Cafe as Creative Expression

25 06 2009

So for those of you who don’t already know (and if you’re my friend on Facebook, your not knowing is sort of unthinkable), about a month ago I became the co-owner of the cyber cafe in Gallup where I had gone to work about two months prior.

As I have expressed on numerous occasions, I absolutely love what I am doing. It is one of the most fun, demanding, rewarding, exhausting, and enjoyable things I have ever tackled in my life.

I want to share a major part of the reason I love it so much.

I’ve worked at restaurants before, and while I’ve enjoyed those jobs, too, being the owner of a place like this provides me with something unique and unexpected, something that has been largely missing from my life the past year since our move to Gallup — an opportunity for creative expression.

I love the way that this place becomes, a little bit more every day, an extension of my own personality.

One example: I stopped turning on the fluorescent lights and opted instead for the softer incandescents. It was a little strange at first because, walking in here from the bright outdoors, it seems a little dark at first. But an odd thing happened with the dramatic change in lighting. Customers started to express that this place “had a great feel.” They started to see it as a refuge from the outside world — a place where they could come in and check their email over a latte, or read a book while sipping a smoothie, or eat a sandwich while getting lost in a video game. They hang out for longer periods of time now. They order more food and drinks. This place becomes a highlight of their day, not just another stop within the daily routine. Even some of the older folk who come in for their morning coffee, the ones who told me they didn’t like the lighting change, are showing up more often instead of less.

I stopped tuning into local, commercial-laden radio. Instead, I bought a Zune pass allowing us unlimited music downloads for a flat monthly fee, and now I build a music playlist for each day that’s always different and never plays the same song twice in the same day. Each of my employees has made his or her own contributions to the music collection, and in that way even the background music reflects our unique tastes and personalities. I love that people can come into my cafe and hear familiar songs but also some of my favorite musicians that probably don’t get much airplay in other eating establishments — musicians like Plumb, Chasing Furies, The Appleseed Cast and The Echoing Green. And every day, there is a musical closing-time regimen that requires the playing of two songs: Closing Time by Semisonic and Another One Bites the Dust by Queen. The day can’t end properly until those songs have played.

I banished most of the pre-made food that was on the menu when I first arrived. Sandwiches and salads are now made fresh to order, and I picked how I want them to look when they’re finished. The presentation is gorgeous. Our sandwiches are the kind that people notice when they’re on someone else’s table and say, “Can I order one of those, too?” I’m planning to add grilled panini sandwiches to the menu within the next few weeks.

I expanded our specialty coffee menu with new Signature Lattés featuring unique flavor combinations. You can go to a handful of other places in town and order a vanilla latté or a café mocha, but this is the only place around where you can order a German Chocolate Latté (Ghirardelli chocolate, caramel, and coconut), a Leprechaun Latté (Irish Cream and Vanilla), a Black Forest Latté (Chocolate, Cherry and Vanilla), a Pink Panther Latté (White Chocolate and Raspberry) or a Funky Monkey Latté (Banana and Coconut).

I think that the way I approach this place as a creative extension of myself is why I get frustrated when I’m not able to do everything as quickly as I want to do it. One example: When I arrived, this was a place where everything is served on a styrofoam plate with plastic utensils. I’ve started to purchase a collection of dishes (not ugly restaurant ones, but trendy black ones) but it will still be a bit before we have enough to start utilizing them. (And there’s more important stuff I need to buy first, like a vehicle.) But disposable dishes just don’t fit into my vision for this place, so they’re on their way out.

I love the way that this place is gradually reflecting my vision for what it has the potential of becoming.

Mostly it makes me wish the rest of the people I love most could come out here (or for the ones who do, come out here more often). That’s probably the part that is the hardest. Even in Colorado, it was never often enough that I could get my family out to experience whatever creative outlet in which I was taking part. When you put yourself out there, you hope that the people who matter most in your life will be able to be a part of that. Only a few of those people live out here.

Right now, I’m looking forward to some promised visits this summer. And who knows? Maybe if this place becomes successful enough, I’ll be able to talk some of them into moving out here!

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6 responses

25 06 2009
Dad 2

Great job I hope you can find help that can open or close for you, sounds like your candle is burning quite brightly at both ends.

Love you, Dad2

26 06 2009
pennepasta

The ones who move away from family have a pretty hard time trying to convince them to “come, too!!”. I could write a book. I’d like to write it at a table in your cafe, pen in hand, Leprechaun latte steaming nearby.

Hmmmmm…..writing THAT book in Gallup would be disturbingly ironic.

26 06 2009
Micah DL

Please move your coffee shop to Boulder so that I have an awesome place to study.

6 07 2009
Midwest Admirer

Hi Rob,

My husband and I sure enjoy reading your blog. We might end up in Gallup for a few days this summer and, if we do, we’ll ask around for your cyber cafe. Congrats on this exciting thing you’re doing… my husband can’t wait to eat food, drink coffee, and do some work from his computer in such a cool place!

Midwest Admirers

16 07 2009
Wesley

Hey Rob!

Sorry it has taken me so long to comment on this post… but it is absolutely one of my favorites. It’s funny, because just a few days after you posted this, I was reading an article in a magazine called “Inc.” It featured stories about entrepreneurs (one from Denver who owned 11 Tokyo Joes) who had become successful through being extremely creative with their ideas. I totally thought of you.

This is seriously a great thing for you. What’s better than getting paid for doing what you love every day? And the fact that you’re so passionate about it means you’ll be very successful with your ideas.

It has always been my dream to create a place where people love to come to relax, hang out, enjoy a drink (whether it be coffee or a martini), and listen to some excellent music. I have to admit, I’m jealous that you’ve created this! Owning and operating a business is not an easy thing to do. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and you definitely have both of those!

I think that your decision to nix the disposable plates and silverware is a great idea. I also love the different coffee drinks you’ve created (and the excellent names you given them). And nothing is better than fresh-made food. Consumers can always tell the difference between the two, so thumbs up for that (I’m totally there for the grilled paninis!). Also, including your employees in the music selection is a great idea. I think that gives your team members a feeling of “ownership” and completely empowers them to do the best they can do every day. Last, but not least, is your lighting decision… and I absolutely agree with what you’ve decided to do. Florescent light is very commercial… and nobody wants to feel like they’re sitting in a Wal-Mart coffee shop.

Good luck with everything! And maybe while Jenn is out here in August we can come visit you and have some great food and coffee!

W.

29 07 2009
Corrie

How cool that you can run an establishment in such a unique and classy way! I wish I could come and check my email there and eat a beautiful salad!! Maybe you can post some pictures of your sandwiches and salads! We all wanna see!

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