From the day we opened our doors, Coffeebar was always about more than coffee.
By the time his dream of opening an Italian-style community cafe came true, Greg had already been in the coffee business for over a decade. He’d developed a vision of exactly what he wanted to create. Not just the kind of coffee he wanted to serve, or the vibe of the cafes’ interiors. It was about the culture he intended to build for his guests and for his team.
At the time, the specialty coffee industry was getting more exclusive. “More snooty,” Greg remembers. “I wanted our inclusivity to be more than just a statement. I wanted it to be felt on all levels. I didn’t care if a guest was a CEO or a janitor. I cared about who they were and what they loved.” Coffeebar would be not just welcoming, but a place that would give all its guests and staff an authentic feeling of belonging.
Just before he opened the original Truckee Coffeebar, his first trip to Burning Man gave Greg a final burst of inspiration, and the words to describe it: “Coffeebar would be radically inclusive.”
And if you’re going to be radical, well, it helps to have an Ethos.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “ethos” as the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations. Over our ten-plus years, a true Coffeebar ethos has emerged. (You can see all our awesome beliefs and aspirations here).
One of our core beliefs, “Community is the Family You Choose” resonates more today than ever. As we all clamber out of the pandemic, people are questioning lots of things about their lives. Work lives, especially. The news is full of stories about folks who have “opted out” of jobs and workplaces that they once tolerated, even stepping off established career paths to seek something more meaningful.
What makes one job meaningful and another...notsomuch? What makes a workplace a place you want to spend time? Like to spend time?
Whether you’re making coffee or cars, it always comes down to the people. The right people create a sense of belonging and a feeling of community. The right people make sure you know that you matter, that someone cares about you, and that your contributions are appreciated.
And it takes a lot more than “kumbaya” to give a workplace an authentic sense of community. It takes a lot of work. No one knows this better than John, our COO. He’s one of the humblest, kindest guys you’ll ever meet. He brings a strong empathy to our company culture.
“My first interview with Greg was 13 hours long,” John recalls with a smile. “It included two meals and a lot of really honest dialogue. I could tell very early in the process that we were both deciding, not whether I could do the job, but whether we wanted to choose each other. It’s been the foundation of our relationship: the choice to build a family organism together.”
Lots of companies like to claim they treat employees and customers “like family”. (That platitude is a surefire way to get an eye-roll out of most people.) So how does it really manifest in practice?
“I see it in how we how we lead meetings and even the questions we ask during interviews,” John says. “It’s how we support each other when someone is away from work, in our genuine concern for a person’s well being--even how we send off people who leave.
“On Day 2 of her new job as Operations Manager, Andrea told me, “You guys couldn’t be nicer.”
John says. “It starts there, then usually evolves into family dinners, support and encouragement, sharing, vulnerability, a sense of team, and…ultimately, a feeling of belonging.” (We’re pretty sure John would have made a kick-ass family therapist.)
When you offer a sense of belonging to your team, they in turn can extend it to guests. We think it’s Coffeebar’s secret sauce.
The Belonging Business
Annette, manager of Downtown Truckee, remembers how her predecessor and mentor Georgia led the team. “She made it a point to remind us all we were human--and that was OK. She'd interact with all of us and check in with us. She’d hop on the bar or jump in the dish pit, even sing with us. She knew when one of us was having a bad day and she'd go the extra mile to either make sure we were okay--or just to listen.”
This kind of servant leadership is baked into the Coffeebar culture. And that can-do, whatever-it-takes attitude cascades through the company.
“Georgia taught me how to hire people,” Annette says. “I hire with intention, and the thought, how would this person fit in here? What role, not just barista or cashier, would they fill in our family? Do they want to be a member of the family?”
Ciara recalls her early days at Coffeebar: “I had decided to take a break from a corporate 9-5 job, and Coffeebar Truckee seemed like a great place to start.” She was apprehensive, though. “I was worried that I would be older than most of my co-workers, and not fit in. I was so happy to find that I was wrong, and many of the people I worked with were similar to me--they were also using this job as a time to figure out their next steps, and enjoy some time in the mountains after their early morning cafe shift. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made, and I've made so many friendships in the cafe.”
“Guests definitely notice and comment on how smoothly things run because we're all working together,” Annette says. “Whether we're singing together or acting goofy or dressing up for Spirit Week, we act as a family. We don't gossip about each other. If someone makes a mistake, we don’t throw that person under the bus to guests. Guests can tell we genuinely like each other. People remark at how fun it must be to work at Coffeebar.”
She sums it up, “I have a team that truly has my back and I have theirs. We struggle together and we triumph together. I'm so proud of my team. We broke an all-time store sales record on July 5th. Though we felt every dollar we earned, we also had the best time earning it--because we did it together.”
Full Contact Hospitality
The ethos of community as family probably finds its most profound expression in how we relate to our guests. “During the shutdown, our regulars literally kept us open,” Annette notes. “While we may have been the bright spot in their days, they were the bright spot in ours, too. One of our Downtown Truckee regulars, a business owner, was really struggling during the quarantine. But he'd still come in every day for his mocha, because we were his community, his friends, his family.”
Ciara agrees. “I think Covid really highlighted this for some of our regular guests. Without always realizing it, we do get to know each other and genuinely care about one another. Our guests came through for us during Covid, and I'll always appreciate their support to us and to Coffeebar.”
But sometimes that commitment to creating community takes more than just a friendly smile, great coffee, and good service. And this is where a true hospitalian really shines.
“I was having the hardest time connecting with one of our daily regulars,” Annette remembers. “I knew her order by heart, knew exactly how she took her coffee. I just couldn't get past the ‘wall’ around her. Something was missing.
“One day, I was the barista when she came in for her regular drink. She stood at the bar watching me prepare it. I decided I was going to make a Hail Mary attempt at connection.
“I pulled three single shots for myself, my other barista, and her...without telling them what I was doing. I poured a little vanilla in the bottom of three espresso cups, poured in the shots, handed one to my barista and kept one for me. I put the third shot in front of her and said "take this shot [with us]." The guest was genuinely surprised, and we took the shots together. During quarantine, our mantra was, To better days....sooner rather than later. So that was our toast.
“And that was the moment everything changed. She usually comes in every day but now, if she doesn't come in for a couple of days, one of us texts her to make sure she's okay. There was one week when I was constantly upstairs doing administration or in meetings every time she'd come in. So she texted me to make sure I was okay. We cheer each other up. We talk each other off ledges. We always make time for each other.”
Work doesn’t get much more meaningful than that.
“When I’m looking for work, my non-negotiable is a company that prioritizes the wellbeing of their staff and the sustainability of their supply chain,” says Matthew, who runs our wholesale program. “Coffeebar lives and breathes this through our vertical coffee sourcing, not to mention the employee development happening behind the scenes. It’s about Becky (aka Mama Barista) and her education program, and the concept of all of us being ‘hospitalians’.
“The way employees are expected to treat customers is also the way Coffeebar management staff members are expected to treat employees. That sense of community is also lived out through trips to origin, where employees actually get to travel to Guatemala to see where much of our coffee comes from.”
Those trips to origin are much more than coffee tourism or a feel-good photo op. They’re a way that we “connect the dots from farmer to guest”. (Yes, that’s another one of the beliefs in the Coffeebar Ethos.) No members of the Coffeebar family could be more important to us than the ones who actually grow our coffee.
David Wilson, our former Director of Coffee, remembers, “On one of our trips to origin, we were crowded into a dimly lit home in La Suiza (a coffee-growing community in the mountains of Guatemala) with a group of Coffeebar employees.
“Each night a different family cooked for us, which we paid them to do. These are families of incredibly modest means. But our hosts that evening had probably spent all we’d given them and more to outdo the other families, in a sort of rivalry to be the most hospitable. Curious children took photos with us. We asked the family questions, they asked us questions, and we drank endless cups of incredibly sweet coffee.
“And for that evening, we weren’t just a Coffeebar family,” he says, “They’d chosen us to be a part of theirs.”