Recently, I was asked how I found myself in the coffee community. The answer is a little longer than most people have time for, and depending on emotions, sometimes it really pulls on my heartstrings. We’ll give it a shot here and maybe it’ll help lay the foundation for future posts.
Let’s rewind to 2012, I was the general manager for another local painting company. A company that really felt more like a family than just a place of employment. I’d been with them for seven years and life seemed to be good. That’s all until I received a text message one evening calling for an early morning meeting the next day. It was a closed door meeting that included phrases like, “box up your stuff”, “pick up your last check” and really no good-bye, no severance, no we hope you land on your feet, and really not much closure.
After leaving that meeting I must have drove around for hours trying to figure out what to do. To tell my wife, to try to hide it, to try to find something new and then tell her? I was at loss, this was all sudden and unexpected. At that time, my oldest daughter was six, my youngest was three, and we were a single income household. We had a pretty comfortable lifestyle, but nothing much in regards to savings. So, what did I do? I did tell my wife, although, words weren’t really needed. I walked in the door, quite a bit earlier than usual, our eyes met, and both of us started crying. So many emotions all at once, so much in question, so much fear.
I’m not sure if you’ve even been without work, but it seems when you’re not looking there’s always a job out there, when you are looking, good luck because jobs are scarce. This time was a huge strain on my family. It was definitely the most trying time we’ve ever experienced and the closest I’ve ever felt to losing it all. It was a very lonely time, a time of questioning my worth, my ability to support my family, and on and on down this dark rabbit hole.
It’s hard to validate yourself as a husband and father sitting at the kitchen table filling out application after application but really, no one sees that as progress. It’s not a source of income and is a whole lot of wishful thinking. Thus began my search for businesses that had wifi, a place to sit, and the buy-in wasn’t too high. A place that no one would really know me and no one knew I was without a job. I bounced around a bit, even found places that the wifi was strong enough that I could get online in my truck and wouldn’t take up their space or feel bad if I couldn’t afford to buy something.
Now, let’s get to the coffee part. One of those places I found was Elemental Coffee. Elemental is a local cafe and coffee roastery. I didn’t know anyone. But each day I’d walk in, be greeted by the barista, and make my way to the very back table, next to the window, and near an outlet. I’d spend the day there, I would try to order something in the morning and something around lunch to justify the time I spent soaking up their wifi and occupying their space.
I remember their staff always being welcoming, greeting me with a smile, and never once did I feel like they were upset that I spent so much time there and spent so little money. I tried to keep mostly to myself, I wasn’t a coffee person, I was just struggling and didn’t know where else to turn. I do remember my first “real” interaction there, it was with Steve Willingham. It was probably a week or so into my squatting at Elemental. I remember Steve walking by, stopping to introduce himself, shaking my hand and some version of have a good day. We never know what battles a person has going on, so if you ever are wondering, should I smile, should I shake their hand, should I say hello, the answer is ALWAYS YES.
None of these things seem like huge acts of kindness, but when you’re hurting inside and you feel lost sometimes it’s not the huge acts, it’s the small acts that you may think go unnoticed…but they don’t. I have no idea where I’d be today if it weren’t for Elemental Coffee, their staff, and for Steve. They may not know the extent, but they impacted and changed my life. They were my safe place when I needed one most.
I didn’t fall in love with coffee because of the coffee, I fell in love with coffee because of the community. Since then, I’ve met many amazing people, people who have taught me a lot about life and coffee, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of those stories in the future.