What did your life look like in the illusion of a post-COVID era? At Coffeebar, there really wasn't a post-COVID time; we were right in the middle of it all year. As I reflect on 2022, I am both inspired and stifled at the same time. The word that sums up last year for me is "paradox," as it was a year of unexplainable opposites. As a society, we had the illusion (or maybe delusion) of freedom, but 2022 was marred with constraints as we ditched our masks only to have everyone we know get COVID again. As a company, we had record sales, but we were plagued by unaccountable losses. As a Coffeebar team, we have never had more support, and yet we all felt helpless and overwhelmed. Personally, I faced the constant battle to be present at home and still provide leadership to the largest team we've ever had at Coffeebar. I felt shackled to my computer, one Zoom meeting after the next. It felt as if I was drowning, and all along, I was missing what really fills my cup: you.
In case you don't read much further, it is important to acknowledge three very important facets of our operation: our team, our guests, and our communities. In 2022, Coffeebar evolved from a "mom and pop" coffee company into a professional organization. You might say that sounds awfully corporate, and I'll retort with, "We are now organized, prepared, and proactive!" We invested in our team, and I am grateful for every person that helped us survive the year. We have an amazing group of "hospitalians" that show up every day with a humble optimism to make you the best possible coffee or bake you the freshest possible pastry. I am also grateful to all of our guests who continued to support us through unprecedented operating difficulties, including limited hours, lack of menu items, and store closures. And last but not least, I want to thank each of our communities for allowing us to serve you! I am continually filled with gratitude and love for all of our eclectic locations in Truckee, Reno, Olympic Valley, Menlo Park, and Redwood City.
The doom & the gloom
Since the pandemic started in March of 2020, over 100,000 restaurants and cafes have closed their doors nationwide. Even with government assistance, running a cafe is extremely difficult. Our razor-thin margins of profit have lately more closely resembled a massive avalanche of losses. Our Mt. Rose location has yet to return to our pre-pandemic hours of operation and sales revenue. The Menlo Park Cafe has faced reduced hours for more than half the year, and we also closed the location for two weeks to train and onboard a new team. Store closures weren't the only hiccups. We spent three months working on a price increase to combat the almost 10% inflation this year, and just weeks after we launched our new pricing structure, our main milk vendor closed its doors, and our milk costs went up 33%. But it wasn't just milk; it was everything. Eggs went up 40%, wine 37%, to-go cups 100% (plus a 25% tariff), rubber gloves up 100%, and to-go boxes 150%. We had to serve coffee in unbranded white cups half the time.
Sourcing product was just crazy because all supply chains were logjammed, but the most difficult aspect of running a business in 2022 was staffing. As a company, we had 160% turnover, so that meant offboarding and onboarding over 270 people in 2022, which was a minimum of $1000 per person in costs. While the workforce, in general, was forced off the couch and back into the job market, it just felt different. Managing this new employment base felt like walking on eggshells when it came to accountability and managing expectations. It was very hard to establish a company culture when most of your day is band-aiding a schedule or training 5 new people all at once.
The hardest part was that all the pressure fell squarely onto the shoulders of our managers, who already have a difficult job. As the year progressed, we recognized that we needed a change. We needed to have the tough conversations, reset expectations, and figure out a way to make it fun to work at Coffeebar again. Because let me tell you, it's not fun when half your teammates don't show up, and you're serving a line of people who expect a timely coffee."
The Dark & The Light
Stanley Kubrick said, "However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light."
As a team, we have a collective century of retail coffee experience, so instead of crying in our cappuccinos, we put our collective heads together and shone the light into the deep end of our problems. We identified some areas of our operations that had room for improvement, and we started with communication, training, and culture. After three years of survival mode, we needed a change in our communication style and strategy.
When you only meet via Zoom, define strategy via email and Slack or text directives, something is missing, usually context, personal connection, and the energy of inspiration. So, we pressed our pants and put away our work pajamas. Training was another area of opportunity that we needed immediate improvement, especially considering the reality of our turnover ratio. Long gone are the days of training one or two people per month, so we needed to solve for training 5-6 new people a week. And ultimately, we needed to reset and redefine our culture. Company culture is how you show up every day to work, whether you are the owner, the delivery driver, or the newest barista. We realized that culture is something that happens 'in the now,' not something framed on a wall. We vowed that we weren't going to stop until every person in the company felt the difference of these changes, no matter what your role. While I recognize these adjustments don't happen overnight, here are some of the cool things we implemented this year!
• We offered a mental wellness platform where any team member could get free yoga classes, meditations, and even massages, personal coaches, or therapy once per month.
• We launched a new gamified training system where people could learn all of the important cultural aspects of Coffeebar and all of the intricate details of what makes us special, all while playing a game on their phone!
• We had our first leadership retreat where we outlined the Annual Operating Plan for 2023, set goals, KPI’s, and communication standards, and, most importantly, gave out much-needed recognition to our over 35 different leaders in the company.
• We launched a new feedback platform that allows our team members to tell us what is going great and where they are struggling with their jobs every week.
• We have an official organization chart with job descriptions for everyone, and most importantly, we have a leader at each of our departments and locations!
• We recognized that we value connection over connectivity and implemented meeting more in person and zooming less.
• We continue to pay for ½ of the health insurance premium for anyone that works 30 hours or more, and we offer our 401k with 4% matching!
I didn’t start Coffeebar thirteen years ago with many aspirations other than I really enjoyed making people feel warm and welcome in my little downtown Truckee café. I loved connecting with our guests and sending them back out into the world better than I found them. What started with one shop in Truckee has evolved into a much larger organization with eight locations, a pizza joint, and almost two hundred team members in three different markets serving a few thousand guests per day. So many people have ‘opted in’ to this brand, our vision, and our welcoming hospitality. I feel honored that we get to inspire so many people with our passions for life and coffee on a daily basis. Thank you for this opportunity, and thank you for always challenging us to be better. The only thing constant in this world is change, or as I like to say, evolution, and my greatest joy is evolving alongside all of you!
Happy New Year.