Starbucks Policy

It's a really important and powerful thing that Starbucks did yesterday.  I am hopeful of course it creates an opportunity for a current Starbucks customer to stop in one of our stores to experience what we do.  Not in a cynical way though.  As a company/culture Starbucks is navigating a treacherous road and that's gotta stink.  I am hopeful it challenges us with our own soul-searching moments that we can take advantage of and grow from.  

Starbucks stumbled, in my opinion because of policy.  Policy removes humanity, it removes common sense and a pragmatic way of engaging with guests and with each other.  Policy is a bullshit way to not accept any responsibility.  You can't have a dynamic organization with this kind of mindset.  Assuming ownership is powerful.  Assuming ownership implies taking action, thinking of solutions and establishing discourse...assuming ownership inspires innovation!  When we have a policy to use as an excuse to not engage, then we loose as humans.  We fail each other. 

We will inevitably fail.  We will make mistakes.  We will do the wrong thing.  We will be scared.  Not on purpose but because we are imperfect.  Like everything we do at Big Shoulders, I hope we are learning in our day to day with each other and with our guests learning from our mistakes and getting better. 

Want good coffee? Get some good water.

Coffee is around 98% water so good water is essential if you want good coffee and all water isn't equal.  I grew up in rural Indiana drinking well water.  I have lovely memories of hot Summer days and my Dad spraying me down with the garden hose in the back yard.  I can still recall the cold, crisp water from that hose.  Have you had hose water recently?  That's some nasty stuff.  Coffee brewed with well water tastes bad but not to the people who drink well water everyday.  

The SCAA has water standards for coffee brewing.  Here's the details if you like going down rabbit holes.  Have fun delving into that.  I don't have the available bandwidth. 

Chicago water makes pretty legit coffee straight outa the tap but I can taste the chlorine.  I'm not as fussy as my wife likes to say, but I can taste the difference (especially chlorine) from tap water and water put through one of these.   It's a simple cost effective solution.   Like all things, you can easily go overboard, don't.

Here are some simple rules:

1.  Start with fresh, cold water, hot water has been concentrating/hardening in the water heater.

2.  Get rid of chlorine either by filtering (see above) or simply set the water out overnight and evaporation will take care of the chlorine.  

3.  Heat to between 195 and 204 degrees.  (explore)

4.  Don't reboil-see #1 above.  

As always, enjoy the journey, play around and find what works for you.  And for god's sake don't over analyze it.  


Turns out, size does matter...

At least when we're talking about grinding coffee.  Often our guests remark that their coffee at home isn't as good as what we brew and serve in our shops.  A few questions reveal deficiencies in grinding.  For purposes of this conversation, I'm talking about manual brewing (Chemex, V60, Kalita Wave).  Perhaps the biggest influence on brewing is grind particulate.  The most common mistake the home brewer makes is grinding too fine.  It's pretty intuitive right?  A finer grind creates more surface area.  You're also tempted to use less coffee, but you should get lots of flavor, right?  Nope.  The result is over extraction and that's no good.  Yeah, you want the water and coffee to spend some time together not just have a fleeting romance.  The perfect grind size will do that by slowing down the water a bit.  Just like other bad relationships, spending too much time together yields bitterness.  Too big and you get the sour flavors of under extraction.  So what do you do?  You futz around with it the same as us.  Like almost everything else in our lives worth something, a little investment enriches us with results.  It's pretty simple.  The entire brewing process should take about four minutes.  I said about.  Don't get too obsessed with that, but it's definitely an indicator of proper brewing. Taste (yours) is the best indicator of proper brewing.  You should enjoy the taste of the coffee.   If you think everything else is correct but brew time takes 2 minutes then yes, grind a little finer.  If brew time takes 8 minutes, then more coarsely.  We dial in espresso brewing in our shops just like this every morning before we open and several times a day, taking note of changes then making subtle adjustments on the grinder.   If after doing this, you still aren't enjoying the coffee, select another one of our coffees from a different origin.  Coffee grown in different origins and perhaps a different cultivar will taste different...that's a conversation for another day.  Be great!

The Wall

So I have this wall to jot down all the brilliant things I think of.  Things other people say (mostly because I'm not that original or brilliant), stuff I read.  It's not so much a mission, more like guiding principles to reinforce how I'd  l  ike  to behave and how I'd like those around me to be.  Establishing ground rules, is important to keep the group accountable and focused.  How many room mates did you have that didn't follow the basic ground rules...clean up your mess, put stuff back, say something if you finish the last of the shampoo, put the cap back on the toothpaste. How'd that work out?  Same thing in the workplace.  If we don't have the basic respect for each other the quality of the relationship begins to erode.        

So I have this wall to jot down all the brilliant things I think of.  Things other people say (mostly because I'm not that original or brilliant), stuff I read.  It's not so much a mission, more like guiding principles to reinforce how I'd like to behave and how I'd like those around me to be.  Establishing ground rules, is important to keep the group accountable and focused.  How many room mates did you have that didn't follow the basic ground rules...clean up your mess, put stuff back, say something if you finish the last of the shampoo, put the cap back on the toothpaste. How'd that work out?  Same thing in the workplace.  If we don't have the basic respect for each other the quality of the relationship begins to erode.  



Don't Bro Me if you don't Know Me

Well, sorta.  Entrepreneurs take everything personally.  It's hard not to.  This is my baby and I'm defensive about it.  I'm a work in progress.  I'll probably never be the best version of myself that I aspire for.  People, strangers want to see us succeed.  I get this often..."you know what you should do?"   Often times the advice is absurd but I have to be express my gratitude and tell them "wow!  you telling me Cap'n Crunch and maybe some other cereals you say?...what an idea!"  Othertimes it is a simple but effective observation on getting better that would make us better.  It's always hard to hear though with an open mind because of those intro words.  Funny thing is that if it were one of my employees I'd make it happen in the form of a trial run.  Why should customers' observations be different?  

We gotta be smart or we're gonna be dumb

There was hearty laughter when I blurted this out one night, evidently after a couple drinks too many but I nonetheless meant it in good faith.  I was asked about Big Shoulders and growth and how we make decisions or something equivalent.  It describes pretty clearly (at least I think so) the platform you need to be on while guiding the ship (that's an analogy) through murky waters.  

I used to believe we were one or two bad decisions away from locking the door.  Now in all honesty I think we're probably closer to 30 or 40 bad decisions away.  Which is awesome since even in our worst day as an enterprise that just isn't going to least I sure hope so.  I read somewhere that starting a business is all about surviving to the next day.  And that's pretty accurate.  

We gotta be smart about where we put our cash.  Key employee now or new sharper designed bags for retail?  Printed cups or plain cups and a printed sleeve?  A new computer for book keeping or a new bag sealer for production?  See what I mean?  We gotta be smart or we're gonna be dumb!  


So, What's that Chemex Formula?

I got a bunch of notes shot my way after yesterday's post.  Here's how I make a Chemex:


We use around a 15:1 ratio as a starting point for brewing.  Thats 15 parts water to 1 part coffee. With every unfamiliar coffee we play with that ratio a little and play with the grind size as well as water temperature (as high as 204 and as low as 197).  Everything else remains fixed.  

So, you need a Chemex carafe, Chemex filters, a gram scale, a temperature-control water kettle, Big Shoulders Coffee

Insert a Chemex filter and give it a rinse while simultaneously making the filter adhere to the glass and also pre-warming the carafe.  A lot of people talk about removing paper taste which I think is utter bs.  It's so you don't need to ask a friend to hold the filter in place while you dose your coffee.  Dump that rinse water out.  Put the carafe on your scale and tare the scale to zero.  measure out 33 grams of just ground Big Shoulders Coffee.  Give it a shake to get an even "bed" of grounds.  Gently moisten the grounds, saturating the bed with just 75 grams (more precisely ml) of water.   Wait 45 seconds.  This is a key point in brewing.  During this 45 seconds the grounds are exhaling CO2 so you'll see bubbles and "activity" if your coffee is fresh.  CO2 pushes water away, preventing the water and coffee gettin' it on.  We want them to get it on.  Also during this time the coffee is swelling and preparing itself to absorb more water.  If you were to just begin brewing the water and the coffee wouldn't spend any time getting to know each other-It's like your potted plants on your porch after your Summer vacation.  The soil has pulled away from the sides and if you water them, water, seeking the easiest route will just rush out the hole in the bottom.  When you moisten the soil then go back to the plant in a few moments the soil will have expanded and is now able to absorb the water-Ok so now after 45 seconds, pour gently into the center of the ground bed up to 200 grams (ml) and 1:30.  Wait until all the water has gone through before introducing the next dosage of water to bring our weight up to 300 grams (ml) and 2:15.  Let it drain completely.  Now bring it up to 400 grams (ml) an right around 3:00.  Once drained bring it to the final number of 500 grams (ml).  Total time should take right around 4:00-4:15 but don't get too hung up on the times.  The weights are important as is patiently allowing the prior dose to drain through the ground bed completely.  When you are done brewing you should be left with an evenly flat bed of spent grounds-no "high and dry" grounds up around the sides.   

I know this sounds like a lot.  Trust me it's worth it.  And just because you may not understand it or don't care to understand it, don't be dismissive.  Just don't complain about the crummy coffee you drink.  Or worse, blame our great coffee for being crummy.  It's taken me thousands of times practicing but I think I've fallen into something at least for the moment that is truly delicious!  The magic is that coffee is alive and you shouldn't get frustrated if it sometimes you are underwhelmed.  Go back and see where you may have screwed it up.  Most commonly its is under-dosing (being stingy with the coffee).  Don't be stingy.

Make it an awesome day.



An Act of Defiance

I just brewed my morning Chemex and I'm about to enjoy my first cup of the day.  If Keurig has been successful at anything, it is that simple act of brewing coffee for yourself is so tedious.  But the nasty brown liquid that vomits out of one of those machines represents self-loss.  

Here's my morning:  It's quiet, I can see the sun peeking up, I'm beginning to stretch my body and mind.  My phone is off.  I'm "meditating" on the tasks I know are coming at me today.  In the next four minutes I focus on brewing this Chemex in front of me.  The day I'm about to start is hopeful with all kinds of possibilities.  The coffee is good.  

We All Want To Be Just a Transaction...


Yesterday I posted about the customer that cornered me to let me know where we were failing, saying he didn't want to be a transaction.  It got me thinking.  

Recently someone asked me why Starbucks is so successful.  While there are certainly a number of contributing factors, here's one I think that bears some relevance. 

The majority of people really don't want to be bothered and I don't blame them.  We get bombarded daily with interruptions and marketers vying for our attention.  We're numb.  And then on top of it going to a job we're not "passionate" about and a boss that doesn't inspire us.  Don't get me started on the wife and kids.  Just leave me alone!  At Starbucks you can be anonymous, just a number, just another drink that gets pumped out.  You don't have to invest much, you don't even have to converse, you know from Starbucks to Starbucks it'll be the same.  You've figured it out, they've figured it out...It's easy and it's quick.  It's just a transaction.  

I get it.  Given the choice between Starbucks and the unknown coffee shop down the street where I'll likely be sized up by some shitty little twenty-something taking their sweet time.  There's no chance.  

We hope to surprise you though.  It's our job to read you and understand your needs and not ask too many questions (except when you order a macchiato because Starbucks really screwed us with that concoction).  We're professional.  We can see when you need space or when you're inviting us to engage.  You're not just a transaction, you're our new regular.  







Putting on Our Listening Ears

We are privileged to have stellar customers.  There is of course a downside to this.  They challenge us to serve, they require us to be better employees, better people, more engaged.  Yesterday I had a customer corner me...literally, corner me and tell me we were failing him.  We failed to recognize him as a "regular" customer, we failed to "know his drink, and get it started," we failed to not treat him like a "transaction" like Starbucks did before he discovered us.  We suck.  

These are the best customers.  I didn't say they were the easiest customers.  They give a shit, they hold us accountable, they're rootin' for us!  They help us keep our eye on the ball.


If in that moment, we have the ability to prevent our natural human instinct to put up protection, engage our ego, puff out our chests and become defensive we can become heros.  

The most important "transaction" is happening right in front of us, be present for the possibilities it offers.



Passion is Overrated

Commonly I encounter someone who admires what we've done at Big Shoulders.  While doing so, they often times confess they are in a job that doesn't make them happy.  They're looking for their "passion."  I hate that word.  I think its so over used and stupid.  It's a cop out and an excuse to settle, to not risk.  First of all, you don't find your "passion" you create it or you commit to it.  That said I spent much of my twenties being scared to commit.  It's not all that unique and probably very common.  I couldn't commit, but I also didn't settle.  

Settling is the worst kind of numbness you can ever find yourself in.  Settling is simply taking the path of least resistance.  

Fight it.  Risk.  Look stupid.  Seek and be curious.  





It's All Marketing

So my wife, Patricia told me to stop writing about marketing stuff.  "Write more about the coffee" she says.  "Tell chef stories" and "talk about customer service"

Like all wives, she's right...and wrong.  

My buddy Andy Eltzroth-CUSP Conference founder likes to say that everything is design and we're all designers, and I tend to agree.  Everything is also marketing (at least in growing a brand)  Whatever the narrative you're spinning, driving revenue, attracting the best employees, collecting market data, or enhancing customer experience.   

As much of a retro-grouch I am, I must admit social media is a powerful (and free) tool.  Used correctly, or even half-assed in my case, we can get our narrative out there to a larger audience of promoters that happily endorse and share our brand with their friends. 

Used as a recruiting tool, it gives potential employees a snapshot of what it would be like to work at Big Shoulders.  We're aligning ourselves with and speaking the same language as our future peers through pictures and quick bursts that share our culture.  We also invite them to join the conversation, not simply passively stand on the sidelines, just like if you're working with us on the team.  

Like it or not its also a way for dis-satisfied customers and guests to express themselves very publicly.  That is an interesting situation.  We choose to keep our response right there out in the open too.  It looks shady when I witness other brands take that conversation off-line.  Kinda looks like they're hiding something.  Negative stuff could so quickly spread that you have to respond equally quick.  Put yourself in that position, when you feel your'e being ignored you tend to get pissy.  We work hard to try to use those negatives as an opportunity to win the customer.  It would be so easy to allow ego to take over and get defensive, to "educate" the customer or worse yet ignore it altogether and hope the problem goes away.  Abraham Lincoln famously would pen angry letters to bumbling Generals and even friends that pissed him off.  He would put all his anger into the letter, sign it, seal it and put it in his desk drawer, never to be sent.  It's a great example of one;  ridding yourself of the toxic energy and two;  focusing on a positive outcome for the guest.  How we handle ourselves in the worst of situations allows us to shine in the best and easiest of situations.  Retreating to our comfort zone isn't where we learn.  It's the action we take, the holding of ourselves accountable, that's where we learn and grow and engage deeper with our guests...and it's all marketing.   






Celebrate the differences that can become strengths

In a recent piece I read about master dog trainer Steve DeBono he says that often times the dog owner needs training, not the dog:

“A typical client might meet me at my Behavior Center and say “my dog is aggressive to strangers”. This is just a judgment of the behavior they’ve seen – not actually a description of what happened. They’re usually emotional—afraid that their dog might bite someone or ashamed that they have one of those “aggressive dogs”. And their goal is to bring their dog to every restaurant patio in the city and happily let people pet them and kiss them on the nose, just like their friends’ dogs can do. 

These are preconceived notions about what their dogs should be, but might be unrealistic for who their dog actually is.

It reminds me that usually when I have a "trouble" employee I have to take a look at myself first.  Am I pre-casting them into a role they don't have the skillset to perform? Did I fail them in on-boarding?  Did I hire wrong?  I have to take responsibility as the leader and make corrections, more often than not corrections to my own behavior.  

Read the full piece about Steve DeBono here

Modern Marketing

As I embark on taking control of marketing I'm reading and gathering a lot of information.  Seth Godin has been particularly inspiring.  Here's his post today, March 27. 


It's time

Time to get off the social media marketing merry-go-round that goes faster and faster but never actually goes anywhere.

Time to stop hustling and interrupting.

Time to stop spamming and pretending you're welcome.

Time to stop making average stuff for average people but hoping you can charge more than a commodity price.

Time to stop begging people to become your clients, and time to stop feeling badly about charging for your work.

Time to stop looking for shortcuts and time to start insisting on a long, viable path instead. 

Time to start contributing.

There are lots of ways to embrace modern marketing, but the there's no doubt that you'll be better off once you do.

Modern marketing is the practice of making something worth talking about, developing empathy for those you seek to serve and being in the market in a way that people would miss you if you were gone.

Good Stuff, Seth!

No Fear?

The cynical marketing firm approach to this would take the position that all communication should be calculated.  That the most foolish thing you could do would be to speak from the heart.  

"NO FEAR"  remember that from the 90's? or whenever.  Those stickers, usually on mud caked pick-ups? 

We all want to appear composed and well-put-together; tough.  It simply isn't the case.  We all have our weaknesses, faults, areas in life and business or relationships where we simply suck.  We're stupid humans.  If we were smart, we could admit that.  As complex and amazing as the mechanics of our bodies and higher evolved being of our brains could be, we are but frail and stupid machines over-compensating for those same frailties we each share.  These are the very things that connect us to each other.   Connectivity is truly powerful and transformative!

So why am I talking about this?  

As an entrepreneur I am supposed to be supremely confident...I mean it's a must have right?  Well I'm really not.  Most days I'm wringing my hands and second guessing myself.  Navigating the murky water of growing a brand and company culture is a wild ride.  You know why?  It's because of people...our internal customers and external customers, our human emotions, desires, needs.  Ego.  It provides opportunities to dive deep and push our limitations to be vulnerable to listen to each connect.  

I have loads of fear and I'm ok with that.

OK, So I'm going to dedicate some time to this:

I can't tell you how many marketing and PR firms approach me, expressing concern about Big Shoulders Coffee and it's SEO strength.  They usually offer a complimentary service to diagnose the "problems" we're having.  They're really good at selling snake oil.  It's a heck of a scam they have going.  The benchmark for success (theirs) is generating a first page hit to any search.  That doesn't necessarily meet my goals.  My yardstick is revenue.  That is something I can measure pretty easily.  While new "friends" are always nice, that doesn't always mean a new customer or promoter.  That's problematic.  I've learned that pretty much all of the work done by these firms is stuff I can really do myself, do better and be more authentic.  While I may not be tech savvy, I know our customer often by name mostly by recognition.  I express my gratitude to them.  That's pretty genuine.


I'm a Blogger now!

So I'm supposed to, along with all the other details of managing a business, maintain a blog.  I'm supposed to understand SEO and Google algorithms and a bunch of other things that "will drive sales."  While I will set aside the possibility that I am so wrong, I find it hard to believe that these obscure items are more or even equally more important than the people in our business.  



Four minutes is all it takes to make great—or bad—cup of coffee

Four minutes is all it takes to make great—or bad—cup of coffee

By Tim Coonan, Founder of Big Shoulders Coffee

As you can imagine, I’m pretty passionate about coffee. That’s why I’m so puzzled by the popularity of Keurig coffee makers. I get that for most people the convenience of plugging one of those plastic cups where coffee goes to die into the machine seems like a time saver, even though the output is a lukewarm, watered down brew.

Have coffee lovers on your holiday gift list? Here’s 5 ways to make them happy.

Have coffee lovers on your holiday gift list? Here’s 5 ways to make them happy.

By Tim Coonan, Founder of Big Shoulders Coffee

Every song I hear this time of year celebrates the joy of the holiday season. But, let’s face it. The days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can be pretty stressful. While you’re racing between work, parties, kids’ events and other seasonal commitments, it’s hard to find time to pick out thoughtful gifts for the important people in your life.