"What made you want to open a restaurant?" It's a question that I get a lot and one I never grow tired of. It forces me to answer the question "why"? In answering the question I'm reminded of what's important. I'm reminded that my business has a purpose and I'm forced to evaluate how well we've stuck to the guiding principles we laid out in those first weeks.
The truth is, I wanted to start my own business for a lot of reasons- many of them selfish. I couldn't sit in an office. I hated being told what to do. I wanted to make lots of money. I wanted to be respected and admired. Before long though, I realized that these reasons would not fuel a passion. I knew that true passion comes from purpose, and when your purpose is as shallow as money or prestige, you're bound to get burned out. I had to do some real soul searching to find out what would give me that unquenchable flame.
If you asked me at age 16 if I could see myself ever owning and managing my own restaurant, my answer would have been a resounding "no way." My very first job was at KFC, and as far as I could tell, running a restaurant was miserable work. But as I grew up some, and worked other jobs in the hospitality business, I came to realize that serving others could be very fulfilling. I began to see that there was something truly special about our sacred dining rituals that brought family, friends, and lovers together in a way that nothing else did.
A hundred people must have spouted off the statistics to me. "Eighty percent of restaurants fail within their first three years," they would say. I was too reckless to care. I liked my odds, and the challenge. In fact, the more naysayers, the better. I was 23 years old with a giant chip on my shoulder, and no one was going to tell me what I could or couldn't do. Ah, to be young and dumb. Though this approach gave me plenty of resolve, it also got me into plenty of trouble. More on that in another post.
Back to "why?" After recruiting my brother Mike as my partner in crime, and deciding that a restaurant would best suit our skill sets, we settled on a purpose that would drive us. In the end it came down to some very fundamental, but important concepts: community and relationships. We based our business model around the belief that the world we were living in was becoming increasingly impersonal and cold, and that people were created to be in fellowship with one another. It was our belief that our livelihood depended on those personal connections. Our goal was to create a place that would bring people together, a place that would allow people to slow down and re-connect to reality, and a place that could easily inject itself into the community and create a positive impact. We reasoned that our gathering place would need to be warm, un-intimidating, inviting, friendly, clean, organic and comfortable. Our goal was to create a place of enrichment for our employees and a home away from home for our customers. Ultimately, we hoped to see the community take ownership and make it their own.
Recently, I received a note from someone who had just moved to Polk County from Denver, Colorado. She described how out of place she felt in her new home, and how after a quick online search of the area, she decided to visit Black & Brew. She gave us plenty of flattering compliments, but one of them meant more to me than she'll ever know. She said "Black & Brew felt like a warm hug from an old friend." I knew at that moment that we had accomplished what we had set out to do.
This week we hit the ever important three year mark, and as I take a look back at all that we've endured, I can not begin to describe how blessed I feel to be a part of this journey. As tempting as it might be to take the credit for Black & Brew's success, the truth is that the credit belongs to the community that has embraced us and the employees (my extended family) that have worked so hard day in and day out to keep us moving forward. You are the reason we exist, and I will never lose sight of that.
Green Beans- We've come a long way and hurdled many obstacles, but we have the opportunity to make a greater impact. This is only the beginning. We're still a sack of green coffee beans- ready for roasting, grinding, brewing and enjoying! I hope you'll find hope, encouragement or maybe even some inspiration in the reflections on our journey.