Justifying My Career Change

Unfortunately, I get the feeling from many people (and thank you to those from whom I don’t receive such pressure) that I need to lay out my reasons for moving from politics/policy into coffee. I think people want me to justify moving out of a field in which I haven’t been able to find secure employment in a fluorescent-lit desk job for quite a while and into one in which I stand behind a counter. At least that’s the way they see it. They don’t take a long-term view. They don’t – or don’t want – to see our goal. If that feeling isn’t correct – if it’s just me questioning myself and wanting to pour over it again – then I’ll take that. But I have another feeling that says my first feeling is correct. So here goes, folks. 

First off, I think it’s a good thing to have a five-year plan; not a bad thing. That’s right. The idea to open our own coffee shop is at the end of the next five years (sooner if circumstances permit, but five years is the goal). That’s a lot of time to plan, build capital, purchase equipment – not to mention, learn the trade. Many enter the coffee business without any inside knowledge and it doesn’t go well. I’ve witnessed it firsthand.

I’ve spent 15 years whiling away vast swaths of time on the customer-side of coffee shops’ counters. Neither of us have much experience on the other side. I’ve taken on the task of learning behind-the-bar by securing what some seem to think is just another service job. (Pay attention to the work your baristas put in next time you order a drink. Bet you don’t make that good a mocha at home.) Misty would gladly do it instead. But she can find work – work she enjoys – and that usually pays decent (certainly better than any position I’d be offered with the state of Texas or at the Lege). The trade-off is that she has work to her ass off as a freelance UX/IxD for the next few years while I spend long hours on my feet learning about coffee, making and serving coffee, learning, learning, learning and practicing, practicing, practicing. We’ll spend time scouting cities (we’re not planning to open in Austin), writing up a business plan, doing research, etc. You know, that stuff that makes one more likely to be successful in the long-run.

Let’s be honest: I haven’t found a decent job in – well, a really, really long time. Even my work at the Capitol was low-paid if not valuable and satisfying in other ways. Ultimately, though, I think policy and politics in the Democratic Party in Texas continues to move on an old-boys’ system that, while now more multicultural, is no less tainting to those with whom it comes into long-term contact. I’ll save elaboration on this part for a later post – or a book.

My friend, Stephanie, who owns Bennu Coffee in Austin, sent me to a training at Texas Coffee Traders last week. As I listened to the trainer/employee, it felt rather right. As I said above, I’ve spent years – seriously, all combined, probably years – sitting in others’ coffee shops. I know the atmosphere, amenities and other things I want to offer customers and the pitfalls, characters and issues I want to avoid. I’ll definitely add to this list as I gain experience in the field. But getting a basic history and explanation of coffee from cultivation to consumption, looking at and smelling different beans, watching (and smelling) just-out-of-the-roaster beans and practicing making drinks, felt good and right. Successfully making a tasty drink is a newfound pleasure.

What happens if I decide I hate the coffee business? Well, Misty and I rethink things. A new plan is formulated. Just having the plan makes me feel more secure and hopeful. We know the risks. We know the path we’re taking isn’t necessarily the one others would take. But what’s the fun in that?

What is more American than starting your own business – even if you fail? (On Wall Street, failing is the most American thing you can do. We’ll even pay them for it.) In this economy, you certainly can’t rely on someone else’s business to keep you afloat.

When it comes right down to it: Why not Aim High? (Even if I’m not still in the Air Force.)