#76 | A Career in Coffee: Why It Can and Should Happen | Expo Lectures 2019

#76 | A Career in Coffee: Why It Can and Should Happen | Expo Lectures 2019

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A lot has been written about the workforce — millennials in particular — choosing between a career and a passion. That shouldn’t be the case. While baristas and other coffee professionals may find it hard to make millions, they should be able to make sustainable wages while also developing as a professional. What are ways that cafes, roasting companies, and other coffee industry organizations can provide this working environment? Two small business owners with a proven track record in employee recruitment, development and retention, offer an in-depth behind-the-scenes look into how it’s all possible in today’s lecture. 

Brian Helfrich, owner and CEO of Summit Coffee Co. in Davidson, North Carolina, and Ryan Jenson, owner of Peregrine Espresso in Washington D.C., lead a panel featuring Roast Magazine’s Connie Blumhardt, Cafe Import’s Andrew Miller, and Atlas Coffee Importers’ Tymika Nichelle Lawrence. 

Special Thanks to Softengine Coffee One, Powered by SAP

This episode of the Expo 2019 Lectures podcast is supported by Softengine Coffee One, Powered by SAP.  Built upon SAP’s business-leading Enterprise Resource Planning solution, Softengine Coffee One is designed specifically to quickly and easily take your small-to-medium coffee company working at any point along the coffee chain to the next level of success. Learn more about Softengine Coffee One at softengine.com, with special pricing available for SCA Members. Softengine: the most intelligent way to grow your business.

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Table of Contents

0:00 Introduction
2:30 What Millennials and Gen Zs want from their workplaces
5:25  What creative ways are we using to make coffee careers affordable and how has this changed over the last decade?
14:15 What do you find means the most to the professionals you are working with? What is the deep, core value of your team and how is workplace culture helping you recruit and retain employees?
27:30 What are you doing in your companies to cultivate good leaders in your team?
30:00 How are we training our coffee professionals and their soft skills?
42:40 Audience questions
1:00:30 Outro

Full Episode Transcript

Heather Ward: Hello everyone! I’m Heather Ward, the SCA’s Senior Director of Content Strategy, and you’re listening to the SCA Podcast. Today’s episode is part of our Expo Lecture Series, dedicated to showcasing a curated selection of the extensive live lectures offered at our Specialty Coffee Expo. Check out the show notes for relevant links and a full transcript of today’s lecture.

This episode of the Expo 2019 Lectures podcast is supported by Softengine Coffee One, Powered by SAP.  Built upon SAP’s business-leading Enterprise Resource Planning solution, Softengine Coffee One is designed to quickly and easily take your small-to-medium coffee company working at any point along the coffee chain to the next level of success. Learn more about Softengine Coffee One at softengine.com, with special pricing available for SCA Members. Softengine: the most intelligent way to grow your business.

The episode you’re about to hear was recorded live at the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston. Don’t miss next year’s lecture series in Portland – find us on social media or sign up for our monthly newsletter to keep up-to-date with all our announcements, including ways to get involved in next year’s Expo and early-bird ticket release!

A lot has been written about the workforce — millennials in particular — choosing between a career and a passion. That shouldn’t be the case. While baristas and other coffee professionals may find it hard to make millions, they should be able to make sustainable wages while also developing as a professional. What are ways that cafes, roasting companies, and other coffee organizations can provide this working environment? Two small business owners with a proven track record in employee recruitment, development and retention, offer an in-depth behind-the-scenes look into how it’s all possible in today’s lecture.

Brian Helfrich, owner and CEO of Summit Coffee Co. in Davidson, North Carolina, and Ryan Jenson, owner of Peregrine Espresso in Washington D.C., lead a panel featuring Roast Magazine’s Connie Blumhardt, Cafe Import’s Andrew Miller, and Atlas Coffee Importers’ Tymika Nichelle Lawrence.

Also, I will jump in occasionally to help you follow along.


2:30 What Millennials and Gen Zs want from their workplaces

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: So welcome to this panel career in coffee. Why and how it happens. We’re going to be talking about a whole bunch of subjects pertaining to our jobs and how we can retain people and how we can support the people in the work that we’re doing. So, Brian, I’m going to go ahead and let you take up the next couple of slides. He is going to talk to us about what we are talking about.

Brian Helfrich: Awesome. Thank you for coming. So, the genesis of this conversation is like Diana said on how to make sustainable careers for everybody in the coffee industry, for more people in the coffee industry and the route that we’re going to approach it from is what the current workforce so specifically Millennials and Gen Z are looking for in a workplace and so a lot of the next couple slides have information from a really comprehensive study that Deloitte did last year. So, based on a survey of tens of thousands of employees in Canada and the United States the Millennials and Gen Z workforce are looking for companies that are making a positive impact on the society and their environment, creating innovative ideas, products and services, job creation, career development and improving people’s lives, and an emphasis on inclusion and diversity in the workplace and ranks by the survey responders. The leading priorities for the workforce and the topics that we’re going to talk about today are number one is pay, so compensation. That’s obviously pretty straightforward. Number two is company culture. Number three is flexibility in your work, and number four is opportunities for continuous learning and a couple interesting slides.

Heather Ward: Brian has two graphs on screen. The left chart shows that 40 percent of millennials expect to leave their workplace within two years, whereas only about 30% expect to stay beyond five years. On the right hand is the same graph but for Gen Z. This graph suggests 61% of Gen Zs expect to leave their workplace within two years and only 12% expect to stay beyond five years.

Brian Helfrich: The percent of millennials who expect to leave within two years is significantly higher than the people that looked to stay for more than five years. So we have a very transient workforce right now and I think our responsibility as employers is to try to create environments where people (a) want to stay for a long time, but also if they are going to be here for less than five years that they have a valuable time while they’re there and then similarly, the Gen Z so the younger generation the disparity is even wider.

5:25  What creative ways are we using to make coffee careers affordable and how has this changed over the last decade?

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: We’re going to talk about three or four focuses today and our panelists will kind of expound on all of these more in depth as we have these prompts and questions. So, the first will be about financial. Second will be culture and workplace values and then finally, we’ll talk about development and how we develop our people. So, first with financial. So, our topics are questions that you all are going to talk about. What creative ways are using to make coffee careers affordable and how has this changed over the past decade?

Brian Helfrich: I’m curious. So, I went to a panel in Atlanta three years ago with Ryan on it and Ryan has an interesting approach. Not to totally throw you into the fire here, but I think the way that Ryan approaches compensation is really insightful and something we adopted from an SCA panel four years ago and still used today. So, if you don’t mind explaining it a little bit.

Ryan Jenson: Yeah. I mean, part of my background going into coffee retail is I spent, I guess six years working in coffee retail in my twenties before deciding to start our own company and now we have three cafes. We’ve been operational for about 11 years and so, it’s changed quite a bit over a decade. But one of the things we’re trying to figure out. My wife and I both worked as baristas was how do we figure out how to make enough money and have a transparent way to know how we can make more money working in a coffee shop. I think that a lot of people, a lot of our coworkers would come and go, but some of us really wanted to pursue a career but didn’t know how to make that work when the place we’re working in offered vacation but didn’t offer health insurance and they weren’t really offering a living wage and so when it was our turn to start a company we wanted to create a system which we’ll just call it a wage chart. To make it very transparent how much you can make starting on day one. How much you can make if you work for us for six months, for a year, for five years, and as you pursue various educational opportunities and experiences within our company or within the industry that you can accumulate what we call milestones that will also impact your wage and so, it’s a very simple. Hours across the top, milestones down the side. Here’s the starting wage and as you sort of choose your own adventure with our company, you can increase your wage by 50 cents, a dollar, two dollars as stay with us. So, for us I never wanted to have that conversation with an employee where they didn’t know how they could make more money with us and I didn’t ever want have it be a situation where I was consciously or not having my own favoritism about who I thought was worth more to us as a company and I wanted to just be out there from day one. This is what’s happening. This is how you can engage your place of work and figure out how to make it a living wage for you.

Tymika Lawrence: If I may.

Ryan Jenson: Yes please.

Tymika Lawrence: I think that you hit on something really important by saying that you didn’t want to have your own favoritism because that’s one of the things that affects. We’re not at culture yet, but it’s one of the things that affects, we’re not at culture yet but it’s one of the things that affects workplace culture in a way that makes people not want to engage and stay, even if they are making enough money and so I just think that’s the experience that I had when I started as a barista. They were clear with me about how much I could make, what my learning opportunities were going to be, and it kept me engaged and then in six months, I got the raise I was told I was going to get because of the work that I was doing and so, it made me. 10 years later I now work for an importing company but if that hadn’t happened in my experience, I never would have stayed and because they put a financial value on what I was willing to invest of my time and that’s something that’s really valuable. Just wanted to highlight that.

Brian Helfrich: I think it’s a really neat thing because it sort of makes a typically subjective analysis pretty objective and I think that’s really important and I also think from a business development company standpoint, by setting the milestones in places you do, you can basically steer your employees toward (a) what you think professional development is, and you can choose your own path a little bit. But also, we assess. If you check these milestones off, you’re becoming a better employee. You’re more engaged and these are the areas we want you to pursue, and therefore you deserve to make more money for our company. It’s not some arbitrary list of tasks.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: Does this also include wage transparency, open conversations about the wages that employees are making in your workplaces or is this something that’s just done from employer to employees or is this everyone?

Ryan Jenson: We don’t have 360 wage transparencies. I guess if you really wanted to know milestones someone had there is no secret to that, but it is part of every employee review. It’s actually every employee has their own Google doc that lays out where they are at in the system and they can figure out what they do next.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: That’s awesome.

Heather Ward:  Speaking now is Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller: It’s complicated but some avenues we have maybe a system where an employee can have some goals or some desires that they want to accomplish over the course of the year and then on our side, we have maybe the same thing where we see if you can accomplish this and do it over the course of this year than we can tie in maybe a bonus structure to that so they know that. There’s typically maybe five pieces, five things Maybe it’s continuing ed, or maybe it’s a project or research project they want to accomplish that would benefit all of us. So, we can layout these five things, goals, objectives and then tie them to a kind of bonus structure and if you can meet all five of them that there’s a certain kind of compliment that could be attached to it. So, we’re sort of encouraging them to grow strengthening all of us.

Brian Helfrich: We introduced a profit sharing this year or last year, which is, I think a really exciting thing because the perception is that, and we have three cafes in a roastery and we did it across the entire company so that if the roastery and the wholesale business were having a ton of success, that the people in the cafe don’t feel like they have nothing to do with that. So, it’s a good opportunity for people to be invested. So, we take 20% of all of our company profits and split them for annual bonuses for everyone who’s working for us split among the entire staff. The tricky part is if you have a year where you don’t make a bunch of money I think there’s a bit of a disappointment or misconception. It’s like, wow, we get 20% of company profits and at the end of the day, when people walk out of there with 110 bucks they are like what, I thought I was going to be $1000. So, you have to be prepared for that as well. But I think it’s to us that at least people have been really engaged with the idea that they’re invested more in the company success at least financially.

Tymika Lawrence: And that also gives staff a personal reason to do better, which is kind of like well, if the bonus isn’t maybe what we thought it was going to be, that’s reflective of not necessarily the work that we’re putting in, but that there’s something else that we could do it to get that number higher. So, like that invest the baristas specifically and wanting to sell more whole bean coffee, because those are the people who sell more whole bean coffee in your cafe than anybody else. So, it’s stuff like that makes staff feel like they are a valuable part of your business but also makes you work a little bit harder.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: So, it sounds like having open and honest dialogue is really important. Gold setting seems to be something that we’re also talking about and then finding other alternative, creative ways to involve employees in the actual profitability of the business, and having them be a part of that are ways that we can make coffee careers more affordable. Is there anything else that you feel like we’re missing.

Tymika Lawrence: Just got to start them at a good wage.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: Yeah.

Tymika Lawrence: Your business plan has got to be good enough to support starting people at a wage where they feel like their work is being valued. So, there definitely are creative ways in which people should engage. I think the bonus structure is a great idea that personally invest everybody. But there’s also an uncreative way, which is just pay people that the right rate in the beginning and then also but something like that. So, I think that is something that it’s basic, but it has to be said.


14:15 What do you find means the most to the professionals you are working with? What is the deep, core value of your team and how is workplace culture helping you recruit and retain employees?

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: Yeah. Thank you. Alright, let’s keep going. So, the second core focus of culture and workplace values. What do you find means the most to the professionals that you all are working with? What you find is a deep core value for your team and how is workplace culture helping you recruit and retain these influences?

Tymika Lawrence: So, this is not more important than pay, obviously. But it’s more important, I think, than even, because a lot of these I did talk about how diversity in the workplace encourages a workplace that’s actually better for everybody, even if you don’t fit in those categories. So, a lot of the data is self-reported. So, I think people under-report how important culture is because then they get a job and the culture sucks but they’re getting paid enough, and it’s unsustainable. So, I think to me, this is up on the level with pay. It’s almost flush, not quite, but it’s right there and definitely, I think these things are really basic. Everybody just wants to feel valued and like you value the work that they’re doing, and I think that’s across industries. But it is a first step that a lot that is easily missed. I think especially if we are talking at the retail. So now I’m working for an importer, but I used to ruin a cafe for some time in New York. So, a lot of my job was trying to figure out how to get people engaged and a lot of it, it requires a lot more emotional intelligence than we’re giving credit to because a café manager is actually in service to their staff, and it’s not the other way around. When you’re in a place and it’s the other way around, it feels awful. So, that is to me, one of the most important things is figuring out how to engage with your staff in a way that feels respectful to them and respect to me is probably paramount when it comes to building a culture that feels good and that people want to be a part of.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: So, establishing leaders who support from the bottom and push forward.

Tymika Lawrence: Yeah.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: Anyone else.

Heather Ward:  Speaking now is Connie Blumhardt, Roast Magazine’s Publisher.

Connie Blumhardt: My business model is so different from a cafe. We have six full time employees, and three of us have been there since the company started in 2003. So, I think for us it’s been really important to have a great product. Our product is what people are really proud of, that they contribute the magazine, and we come to events like these and people are like oh we love what you are doing and that’s a really rewarding part. This is really added to the culture and the way that we work together.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: Yeah. So, creating things that you’re proud of.

Connie Blumhardt: Yeah.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: And being a part of something

Connie Blumhardt: We want everybody to be part of everything we do and feel like even if you are a circulation manager or the editor, everything you do is just as important to making the magazine successful.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: A sense of ownership.

Connie Blumhardt: For sure. Yeah,

Brian Helfrich: I think this is probably the simplest thing I’ve said. But you want employees that want to come to work and what that looks like, I think is really different in different areas of business, whether it’s publishing or whether it’s roasting or whether it’s importing or cafes. But ultimately, I think when you’re putting together a team and you’re hiring people, you need to think about how everyone fits together, what you’re trying to achieve. So, you’re not hiring one person independent of another person. I’m going to be in the cafe 10 hours a week based on everything else I’m doing and so what happens when you’re not there. How people work together? How do they get along? How do they respect each other? In a lot of ways, it’s like putting together a sports team. I was a sports journalist before and my backgrounds there, but I think if you’re putting together a successful basketball team. You got to think about how the pieces go together not just a good barista, good barista, good barista. This person does a lot of dishes. Great. Let’s put them together. You really need to make sure that all the pieces fit, and people get along and they respect each other and it’s a good team.

Andrew Miller: I just want to say that clearly the workforce today wants to be part of something that’s bigger. They want to be inclusive. They want to make a difference. Even the older workforce that I used to be a part of it feels that way on. I feel like we’re sort of fortunate in coffee that we’re working in an industry where a lot of product comes from faraway places where people are oftentimes marginalized and we have this opportunity, especially in specialty, to make a difference and increase the rate of pay by encouraging top-quality coffees. So, we’ve had this experience where we can go to into a community that’s maybe struggling, and we can pay high prices for really top quality and encourage the youth and encourage people to increase the quality and thereby you can find a way to make a better living. So, there’s that kind of like we get to do in coffee thing that’s happening, which I think is really fortunate for us. They’re not just widgets. We can impact people’s lives. So, I think having that be clear and open to our employees and even people on the bar that understand that this coffee that I’m serving today is from Women’s Coffee Producing Association, somewhere where extra money is going to this association to help these people help themselves. So, I think us being in coffee we’re in a pretty special place where they have those opportunities.

Tymika Lawrence: And I think maybe those get missed out on a little bit at the cafe level. I feel like now being on this side of things I’m always thinking about what is the way that I can engage roasters to engage their staff? Because again, the education that I had some time in Counter Culture or what made me realize oh, there’s an entire industry surrounding this that’s could be a pipeline to something else and so it matters that I make this coffee well. I took my job really seriously because I knew that and I think if people can create that culture of sharing that information from origin and saying no, really, your investment in this community is making an impact that changes the whole meaning of what your staff are doing. So, it feels to them if it feels too far away, I think it can be really hard to communicate that what you’re doing matters. But if you’re good at having that information back and forth with your partners, with your sourcing partners, then it makes it and having that reach the bar staff like, he said, it changes everything. The culture and the respect that people take with the coffee that they’re working and that even ekes onto your customers. So, that is paramount, and I think that’s a really good point.

Ryan Jenson: I think for us working, keep coming back means most to coffee professionals. I think working, running a cafe where everyone that comes to has a different story and a different reason for being interested in working in a cafe. I think that we have some people that come to us. We’ve had countless hill staffers wanting it off the hill and just want to work coffee job to get off the hill. So, for better or worse, you’re kind of a place for them to rehab. You’re counseling them through getting out of that life. All the people that come to us that you moved from the next city over and worked at the best café in that town. They want to work at a legit coffee bar and so how do you take these people with very different reasons for being with you and respect them and listen to them and understand where they are and take care of them and create a team with them. I think it’s trying to meet them where they’re at and understand how can I value and bring you to the next step in your journey, whether that’s in coffee or not. no. Understand, as a cafe owner our place in the chain that sometimes we’re going to be the step in the chain where people go work for these coffee importers. That would be amazing and sometimes five years down the road they’re just doing something completely different but they’re happy and hopefully they think fondly of their experience with us.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: So, it sounds like having leaders who are aware of the personhood of the people working for them. Recognize them as individuals and work with that person to figure out what it is that they need. Does that sound?

Tymika Lawrence: Also treating people like entire people who have whole lives that go on outside of their work. So, for me, if I was having a hard time my coffee job was my happy place but maybe that’s not everybody situation and being able to treat people. I think it sounds woo, woo but there’s just a lot of kindness that could be extended to staff. When you’re managing a place and sometimes somebody calls out and it’s you that has to work that shift, it sucks if you’ve been there all day. But, it’s your job, you’re the boss. It’s your job to find it in you to be kind then in that moment to that person and it’s a really simple thing, but it goes really far. So, there is a lot of you need to see people a whole people and realize that they’re not always going to be able to show up for you in the ways that they would like to. There’s a way that you can address that where you get closer if that person is a good fit for your job. So, it’s just something that I think gets missed out a lot on.

Brian Helfrich: I think that’s a great point of it. I think you have to strike a really appropriate balance of caring for people and also holding people accountable. We have ebbed and flowed over the years in so many directions where it’s straight accountability and no-one is that happy and also we just really want to take care of people, and then it’s okay if you show up to work 10 minutes late. It’s like all of a sudden you have to find a balance. It’s sort of the thin line between empathy and sympathy. So, making sure you treat people empathetically and understand where they’re coming from but also try to help them then get to the level that you’re expecting from them, rather than just totally saying, Hey, it’s okay, you’re having a bad day. You don’t need to come to work today because that’s not the reality of running a business

Tymika Lawrence: And a lot of its just people are afraid to do for straight-talking. There’s nothing that creates a good environment, as much as being honest with the standards that you have for everybody and just saying, hey, you let me down. People have a hard time doing that. I needed this from you, and I didn’t get it, and I understand that you’re having a hard time. What can we do to get you there? But I still need this and that’s three or four sentences. But clarity from your employer in a way that doesn’t leave you wondering if things are okay or not okay is a really good way to have an environment where people feel like they can be honest and also that they’ll be held to a standard that you need from them.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: This is a lot. It’s a lot of this. This culture and workplace value seems to be really leveraged on making sure that those in leadership are aware, are compassionate, are listening, are communicating, are self-reflecting. Does that sound about right? That’s the way that we can move our people, keep our people, motivated and just keep them.

Tymika Lawrence: And that’s a thing. It’s a huge response. It’s a lot. You just like a lot of things and sometimes people just hire the best barista, for example, to be a manager and I’m like, this person needs to manage the entire culture. You’re saying you are the one to be the art, to be the representative of everything that I want here. So, when you want to promote somebody, put somebody in that role, you need to think can they do all of that stuff. Also, it’s our job to develop people and teach them how to do the things because when I got promoted to manager, I was all straight talk at first. That wasn’t great, and someone had to pull me aside and go no, that’s not how we’re going to do this. So, yeah, I think it’s a big responsibility and it’s something that people need to keep in mind.

Brian Helfrich: For ongoing reading, there’s a book that I just read called “Radical Candor,” which is a really cool philosophy on how to approach management and there’s basically two axes. One is caring professionally, and one is challenging people. Basically, the optimal part of management and teamwork is that you are caring for people and challenging them that if you care for people and don’t challenge them basically, you’re being ruinously empathetic, and if you challenging them without caring for them, you’re being obnoxious and aggressive. So, it’s that balance of you’re not doing your job right unless you’re doing both those things simultaneously.


27:30 What are you doing in your companies to cultivate good leaders in your team?

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: This isn’t a question but we’re talking about leadership and so I’m curious what you all are doing in your companies or what you’re seeing folks are doing to cultivate good leaders for your teams? Are there internal structures? Are there things that you would like to share maybe about that?

Andrew Miller: I can add a couple things. Back to the original conversation or the previous conversation. I just wanted to point out that from a leadership perspective, I’ve learned in running small business that sometimes you have to say things over and over and be clearly obvious with maybe your values or your mission. It’s not enough just to have it on the website. You need to oftentimes repeat it and maybe play a game or something so we can be clear about those things. Along that line I think yes, structure is really important, especially in a growing company, because it’s hard to have expect job descriptions and expectations for everybody when you have two people, because it’s really pretty clear who’s doing what. You got to go unload the truck.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: It’s a coffee date.

Andrew Miller: Yeah, exactly. But as it grows, and I think I would encourage people to be more aggressive or more proactive with that than you think is to have those things laid out really clearly. What are the expectations and who’s responsible for what and when that gets passed from one person to another because, as it grows, it can be chaos if it’s not clear. So, I feel like over communicating is probably my model, my message for today.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: It’s a good one. I like it.

Tymika Lawrence: I’m fairly new at Atlas, so it’s probably, I think, maybe five months now and so I am not doing anything but continue to learn how to do my job. But one thing that I think our leadership team does really well is, so I have set check-ins with the person that manages me and its quarterly. So, I evaluate myself, she provides me an evaluation. We have goals and so, it is a useful way for me to check-in, and for her to check in with me and saying these are the things that you’re doing well. Here are some things that I’d like to see you improve on, and for me, everything’s really clear. And then I also can always ask a question if I need to. So, there’s an open-door policy and when something gets changed or somebody has a question it’s never not explored to the point where it feels understood. So, if I need to know something or if something is going to change no-one is ever like, Well, you don’t need to know why. They come to me. There’s information set out for me and then if I have an additional question, great. But most the time I don’t, because I have been given what I need. I’m not just being told no, or this doesn’t make sense and that’s the end of the conversation. So, I think there’s having transparent system where there’s your check-ins, these are your goals. This is what we want you to work on. Then, also having an open and honest dialogue when needed and knowing that it’s not going to turn into anything weird or that there’s something weird or shady going on, I think that is and even if there’s not something shady going on, just telling people no without telling them why. Your toddler doesn’t accept that. Your daughter won’t accept that. Why should your employees? Yeah.

Brian Helfrich: One thing that I found to answer your question training leadership is that oftentimes when people get elevated into leadership positions, it’s at that time where they have to start learning how to be a leader and you’re already way behind and personally, we’ve made that mistake several times. We’re like hey, you are now the manager and we’re going to teach you on the fly how to be a leader. So, one thing we introduced at Summit this year was the school of innovation and basically we’re trying to train people for skills that we think they’re going to need in future jobs. So, I taught an eight-week leadership development course to people that weren’t on our leadership team. So, A to Z it’s a voluntary thing but if you take the class, you get a milestone pointer we call benchmark point and so, hey, you see who wants to take a leadership development class? Who’s going to raise their hand and say I want to learn how to be a better leader and then also, by the time this job opens, we’ve had eight weeks to train people on what leadership looks like and they’re ready to go. Whether that’s with Summit or whether it’s they go to Atlas and go to an importer, they’ve hopefully had a valuable experience working for Summit and learn something about leadership while not being in a leadership position that prepares them for the next step.


30:00 How are we training our coffee professionals and their soft skills?

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: So, for focus three development. So, this kind of ties into some of the things that we’re talking about that goes beyond just folks and leadership. So how are we training our coffee professionals and how are we developing soft skills? What are your thoughts?

Tymika Lawrence: I actually think this is the area where we could stand to have the most improvement. I sometimes say that I have charmed coffee career. I feel like I have had, but in that I’ve just been at the right place at the right time sometimes. But I also had people who took specific interest in me and who they would never refer to themselves as my mentors but were 100% inside my company and outside have mentored me until they pulled me aside and were like, hey, that old straight talk thing’s not going to work. They did the same thing, oh, you have interest in management. Why don’t you take over our inventory process? So, I was ordering for the café for four months or five months before I got a promotion. So, I didn’t have to learn everything all at once and they provided a clear place for where my career could end up if I stayed with the company. That is something that I think just generally, whether they’re at your company, they’re outside of your company, providing opportunities for mentorship and being able to have conversations with people when they’re having a tough time and saying here’s how you work through this, here’s what I did is what is one of the things that I wish existed more. I wish there was a better format for that because that I think that is 100% why I am still in coffee and also, I think, why I see some people fall out in a way that have a passion and are smart. That kind of hurts my heart a little bit because they’re lacking that guidance and if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t have gotten a promotion ever. So, yeah, something to think about?

Connie Blumhardt: Yeah. Do you think as an industry it would be beneficial if we had some type of platform that people could reach each other?

Tymika Lawrence: Oh, 100% and it’s definitely some stuff that we’ve been talking about on some SCA task force that I’m working on. I’m going to drop the lead scholarship. Please apply. So, I think there are five openings and you receive an experienced mentor, and you get to go to an international SCA event. You get to come to expos, you have regular check-ins, there’s opportunity for development and applications have opened up I think yesterday. It’s a program that we’ve been working on, we’re super excited about and stuff like that. If it could spread outward, I think would be really, really valuable because a lot of it feels nebulous. So, I received a lot of help, but I also didn’t know where it was going to end up. That’s kind of why I say a charmed coffee career, because I just focused on the job that was in front of me, and I was lucky that people brought opportunities to my awareness. But it does not happen on that way a lot of times and people will talk to me and say, but what do I do or where do I go? And it’s I don’t think it’s clear that pathways to coffee careers and so I do think there should be something like that for sure.

Brian Helfrich: I think Connie brings up a good point? Like a platform, not like an online chat room. But if you knew who was availing themselves too, because I feel like a lot of people are open to offering help, but you don’t even know where to go. So, our director of coffee has gone to a certain point and one of my tasks for him was to continue his development and as you grow and as you become more the expert, they’re obviously still people to learn from, but it’s harder to access. Where do I look to talk to someone? How do I look to learn more outside of SCA courses and maybe going to Roasters Guild or Barista Guild retreats? What is available? I think there’s so much information, and I think having some sort of platform to allow for collaboration would be beneficial for everybody.

Tymika Lawrence: And that’s also where the bigger coffee roasters; some of our market, is like smaller people with two or three cafes and they are community-based organizations but places with larger organizations they have good organizational structure that has to exist because of the size of their company. So, it doesn’t need to exist in our smaller companies. I mean, at least 20 people, right? There are only so many striations that you need to create that before it just becomes ridiculous. But when a company is huge, that’s a good place for you to learn some like professional skills and I think that that’s one thing that the organization, that the SCA could do to connect those pieces because sometimes they feel really far. Definitely, people that those organizations get are realizing that the stuff that may be smaller roasters are into and care about their communities care about, have had an impact on what everybody else cares about and what they’re looking for and the fact that everybody wants to make an impact. So, I think there’s actually a really good opportunity for back and forth in between those communities that sometimes feel very separate because there’s a lot of passion and very interesting ideas about sustainability that couldn’t be brought from the level that smaller roasters who worked with smaller producer groups work with. Then there is a level of organizational development and skill sharing that could happen from those larger companies.

Brian Helfrich: I am curious to know where you guys, in different entries how you encourage people to learn more. Is it all internal training? Is it skills? Are their external things. SCA obviously has sort of a stranglehold on education in the specialty coffee industry. I, frankly, find the some of the class is pretty cost prohibitive, especially for a staff, if you’re hiring a new barista every three months and say, hey, here’s $2000 to take all the SCA classes that’s not that practical. So, I’m curious to know how each of you guys approaches sort of ongoing development and learning.

Andrew Miller: We do a combination of those things. I mean, on our side it’s a lot of technical training, a lot of cupping. So, new people will come in and go through training sessions using the tools that come from SCA like the native cafe and maybe the acids and tasting over-roasted coffee and tasting fermented and tasting phenolin their coffee. Those are always fun. Learning how to taste quakers and one good example of somebody was like I could never smell a quaker. So, we pulled out like 15 quakers and ground those and brewed that and said here, try this. Now she can taste quakers. So, it’s sort of an environment of continuing ed. We were involved in the SCA in the early days as taking the classes and then helping to volunteer and then maybe teaching the classes. So, all the salespeople and quality control people would always be engaged or involved, and I think there are some really great tools out there. I mean the CQI and the SCA and all the classes and things that have. There’s so much so learn with green coffee or coffee in general. The difference between Pope Naturals and Sumatra’s and naturals and Brazil’s and wash coffees and the rest of the world it’s vast and it makes an impact on the product. So, it’s a big world, education is really important for us. So, we’re always trying to do outward-facing things on how to roast or how to cup and those are free. People have free videos on their websites. I’m sure you did as well on how to cup and how to have a roast? But there’s a lot out there, so we’re always encouraging and trying to involve people in the industry and keep on learning

Tymika Lawrence: And importers are a really good source…. Like he said, most have videos. We have classes that are complimentary in some ways, or even if importers just post cuttings where they’ll focus on certain things or have events. If roasters wanted to engage in that stuff, we usually can make it work. Obviously, it can’t be like all the time, but maybe do an event in a particular community and everybody comes to that one event. So, I do think for importers, we have a lot of information that we’re willing to share and it’s really just how much like our roasters want to engage with it or have time to. Then in the cafes, I felt like a lot of the education that we received was internal and so there were internal training programs that were developed or like at Counter Culture, I was taught how to teach labs. The first couple were real rough. I do think there is a time to look outside of coffee though, like for sales, how to sell stuff, for example, which is an important skill set it for you are a salesperson. I did sales training outside of coffee that was provided to me by my employer. So that was really useful because the people part was great, but there’s a whole organizational and research skill set that comes with sales that you don’t have to be taught, but if you’re not, you might not be as efficient as you could be. Yeah. So, I definitely think for certain skills, we should be looking outside of coffee because we end up in specialty because we love it. It doesn’t mean that we have all the skills that we need to make our business run well, and a lot of them are learnable but maybe we’re not always the best people to teach it. Or if an existing thing works. There are sales training that work. Maybe just send that person to a sales training.

Brian Helfrich: Yeah.

Connie Blumhardt: I have definitely heard people say that the SCA curriculum sometime is a little spendy for people and I think there are some really great options out there. You just have to look for them. There’s some regional roasting groups. There’s some regional barista groups, and I find that those are really great places to meet your peers and take some classes and sometimes you’re taught by the same people who teach the SCA.


42:40 Audience questions

Brian Helfrich: Yeah, and we have some time for questions.

Audience 1: Hi, my name is Thomas. I just moved to the US and I’m an AST for the SCA. Applying for a job in New York City, I faced the situation where most companies I applied for were telling me we prefer to hire someone who has no knowledge so we can build something. So, I’m in this situation where I don’t know, knowledgeable in some way. It’s like for some companies that have a strong company community, it’s like this is too much. We prefer travel, own building, you know what I mean. So, I want to have your opinion on this because ate some point when you get trained and you want to travel with coffee because you know it’s such a great thing. Sometimes it goes the other way and you’re just in a weird situation. So, what’s your opinion on this?

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: Yeah. So, what is your response to like an overqualified candidate or someone that might have information or too much information when they are going into your team? How do you feel about those things? What advice maybe would you give?

Tymika Lawrence: I think if you find yourself in that situation, it is one thing. As someone that did do hiring and hired experienced, people without experience. Sometimes people who do have experience are not open to learning something new. I’m going to guess obviously, that’s now you feel, that’s why you traveled. But they’re definitely some baristas who were like, well, back at my own shop we only did it this way and I only want to do it this way. So, I think one approach you can take is when you’re in for interviews is say, I know that I’m pretty experienced, but I’m excited to have a new opportunity and I’m here because I’d like to continue learning more. So, that’s where I would start. I would say, I am here because I’m really open. I traveled because I wanted to learn how coffee is different in different places and I have the capacity to be open and I’m really excited about learning more. I think instead of may be waiting for them to have a negative reaction to it. I would just start with that and just make it abundantly, like he said, over-communicate. Just make it abundantly clear that you’re willing because definitely, sometimes I’ve hired experienced baristas and it was the best thing, and they were such an easy fit and sometimes it wasn’t for the reasons that maybe those shop owners are worried about. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair and I wish that that was not the case. But I think one way you can maybe get around it is just by sort of naming it yourself and saying that you’re willing to learn.

Ryan Jenson: Yeah, I think hiring in that situation. I mean we would be looking for humility and also trying to gauge how quickly is this person going to be agitating to take over as the manager. They’re targeting a clear grasp of like career goals and that we already have a management team in place, and you are not currently a part of it. Are you going to just be satisfied with that for X period of time?

Audience 2: Hey, my name’s Jake with the Trident Cafe in Boulder. Wondering what you guys might say, to people working in the cafe level looking to get into other areas of the coffee industry such as, like roasting, importing, for instance, or anything.

Tymika Lawrence: Yeah, I was like, I’ve been talking a lot. Maybe I should wait. My best advice would be to engage with outside information, basically. So, go to cuppings that are happening in the area and see ways that you can get involved with your importers when they’re in town. Even starting, one really good way, I know that you guys have got really great coffee communities and so maybe starting something outside of the community, outside of your particular shop, that brings the community together for education. For example, we’re going to do this a really fun event in DC that we did in New York. It’s partly because the folks in DC were like, we saw that you did that thing, and Bloom is going to be happening, and we would love to do something like that. I’m going to be a Bloom and I would love to do an event like that. So, if somebody communicates, if a group that is dedicated, sort of like coffee culture in their city communicates something like that to me, I’m going to participate in it because I’m interested also in building community. So, I think not getting focused solely on your cafe or being the best barista, you can, but also seeing clearly what else you want to do. Sometimes it means putting yourself out there and saying like, hey, can I just hang out with you while you roast and maybe you talk me through a couple. There is a way to ask for that help without being demanding and also being understanding of maybe that the organization does not have a lot of opportunities. Sometimes it’s a bit of a waiting game but I think plotting out for yourself what you want out of your job, because, like roasters, I could never roast coffee. Roasters are by themselves all day. Just them and the roaster. I can’t do that job so never looked to roasting because that’s not where it was going to work for me. So, think a lot about the realities of those jobs, talk to people and figure out where you actually want to go, and then that can direct you. So maybe you want to be in sales, so you talk to some salespeople and maybe they tell you things that make you want to do it but maybe not.

Brian Helfrich: I think Charlotte, Diana to blow her up a little bit, started Charlotte Coffee Collective, which is basically in any city there’s roasters, cafes, there’s maybe some importers, some salespeople. There’s everyone in the coffee industry around and sometimes it takes a leader to say, alright, let’s get together every month or every quarter and let’s get together for a cupping or for some beers and then create a network of people and the forum more than anything has turned out to sort of a helper industry, like hi, I’m starting a cafe who can offer advice. So, I think if something like that exists in Boulder or in Denver, or you could even help start one. I think providing people an opportunity to communicate and share, I think is always terrific.

Tymika Lawrence: And also, for people who want to get out of cafes, stay in the cafe a little bit longer and get a cafe manager job. My cafe manager job was probably my most hard and my least favorite job and I and I loved it because I loved the people that I worked with. But it was tough, and it asked a lot of me and I think that’s why I felt that way at that time because it asked more than I that I felt like I knew how to do. It also taught me more than most of what I’ve done since. Do you know what I mean? So, a lot of times, I see baristas nod; but they are like, but I don’t want to be a cafe manager, and I’m like, Oh, well, if you want to learn time management and if you want to learn how to engage people and get them on your side and get them to do the things that you need them to do. Which those are skills that will serve you in any part of your life period. That’s where I learned that stuff and how to be clear and how to ask for what I need. So, whenever people are like, I want to get out of the café I’m like, well stay in the cafe a little bit longer, really invest and take a cafe manager job and do it for a couple of years. That actually opened up my opportunities to go work at Counter Culture. and I still am using organizational skills in people skills that I learned during that time.

Audience 3: Hey, at the beginning. I’m Laura from Craftwork Coffee Fort Worth, Texas. You mentioned profit sharing and I’m curious if you recommend doing that at a store level or company as a whole to kind of mitigate the trade off, being motivating to people, but also creating team unity and not division.

Brian Helfrich: So, to recap we have three cafes and a roastery and so we take all of our company profits, and they’re all different companies, but we pool them and then divide it among everybody because we really want to increase our whole brand and want people to be invested in the other cafes. We considered having it be café specific to say, the baristas at this cafe worked their butts off and had a great year, and so they deserve some of the benefits. But we felt like it was more important for our team, in general, to be lifted up. We saw an increase in investment and how people approached the entire company as a whole knowing that, gosh, the roastery has got a super big order, and I’m a barista five miles away but they need help bagging on Friday afternoon. I’m going to jump over there and help them because it’s the same company.

Audience 3: Just to follow up on that. Do you split it up evenly just across the number of employees? Across, when you do profit shares, there’s some way of …

Brian Helfrich: I created this formula basically that adds up to 100% and then employees, whether they’re in leadership or full time or part-time they get, three points, one point, half a point, and then if you’re employed at the end of the year, it’s a straight calculation, but yes. So, the manager would get more than the two shift a week barista.

Audience 4: Hi, my name is Adrian. I’m with Iconik Coffee Roasters in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we just are starting to build a larger team for a roastery and for our wholesale program. We’re trying to introduce a new form of education, and I was just wondering if you had any suggestions for a whole new role that’s being developed for education that goes across the board in the cafes and in wholesale.

Tymika Lawrence: You mean, I’m sorry, just want to clarify. No, no, no, it’s that you’re asking if we have recommendations for the role. So, this person will be responsible for educating everybody right? So, they will be responsible for culture, plus. Okay. No, I think so, too and it would be a great learning opportunity. The first thing is definitely only hire somebody who’s emotionally intelligent, because that person is creating the whole company culture, and they need to be able to relate to everybody and they need to write a curriculum that is appropriate. So, that person really needs to be whatever your highest standard for emotional intelligence is that person needs to have that first and foremost. Then I would have, like, a leadership team and sort of figure out what’s really important to you to include in the mission statement and then the curriculum, in my mind, I would make them into classes, and everybody should have to do them. You should explain to people why and also there should be benefits built in to going through the process and achieving something, and even if it’s just like, a barista  gets like a, well, I would never say give somebody a 50 cent raise, but maybe like a dollar after they do it all, so it takes like six months to get it all done, and then they get a premium for having done it. Even if you factor that into their starting wage to encourage it getting done. That is definitely something that you’ll want to do. But that person will be the person in your organization that you want to be the most respected and for that to be possible, they need to be the person most deserving of that respect.

Brian Helfrich: I think one tip for approaching this job is to make sure that you approach education through how it’s received and how it’s comprehended and not so much how it’s taught. We built an educational curriculum similar to what you’re talking about. It was so focused on disseminating this information and we got to a point, after three months of trying to implement it, that we were frustrated that our baristas weren’t really retaining it. We had given very little thought ahead of time to how are they going to retain this? How are we going to reaffirm this information all that stuff and sort of wasted six months of this process because we were just into teaching and not into learning in general.

Audience 5: Hi, I’m Jeff Purser. I work for Equal Exchange Café here in Boston and my question is about benefits, especially for smaller organizations. How do you provide health care for your employees and time off?

Ryan Jenson: Our vacation is very simple. It’s I think, four one-hundredths of an hour for every hour worked. It equates out to if you were 40 hours a week in the cafe, get two weeks of the year, 10 full days and then it’s a little more for our management team and then our insurance is within, by the 90th day, it’s like a flat rate. Healthcare has changed also in 10 years. It used to be like 80% of your premium, and now it’s a flat rate and depending on what plan you pick it can be all of it or half of it or whatever.

Audience 5: Do you provide health care for all full-time employees?

Ryan Jenson: Yeah.

Brian Helfrich: I think we’ve got time for one more quick question.

Tymika Lawrence: I just want to say you just have to build it into your business plan and it’s hard to do once it’s done. But like for the people that I know that we’re responsible for that those decisions at companies when it was really small, it meant sacrificing other stuff. It’s also meant turnover at our cafes were really low, people stayed. There was one of my years, we were the same team for an entire 18 months, so nobody quit and that’s in New York City. So that’s huge. So, it just is one of those things where it’s like if; I say this about green coffee all the time, people are like, but I don’t know if I can afford to spend more and I’m like, I ran a cafe, you probably spent more. But, you have to spend less somewhere else in a place where the impact is not as important. So, the impact is really huge for your staff for having health care, and so that means looking somewhere else. That maybe means changing pricing at the end, and that means being more efficient in spending. But I think it’s one of those things, if you look at it as a must-do, then you solve around it. But if not it gets harder because you are like well, should I and I get it? It’s a tough decision and it’s expensive and we don’t make it very easy to offer so, I understand that.

Ryan Jenson: One of the things that we neglected to take into account when we started the wage chart was that someone would stay with us. So, we created this system where after three years we were like, oh my gosh, like this person’s making $5 or $6 more an hour than a starting barista. This isn’t really sustainable. We can’t just send this on into infinity. We had to revise things and have a little bit more long view of we can’t have all of our staff like staying around forever. This math is not going to work out.

Audience 6: Hi, my name is Lena. I work at Broadsheet Coffee Roasters in Cambridge, Mass. My question is more about when you’re talking about training, what is a good way to go about asking for training, especially potentially external training? For example, I’m on a wholesale team. This is my first wholesale job and I’ve basically been learning as I go. But sometimes I’m wondering if there might, from the conversations here it sounds like. Is there a more efficient way to potentially go about this and how can I ask for that help?

Brian Helfrich: I think if you’re taking a new job, if you’re an employee or if you are an employer, when you give someone a job, be pretty transparent, upfront about what the expectations are in terms of ongoing development and training. One thing that we have is what we call a green fund, which is you make 10 cents per hour worked that goes into this side fund, plus any bonuses for employees awards or picking up extra shifts. Then you can use that fund to pull on, basically, it’s a company debit account where employees can then withdraw to take on ongoing education or things that we don’t provide. You have this pool where it’s like all right, I’ve earned 500 bucks in the last six months. I’m going to use it to go to this seminar and the company will pay for it.

Tymika Lawrence: I also think writing a proposal is good. So, doing the research, figuring out what you expect it to cost and saying this is exactly what I’m hoping to get out of it. Business owners respond really well to that because you’re not just saying Oh, please spend money on this thing and it will help, I swear. Not that you would. I know you, Lena. I know you would not do that, but it’s just good when they see that you’ve put that thought into it. It shows an investment in their business and also that you are really, very clear about what you want out of it and you’ve done the leg work, and this is what it’s going to cost. And this is what I expect. This is the benefit I expect to get from it and yeah, I bet that that’s a good way to get it done.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp: Alright. Well, our time is up. Thank you all.


1:00:30 Outro

Heather Ward: That was Brian Helfrich, Ryan Jenson, Connie Blumhardt, Andrew Miller, and Tymika Nichelle Lawrence at Specialty Coffee Expo in April 2019.

Remember to check our show notes for a full episode transcript of this lecture and a link to coffeeexpo.org for more information about this year’s event.

This has been an episode of the SCA Podcast’s Expo Lecture Series, brought to you by the members of the Specialty Coffee Association, and supported by SAP’s Softengine Coffee One. Thanks for listening!


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