I live and work in St. Louis, MO. I know I know,... not the first or maybe even the tenth place that pops into your head as a coffee city. I do work for what I percieve to be the premium brand and industry leader within this community. There are other great roasters as well, don't get me wrong. I will say admittedly that as a coffee city, we have a long way to go before we are at the standards of a Portland. you may not get the best espresso shots, or S.O. espresso, or hand brewed coffee at every shop, (you will at ours) but you will get one thing almost everywhere: Customer Service. You will have a warm experience. Our city is inviting and full of hidden treasures in all things Culinary. I am proud to be a part of this community and hope that our mid-west hospitality spreads nation wide. We don't just serve coffee, we serve people. We get a lot of flack from some because we do things that in other cities may be looked down upon as sub-par quality. We have twenty ounce to-goes, smoothies, food, large spaces, etc,... But, weare more about making people happy and slowly educating them through long and trusting relationships, instead of saying, "We don't do that bacause our way is the right way." We have two menus: Traditional and non-traditional. We feel good about that. If I was submerged in a different demographic, I would do what the folks there do. I would limit my menu and offer only smaller for here drinks. That is just simply not sustainable here. What is sustainable is those relationships.
Also: just for openness, Chris Dale is a personal friend and co-worker. He did not post this as a set up for this response. I simply read the title and began my response even before I knew he was the author. We are not trying to push our brand here or anything.
I live and work in Lubbock, TX. Where? (The home of Buddy Holley.. Texas Tech University.. literally tons of cotton.. and let's not forget the signature airborne dust)
I moved here in 2001 as an undergraduate. My now wife came here for Graduate school. We're still here.
The good: There has been a lot of opportunity to make a difference, and to elevate the standard. I feel like I've had a pivotal role in that. I started my coffee journey here, basically alone. (like most people)
The bad: There is a stagnant culture that is almost 2nd wave (it's that far behind) that is persistent. It hates things that would change the current status quo.. including outside influence, or progress of any kind.. even if that means turning a blind eye to the real world around.
The ugly: It's flat. It's dusty. (although, the past couple of years have been uncharacteristically green and lush for this region. It's an odd situation when the landscape gets less green driving eastward towards Dallas.. where we're both from) The water quality is absolutely terrible. Potable.. barely.
I took steps that were entirely intended to change the coffee scene here for the better. From starting a training and consulting business, to working with almost every local coffee business, to now roasting (more selfish, this one). It's been a good place to grow professionally without feeling external pressure. There IS no external pressure.
Baltimore is a lovely, quirky city with denizens ranging from Sisqo to John Waters to Jenna Bush. It ranges from the tourist grind of Harborplace to the strange oddity of Hampden to the bloody streets of West Baltimore. When friends ask me if I'm scared of going to places like Addis, Mexico City, Bogota or any "third world" nation, I tell them "we're from Baltimore - there's greater chance of getting killed here than in Bogota."
In a few minutes time, one can go from the urban ghettoes of The Wire to the lush countryside of The Runaway Bride. All-in-all, it's a decent place to live with a somewhat burgeoning food scene. But what I like most is the balance. Unlike living in places like New York City, where it's all over the top, Baltimore has the bustle of city life and the pleasantness of rural living. I can live in the near rural areas of Maryland and be at work in 25 minutes, with parking.
The coffee scene here is pretty basic. Nothing to get too excited about. Mainly Starbucks and independents that do what they've been doing for years, meaning the coffee is still a bit under the standards that I'm used to. But this provides the opportunity for us to build one of the most progressive shops in the world and have that approach welcomed.
Are you enjoying Barista Exchange? Is it helping you promote your business and helping you network in this great industry? Donate today to keep it free to all members. Supporters can join the "Supporters Group" with a donation. Thanks!