Tiffany: Yeah, one thing I’ve learned about coffee, like in the specialty coffee industry for a little while and when you’re in something like that, it seems big. But then when you kind of step outside of it, you realize how small still is, how small it really is.
Tiffany: And, yeah, a lot of people still have not and won’t experience the kind of coffee that we’ve been living with, or like, they may never get it depending on like where they are. And so if you’re not exposed to it, you don’t really know. Like, living in California and like living in New York, you kind of take advantage of, like, what you have at your fingertips. You know, like, you have good coffee anywhere, you have, you know, like certain types of foods and stuff. But then you kind of get outside of your area and you realize like you are living in a bubble. Life is not like that everywhere else.
Gretchen: Yeah. No, totally. And, you know, I think too, like, people just also like prioritize things differently like in their lives and like what’s important to them and like what’s not important to them and, you know, some people are foodies and they get a lot of joy out of food, and some people do that with like coffee or beer or wine or whatever. And like, you know, for me, it’s like, yeah, I’m really into coffee. I really enjoy it. I really…you know, it’s exciting to me to try these different beans from all over the world and some people are just like, you know, it’s not really my thing.
But I think, you know, too, I’ve realized that…and I don’t know if I want you to put this in there or not, but I’m still gonna say it. But like, at the risk of sounding like an asshole, I feel like a lot of people are just mediocre, you know, in like…and I don’t know if it’s just because they haven’t been exposed to different things, but like, they’re just okay with mediocre things.
Tiffany: That’s a really good point.
Gretchen: Like, I go to these restaurants and I’m like, it’s fine, you know. But, like, it should be better. You know, your coffee shops or whatever and then everybody else is like, “Wow, this was fantastic.” And it’s like, I don’t know if just because like, you know, when I make food at home, like, I do it, you know, with the intention of it being like good and, you know, I want this experience. And so I feel like I’m disappointed by a lot of things. But I feel like everybody else is just like, “Yeah, this is great,” because I don’t know if it’s just they don’t know anything else different or like, I don’t know, but I find that more and more and more, it’s just like, everything’s just like mediocre. It’s hard to find something that’s really great.
Tiffany: I know exactly what you mean. I think a lot of people don’t get too deep into things and maybe it’s because we share this sensitivity but I can’t agree more. There’s like people are just okay with stuff that I would not be okay with. Like, I don’t mean to…maybe I am really picky, maybe I do have really high expectations, maybe my standards for quality are like beyond normal. But to me, the details are what makes an experience whole, like, the details more and more, I’m finding like the things that really bother me about places are places that gloss over the details.
Like, I love good service. I really, really love good service. And sometimes good service is just about the person being able to predict what it is that you need. As a customer coming into your space and like, you know, like if I don’t get that at some places I’m just like, “Dude, like, I didn’t really like that experience.” But it just takes that little bit, like a little bit in the…and one thing is coming to mind right now. I was sitting in a breakfast, like a learning breakfast, it was like where we had breakfast and then there was somebody like talking. The person who was talking, and I don’t remember what he’s talking about, but this is what he did.
He asked a question and he’s like, “I want you to stand up…” like…I don’t even remember what it was, but it was like stand up in the room if you do something, and it was like something really general. Like, everybody in the room would have been able to stand up. But only two people stood up. It was me and like a guy in the table in front of me. And he goes, “All right, like in a room full of people who do this one thing, only two people had what went the extra couple inches. Like, that’s just an example of your competition. The competition isn’t the person who’s sitting next to you, it’s the person who will go the extra two inches. And it’s only two inches, but that two inches makes a world of difference.”
And it was just like, you know, and that’s what I think about going deep into something. You don’t have to go all the way down to the bottom of the sea. You just have to go a couple more feet down the surface and you see an entirely different world. And that’s how I feel about quality and about things that are set apart from other things. And I think a lot of people are okay with being at that surface.
Gretchen: Yeah, totally.
Tiffany: Okay. One question…I wanna give a shout out to Blue Bottle because I really liked what you said earlier. So I’m just gonna ask you again…like, it’s funny because I worked at Handsome and then Blue Bottle bought Handsome and then you worked at Blue Bottle. And I actually didn’t even realize it. I didn’t realize you worked there, but I lived like two blocks away and I came in and I saw you working there. I was like, “Yo, what’s up?”
Gretchen: Yeah, I remember. Didn’t you like walk by or something, you were like, “Wait…”
Tiffany: Yeah. So how was working at Blue Bottle? What did you learn? Was that like your first, like, third-wave coffee experience?
Gretchen: It was my second.
Tiffany: I know Heartbreak…there’s Heartbreak and then there’s…
Gretchen: Not Heartbreak. I worked at Steelhead in Long Beach, which is a multi-roaster shop, and it was specialty coffee. But, yes, I mean, I guess it was kind of my first like of the bigger named, you know, like, specialty shops. I worked there for about nine months, and this was at a period of time where I was trying to decide what I wanted to do. At that point, like Michelle was kind of done with Heartbreak, and I was like, “Okay, what am I gonna do with my life? What am I gonna do with Heartbreak?”
And so I kind of put it on the back burner at that time and somehow I had come across…and I was working at Steelhead too and I had come across…or maybe I was already done at that point. I think I was already done. I came across a job posting where Blue Bottle was hiring a roaster in L.A. And at that point, I had been roasting for a couple years, I think. And I was like, there is no…
Tiffany: Was it at their downtown facility?
Gretchen: Yes, yeah.
Tiffany: Okay, so at the old Handsome location.
Gretchen: And so I was like, there’s no way in hell I’m gonna get this job but I’m gonna apply for it anyways. Their interview process was lengthy, and I had to go through like three different people. And I made it to the last stage and it was me and some other guy who had been a roaster for like 10 years, I don’t know where he was from. And we talked with one of the guys, I don’t remember his exact title, but he was over in Japan like helping do some of their stuff over there.
Tiffany: What did he look like?
Gretchen: I didn’t…it was a phone interview, so I’m not sure. But that was like the final interview and I ended up not getting the roasting position. But like, you know, they called me back and they were super professional about it. And we’re just like, you know, “Basically, we went with this guy only solely because he had like more experience than you, but we still think that you’re a great fit for like Blue Bottle. And if you want, then we’ll find you a barista position. And then in like about six months, we’re gonna hire like a roaster apprentice. And if at that point, you want that job, then like it’s yours.”
And so it was really great because, you know, they weren’t like, “Eh, sorry, you didn’t get the job.” But it was like, “You’re fantastic. You know, we want to continue developing like your roasting skills. If that’s what you want to do, we want to give you that opportunity. Until then, we’ll still give you a job and like an opportunity.” And so I ended up getting a job as a barista at the Venice Cafe. And I loved it, like, it was the hardest coffee job that I had had because like our shifts were like full, like, eight-hour shifts.
And, you know, all the other like shops that I’d worked in, it was kind of like, you know, you have your hours where it’s really busy in the morning, you know, and then it kind of dies down around lunchtime, and then you’ve got your rush from like 3:00 to 5:00 when people are getting like either out of school or off work, and then before they go home and have to finish off their day. But, you know, being on Abbot Kinney in Venice it’s like constant, constant busy. And…
Tiffany: I think the Venice as a city has the most tourism like year-round out of like any other city in the world, I think, or something like that. It has some ridiculous, I forget the stat because I don’t remember it anymore, but it has a ridiculous amount of like…plus in Venice, like, nobody works.
Gretchen: That’s true.
Tiffany: You know, everybody just goes out for coffee.
Gretchen: Yeah, it’s totally true.
Tiffany: Hangs out at a café with somebody else at another café all day. That’s literally how people live in Venice.
Gretchen: No, totally. And…
Tiffany: Anyways, that’s my perspective. Maybe it’s not true but…
Gretchen: Yeah. Like, it was constant. You know, I mean, it was long days, but…I feel like I should let my dog in so he doesn’t keep whining in the background, but maybe he’ll be quiet. And then on top of it, you know, I was commuting from Long Beach to Venice, which is only 30 miles, but it would take me 2 hours to get home every night like on the 405. I literally like had 11-hour workdays by the time…you know, from when I got up and had to leave my house to commute up there and then by the time I got home. Like that was pretty terrible.
But like, working for them as a company, it was the first time ever that I worked in a shop that made you feel like…not just made you feel, but it was the reality that like being a barista actually could be…like you can make a living doing it. Like, you’re not just making minimum wage and tips and like barely surviving, but it was like, “No, we’re gonna start you off on quite a bit more than minimum wage and, you know, you’re making a good amount in tips. You have benefits like, you know, we had health insurance through them and several different options but you could have health, dental, and eye insurance…eye or vision, insurance for your eyes.
And then also too, like because that kind of dynamic, like, was set from the top down of like, we will take care of the people who work for us, like, you’re part of, you know, our family and we’ll take care of you. In return, like the workers and the baristas who worked at these shops were very much like, you know, we’ll take care of everybody else. Like, I had never even…like even at, you know, Uptown, which I have now, and I’m trying to, you know, set kind of this same tone that Blue Bottle did, and they did really well with just like…you know, even as simple as like, you know, somebody’s sick and they need their shift covered. You know, like, I have these employees and they’re like, “Oh, sorry, not gonna cover your shift. I don’t have anything else to do, but I just don’t wanna work.”
But also like with that, like, people take advantage of the fact of like, well, I don’t want to work either. And so I’m gonna say that I’m sick and I need to get my shift covered. But because like from the top down, it kind of had this like family mentality of like everybody’s taking care of one another. Like, nobody took advantage of the fact of like, “I don’t wanna work today,” or, you know, if somebody did need their shift covered, like it was never…like, “Sure, like, I got your back, and I know that you’ll have mine.”
And it was really the only place that I had been where like…is was a very professional feel, but also very, you know, kind of this like family dynamic. And, you know, I mean, I think there are seven or eight cafes in L.A. now. But like, everybody knew everybody from other cafes because they very much made it like, you know, they had different events like whether it’s going to a Dodgers game or going to…you know, having a holiday party or whatever.
And they very much like respected you and your time too. You know, when there would be staff meetings or whatever, it’s like, “Yeah, I’m sorry, you guys, you know, you need to come in because we have to have this meeting, but you’re gonna get paid for it and then we’re also gonna feed you dinner, you know, that we’re gonna have catered to it.” And so just like they were…I’m so grateful that I had that experience. I really loved the people who I worked with and I loved working for them because, yeah, it was just really the first place that I worked that I was like, I felt taken care of.
And that’s, you know, huge and it especially now like as a business owner, you know, I have one shop now and I’ll have another one but like, I want to do my best to like, you know, create that same like experience and intention. And granted, like Blue Bottles way bigger company than I am. You know, they have the financial means to be able to do some of this more than I do just having one shop, but still, like kind of instilling that mentality of like, I’m gonna take care of you guys, if you in return take care of my shop, like, is huge. And it goes back to the same thing that we’ve talked about as far as like, you know, creating just like having an ounce of like customer service like within, you know, your business or your shop. Like it should not be difficult, but it is, you know, for people. And so, yeah, it was…I mean, I would still…like if I hadn’t have done Heartbreak, I think I would for sure so be working for Blue Bottle. Like, I thought that they were a great company to work for. And I was really glad that I had that experience with them.
Tiffany: I think that’s really cool. Because one of the things in coffee, by things, I mean difficulties in being like a shop owner, is the turnover of employees. And so I think it’s really cool to see that Blue Bottle kind of like predicted that and accounted for employee turnover by providing the things that employees need to incentivize them staying and like adding value to the company. And like investing in them, in the employees.
Gretchen: Yeah, and I think that’s one of the smartest like investments that you can have in your business. You know, I’ve worked for so many places that the mentality…I just spit…the mentality was, you know, this is just kind of like a holding place for these, you know, young kids to figure out, like what they want to do with their life. You know, so I’m just gonna pay ’em minimum wage and, yeah, we’re gonna have this huge turnover rate, but it doesn’t really matter. And I don’t need to take care of them because they’re only temporary anyways and then I’ll find more.
And if they get, you know, a little too…they ask for too much then like, there’s plenty of other ones that, you know, want this job and that I can pay minimum wage for and take advantage of, and they can work for me and it’s not a big deal, and like I hate that. Because, you know, with that I mean that sets the tone for their work ethic, and the attitude within the shop, and how they treat each other, and how they’re gonna…you know, for me, like, if that’s my shop, and that’s something that I’ve created and I’m entrusting like, you know, even like for me like hiring somebody that I want…you know, they’re not just a worker, but it’s somebody who’s representing me and, like, representing my product. And, you know, I want them to take care of that and care, you know.
And so in order to have that, like, I feel like, I mean, to me, it’s a no-brainer, it’s like, you have to create that, you know, dynamic and feel of like, yeah, like, this is a place that we all take care of each other, and you guys are gonna be good, you know, yeah, still do your job and take care of the things that you need to take care of. But in return, like, I’m never gonna take advantage of you for doing that, because what good is that gonna do me?
Tiffany: Yeah. I think that’s a great mentality to have. I talk about service a lot, but the best service that I’ve ever had has been in Vietnam. For some reason I think that country, and I don’t know what it is, but they’re all very service-oriented. But let’s take even that example and zero in on one, like, hotel that I stayed at in particular. And it’s called La Siesta Trendy [SP] or something like that. And it’s part of the like EHG, like, Hospitality Group and there’s one like president. And I dream to interview him because I need to know how he formed this company so that every single person trickled down to the very, like, I don’t wanna say bottom, but like, from the top to the bottom, I need to know how he infused this service mentality into people.
Because it’s such a unique experience being at this place, they’re always…and it seems like so basic, but I mean, like always willing to help. You’re never, ever troubling them. Like these are things that are like normal, like should be service standards, but they also go like above and beyond. Like, “Oh, like our restaurant is really good, like, it serves traditional Vietnamese food. But if you want to go eat like out on the street or something like I can take you a couple restaurants. And if you don’t know where they are, I will show you.” It’s like what employee would go above and beyond like that?
And it wasn’t just one person. Every single person in the hotel would go above and beyond their job description to serve you. And so, like, my dream is to interview him just to see how he’s been able to infuse this mentality into every single person who, like, works at this company or works at this hotel because I think it’s really unique quality. And you’re saying the same thing about Blue Bottle. It’s like, an infusion of a family mentality, and respect.
Gretchen: Yeah. And I think a lot of it, yeah, is treating…you know, there’s usually in businesses a huge disconnect from like the top to the bottom. And also just like, yeah, exactly what you said, like a lack of respect for people. And, you know, if you want somebody to love their job and love what they do then, like, I mean, yeah, you need to create that environment for them. Another one of my big things with specialty coffee, I remember from the beginning, you know, when I was first trying to get into it, I kept seeing all of these job postings for, you know, we’re hiring, we’re hiring, we’re hiring, but you must have experience in specialty coffee.
And I don’t know if this is true or not, but like kind of what I attributed to this lack of customer service and this kind of pretentiousness of like I’m better because I’m behind the bar and you’re in front of it is exactly that of like…I’ve gone the complete opposite way because like, you can teach anybody to pull an espresso shot. You can teach anybody to do a pour-over, you can educate anybody on different facts and things, but you cannot make them be a good or bad person. You know, like, you can’t teach customer service to somebody.
So if I hire somebody who I know like is a good person, you know, then like, I have a good person who I can teach to pull a good espresso shot. But if I hire an asshole, they’re always gonna be an asshole. They’re just gonna be an asshole who can make a cup of coffee. It’s like, I don’t want that. But you know, I think so many people are so concerned with, I need somebody who’s qualified, who’s qualified, who’s qualified and who has the skills. But, like, to me, it’s like, yeah, there’s all of these variables that can be learned. But like, I mean, especially being in the service industry, like the number one skill is like you need to like have good customer service skills, you know and just be able to talk to people and deal with people, and not get frustrated. Like, if you don’t want to be around people then it’s not really the industry for you.
You know, that’s what Blue Bottle, their application process was super lengthy. Like, I went through several different people, you know, and I think they’re very much like, I don’t know, what you know their qualifications are and what they’re each looking for. But I do think that they have for sure kind of this like screening process of like, is this person a good fit? Like, is their personality a good fit for this? Because somehow, like it worked, and it’s like that at all their cafes.
Tiffany: I agree with you. Coincidentally, a friend of a friend was visiting New York. I had met her already, but her fiancée and me and our mutual friend went out to dinner. And, you know, at some point, when you know somebody you get into that question of like what do you do, maybe, it’s not the initial thing and it’s probably not for people like you and me, but it came up in conversation somehow. And it turned out that he worked for Blue Bottle. Now, I don’t remember what he did, but it wasn’t on the coffee side, it was like something else, tech or something like that.
And I asked him, I said…and he actually worked directly with Michael Phillips. So I was like, “Oh, hey, do you work…like, do you know Michael Phillips?” He’s like, “Oh, yeah, like, I’m on call with Michael all the time.” And I was like, “You need to tell him like Tivo [SP] says what’s up?” And don’t say anything else, just say that and he’ll trip out. But it got into like Blue Bottle as a company. And I was like, you know what, something really unique about Blue Bottle is the type of people they attract because it seems like they’re all on the same page.
And another thing that makes me really curious is like, how do they get…and at the time, it’s when I started hiring people too for my own company, and I want to know the same thing, like, how do you trickle down that service mentality? How do you get everybody on the same page in a big company? Like, Blue Bottle isn’t a huge ass company, but it’s pretty big, like, for coffee. You know, six locations in L.A., that’s a lot just in one place, but they have places all over the country. And he was like, he said the same exact thing you said, that it was a very lengthy hiring process, which means that they really care about who’s on their team, and to make sure that it’s the right fit. And that’s part of the battle itself, and they’re not afraid to take a lot of time to figure out if the person is the right fit or not.
Gretchen: Yeah, and it’s not even just from like cafe to cafe, but it’s like within the company. Because, like, when hiring somebody for, you know, the Venice Cafe let’s say, like, they would know hiring me for that shop. If for some reason I needed to go to someplace else, it would be an easy fit. You know, because they do that a lot or there’s people, there’s a girl who worked with me in Venice, and she moved to New York, and she got a job, you know, at a cafe in New York, and I guarantee you it was a smooth transition because of that same thing, it was like they know exactly what they’re looking for. And because of that, you know, there’s people who they’ll go over to Japan, just like on vacation and they’ll let them if they’re over there, like, you know, work a couple shifts or shift or two in one of their cafes over there, just for the experience and stuff.
But I guarantee you like I mean, even on the other side of the world, you know, it’s the same thing. It’s an easy fit, and it’s, I mean, yeah, however they’re doing it, they’ve done a hell of a good job. And, you know, it’s one of those things, it’s kind of like, you know, we were talking about earlier is sometimes you have to take a lot more time and effort in something initially to ease up, you know, your stress or to relieve some of that like, which is, I mean, those are the things that like, you know, are probably important to invest time or money or whatever into. Because, in the end, how much smoother is your shop running for years and years and years after that, like, taking the time to do you know, a two or three-week interview process.
And it’s not even just the interview process for them, but like its whole training process too, I mean, it’s a lengthy training process to get everybody on the same page. But I do, I think it’s, you know, one, screening for a certain person, and two, like, you know, respecting them and respecting their time and respecting the fact that like they’ve chosen to work for you and you taking care of them.
You know, hiring somebody who wants to be there, who wants to learn. You know, even from like my shop and my employees, you know, I have two different types of people. I have people who want to be there because it’s easy. It’s an easy job, you know, it really is. And then there’s people who want to be in coffee, and they want to learn more. And I do think Blue Bottle as a company versus like maybe just a mom-and-pop coffee shop is already on a different level because they’re already respected in the coffee community. And people who wanna work there, they wanna learn more about coffee, you know, or they want to be in the specialty coffee scene. And they’re already interested, so they kind of already have like a one up on just, you know, maybe just like a local coffee shop.
But, yeah, hiring people who don’t just want a job, you know, and who don’t just want something that’s easy but genuinely want to learn. The last person that I hired was this guy, and he’s a younger guy, and he’s friends with some of the people who I work with. And usually I’m like, of course, like you guys all want your friends to work here, but that’s usually not a good idea. And one of my employees pulled me aside and she said, “You know that guy like practically worships you.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” And she was like, “Yeah, he thinks you’re like this like coffee genius and he wanted to work for you at your place in Water Valley, and he’s like, really interested in learning more from you.” And I was like, “This guy’s hired.”
Because most of the time like, you don’t have that innate, like, desire of like somebody who’s like, “I want to work under you and I want to work for you because I respect what you’re doing.” And I think having that desire and that quality within somebody is obviously huge, and that’s hard to find too. But, if you find that then that’s huge and I think Blue Bottle too, like, kind of finds that from people too is, yeah, like I want to be there and I want to learn more. It’s not, like, I’m not just coming to work, but I’m coming, you know, to understand this process more or even like, you know, people who want to eventually maybe open up their own coffee shop one day, or be their own roaster.
You know, I think a lot of people steer clear of that because they’re like, “Oh, like, why would I teach them my secrets?” Like, they’re gonna be competition someday and I firmly believe there’s a place for everybody. But, like, somebody who is there because, you know, they wanna learn from you and they wanna better like what you’re doing and, I mean, I think that’s probably too, like, one of the most important, you know, things to look for. Because that, I mean again too, is unteachable.
Tiffany: Right. They care like a step or a couple steps more than your average employee would care about doing stuff.
Tiffany: Yeah, awesome. All right. I have to pee again, so we’re gonna wrap this up. But thank you so much.
Gretchen: You’re very welcome.
Tiffany: I’m really happy I got to come down and visit you, one. But also, I’m glad that we got to record our conversation.
Tiffany: So, thanks for letting me press record.
Gretchen: Come back anytime. You’re welcome.