Category Archives: Business

The Beachcomber: Where Everyone (In Skyway) Knows Your Name

by Marcus Harrison Green

Anyone walking through the doors of the Beachcomber Bar & Grill in Skyway might be overwhelmed by its apparent “ordinariness” – especially if one is prone to a fetish for the hip and trendy that is standard for any bar or lounge that graces Belltown or Capitol Hill. Continue reading The Beachcomber: Where Everyone (In Skyway) Knows Your Name

Nate’s Wings and Waffles: A Southend Game Changer

by Drea Chicas

Crowds form outside of the grand opening of Nate's Wings and Waffles.
Crowds form outside of the grand opening of Nate’s Wings and Waffles.

What pairs better with fried chicken than waffles? Nothing does. That makes Nate’s Wings and Waffles the obvious choice when deciding between Rainer Valley’s latest, chicken-themed restaurants. What’s most exciting about Nate Robinson’s grand opening of this southend gem, however, is not just the mouthwatering cuisine. It’s the kind of business model Robinson is contributing to the community. We should all be taking notes because Nate’s Wings and Waffles is another kind of slam-dunk.

When gentrification negatively affects pockets of the community, as has been the case recently in Rainier Valley, outsiders who don’t understand the community’s history create new businesses and restaurants. These places tend to be overpriced and cater to the appetites of a specific populace; often excluding those of longstanding residents. The newest pubs erected in Hillman City model this pattern. Robinson’s family-run business represents an entirely different narrative—one that challenges current gentrification trends in the southend—and one that is inviting. For one, the chicken is organic, and reasonably priced. It makes sense Robinson understands his customer. He is the customer.

Robinson represents the insider—not the outsider of the community. Growing up, his mother owned a salon on the same block. Oh, and Robinson is a professional basketball player, philanthropist, sneakerhead, and businessman who graduated from Rainier Beach High School. Then he played ball and was a student for the University of Washington. Robinson, therefore, has insight about the Valley no outside business owner can ever have. That’s home court advantage at its finest. This positions Nate’s Wings and Waffles restaurant in a league of its own. Unfortunately, new businesses of the like aren’t necessarily mass producing in the Valley. That could soon change. How can we cultivate more innovators and leaders like Robinson? Let’s learn from Robinson and his business team. If we want to see more businesses like these, we need the inside insight.

As a friend and I waited for the grand opening just before noon on Tuesday, there was already a line that extended down the block. Right in front of us, stood a group of young men from Rainier Beach High School’s basketball team. The chicken prices easy on the pockets. The students enthusiastically waited in line. A special appearance by Nate Robinson caught their attention– they current students and he an alum of Rainier Beach High School. The significance of the moment was beautiful because I’m sure this business was created with them (and so many other people) in mind.

A game changer, both on and off the court, Robinson grabs the red baskets off the counter, proudly taking orders to the customers. He should be proud, he’s an example for all of us.

Nate’s Wings and Waffles is located in Rainier Beach at 9261 57th Ave Seattle, WA 98118

Thai Restaurant Nourishes “Community” in West Hill

by Marcus Harrison Green

Lake Thai 3
An entree at Lake Thai Cuisine

Those fortunate enough to have had serendipity guide them to the discovery of the Lakeridge neighborhood’s Lake Thai Cuisine are most often introduced to the feelings shock and awe upon their entry. Though serious candidates for suppliers of these sensations, it is not the restaurant’s wonderful Happy Hour that actually does justice to the phrase after a long day’s labor, nor its authentic Thai entrees that provoke lament at evolution for cursing humans with only one stomach, nor even a menu that was designed to inflate the waistline without bursting the wallet.

No, the amazement that greets patrons when they set foot through the doors of the West Hill area restaurant- located in the minute corridor between Seattle and Renton, the city limits of each being just a few feet away from its premises in opposite directions- is kindle by the sight of people from all walks of life, who have no obvious relation other than the shared experience of an exquisite meal, are utterly engrossed in collective conversation with one another.

This is no small feat in a day and age when people frequent eateries and coffee shops to do nothing more than be alone together, buried in the digital screens of their smartphones that operate as electronic appendages. What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that it is transpiring in the Skyway/ West Hill area; a place whose reputation for chilly interactions between residents makes the Seattle Freeze look like a slightly breezy day.

“Food is of course important, but we wanted a place that regardless of race, creed, or income, really served to foster community right here in this area,” said Peter Stripp, who along with his wife Sirima opened Lake Thai Cuisine a little over 4 months ago.

“As soon as someone walks in here, we want them to feel a sense of warmth and at ease enough so they feel like they can make connections here with their neighbors,” Stripp says in his English accent, which compliments an urbane manner that frequenters of the area’s only Thai restaurant have come to adore.

Judging by a typical evening at the restaurant -which crackles with a festive energy resulting from spontaneous conversations amongst table mates that touch on everything from food, to life, to the surrounding neighborhoods, and often features nightly conversions of long time strangers into new friends- it seems abundantly obvious that its cultivation of the community is thriving.

But lest you think that Lake Thai Cuisine is all talk, Stripp and his wife Sirima- who was born in Thailand and had her lifelong dream of owning a restaurant realized the day the couple purchased the building Lake Thai Cuisine currently occupies after its previous tenant, a jazz lounge, floundered- view the food they serve, which consists of mainly traditional Thai dishes, on equal footing as the atmosphere they strive to provide.

“So often you dine at a restaurant and the food taste different every time you come in. It was paramount that our food be consistent, so that every single time someone ordered something they knew what to expect, and what was great the last time they visited us, wouldn’t be just okay the next time they came in,” says Stripp.

Adds Sirima, who has cooked Thai inspired food virtually her entire life, “For us our formula for success is simple: provide good food and excellent customer service, and people will come to you no matter where you are.”

Her last point alludes to the fact that the area of Skyway/West Hill has received constant criticism for being infertile ground for start ups- especially restaurants with their traditionally low profit margins. Though the many carcasses of one time businesses that are now occupied by church storefronts would seem to attest to this, Stripp believes that Lake Thai Cuisine’s location- with its high visibility along Rainier Avenue- is a boon for the restaurant.

“There is honestly no reason why we can’t be successful here,” say Stripp. “Rainier Avenue South is becoming a heavily trafficked area because people want to avoid the main freeways if they can. We feel that we are in a prime location.”

“In fact,” the Englishman shares, “We continue to attract devoted customers because of where we are at, not in spite of it, as the other day a gentleman came in here and said: Please, please don’t leave us. The people and food here are too good!”

Lake Thai Cuisine is located at 11425 Rainier Avenue South Seattle, WA 98178, and is open Mon-Thurs from 11:30am to 9:oopm, Fri-Sat 11:30am to 10:00pm, and Sunday 4:00pm to 9:00pm.

“Big Chickie” Hatches in Hillman City

by Robin Boland

Big Chickie (http://www.bigchickie.com/) , located on Rainier & Findlay, is the newest addition to Hillman City. Occupying an area that previously housed a gas station the owners have gotten creative with the space. All seating is set up outside under a covered area & they’ve added waterproof ‘drapes’ to protect customers from the inevitable wet weather ahead. There is some on-site parking and one imagines there will also be quite a bit of take-out business.

The "before" photo.
The “before” photo.

The restaurant specializes in charcoal roasted rotisserie chicken (also known as pollo a la brasa), marinated overnight, roasted and then carved to meet your needs (half, quarter, large chicken, small chicken, dark or light meat).  Beer, wine and soft drinks as well as an amazing array of sides and homemade sauces complete the menu. Note that vegetarians could easily be sated with the salads, rice & other side dishes.

After a number of little known ‘soft openings’ were successful Big Chickie took down the construction fence and officially opened its doors to Hillman City September 9th, selling out long before the hungry masses were ready. Day two was more of the same with those who missed out on the previous day showing up early to get in line. With only a few kinks to be worked out (when to start the chicken & how much to make) it seems unavoidable that Big Chickie will be a success.

My resident chicken expert (aka my 11 year old boy) provided the following feedback: “We’re going to need more chicken”.

Robin Boland is a contributing columnist, South Seattle Enthusiast, and often is referred to as “little bird” by her friends with heights over 5 ft 7

 

 

 

The Collaboratory: Rich Soil for Social Change

by Robin Boland

 

John Collab
Co-Founder John Helmiere speaking to Collaboratory members.

The Collaboratory (http://hillmancitycollaboratory.org/ ), quietly blooming on the corner of Rainier Ave S. and S. Orcas Street, is, even in its infancy, an enormous idea. South Seattle is indeed fertile ground for the seeds of change being sown by founders John Helmiere and Ben Hunter.

Open for only 6 months and already achieving its intended goals of building community and equipping change makers, the Collaboratory was originally envisioned as an “Incubator for Social Change”. Composed of co-work office spaces, the Mixing Chamber (a large, open, multi-purpose area), a learning kitchen, backyard community garden and drop-in center the Collaboratory is serving the community’s needs in a variety of ways. Perhaps the rarest aspect of the endeavor lies in its self-defining nature.

Non-profit organizations, start-ups and individuals join the Collaboratory as co-work partners, utilizing the essential office resources of a mailing address, conference room & office equipment. Additionally this space serves as a gallery for artists to display their available work. The Learning Kitchen, currently under construction, will offer cooking classes and other educational resources devoted to feeding a diverse community, focusing on healthy, local food fit for many palates. The backyard garden, which is open to all, hosts a community BBQ every Sunday.

The Mixing Chamber area, available both for one time or ongoing events, hosts a monthly featured artist’s exhibit as well as a variety of social justice organizations, neighborhood groups and community gatherings. Continuing use of the space or close proximity to the Collaboratory earns partners a special rate for use of this resource. Drop-in hours in the Mixing Chamber are from 10-2 on weekdays. This is a time when all are welcome and invited to have a hot meal (offered daily), peruse the free library, or obtain toiletries and household goods as needed. This is also an ideal time to meet with Collaboratory staff, discuss opportunities and get a feel for the environment of community connection.

Overall, the Collaboratory is the very embodiment of partnership. It is an environment built of our community’s experiences, goals and best intentions. One hopes that it continues to flourish, blossoming in the rich soil our area provides.

Robin Boland is a contributing columnist, South Seattle Enthusiast, and often is referred to as “little bird” by her friends who have heights over 5 ft 7

Hillman City’s Business District: A Rose Grows From Concrete

by Robin Boland Hillman City

The flourishing Hillman City business district reminds one of a tenacious wild flower, sprouting up between the cracks in the sidewalk. The energy of the neighborhood and its local entrepreneurs is in stark contrast to the derelict buildings and deserted businesses one might have previously rushed past on their way to the well-established Columbia City business district scant blocks away. The hope of this fledgling strip of independent entrepreneurs is that you will forgo your familiar, fast paced visit to Starbucks and instead take a few moments to chat up your neighbors at the Tin Umbrella or sample the seasonal menu at the Union Bar while testing your trivia knowledge (note that a yoga class at Rocket Crossfit may be in order afterwards). It may take a few moments longer to get your coffee but as you leave you’ll feel like you just left a friend’s living room and yes, their baby is indeed eating Cheerios off the floor.

The newest additions to the growing business community in this neighborhood include a home furnishing store & a soon to open rotisserie chicken restaurant with outdoor seating. These join, among other neighbors, a thrift store, a halal pizza café, a martial arts academy and a local brewery. Nestled amongst these locally grown endeavors is a gem of an idea, the Hillman City Collaboratory (http://hillmancitycollaboratory.org/).

The Collaboratory, self-described as an “Incubator for Social Change” offers shared office space, mixing chamber (a large, multi-purpose area), learning kitchen, community garden and drop in center. Drop in hours are Monday through Friday from 10-2 while partners have access anytime. The idea is that dreamers and doers have a place to go, echoing the vibrant spirit of the neighborhood. The community building HCC has become a pick up location for a local CSA (http://www.farmigo.com/join/growingwashington/summer2014), offered organic gardening classes, hosted fundraisers and are possible future partners with Families of Color Seattle (http://focseattle.com/). FOC Seattle hopes to partner with the HCC to open a Cultural Cornerstone Café in the fall, hosting multilingual family events for the community. The Hillman City Collaboratory seems to represent the very earnest spirit of regrowth throughout the neighborhood, bringing light back to what had been in shadows.

Robin Boland is a contributing columnist, South Seattle Enthusiast, and is often referred to as “little bird” by friends of hers with heights over 5 ft 7

Editor’s Note: The article was heavily influenced by the following poem

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Tupac Shakur

Biz Bio: Spinnaker Bay Brewing: Where The Best Beer In Seattle Docks

by Marcus Harrison Green

What: Spinnaker Bay Brewing

Where: 5718 Rainier Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118

Website: www.spinnakerbaybrewing.com

 

For those of you whose dedication to wine and cocktails as their primary drinks of choice is akin to religious fixation, and consider beer only beerspinbayas the pariah of the adult beverage family, to be purchased reluctantly during cash strapped periods, a  visit to Spinnaker Bay Brewing in Hillman City just might be enough to stimulate a conversion to beer as your preferred libation.

Founded, owned, and operated, as the realization of a lifelong dream, by Head Brewer Janet Spindler and her partner Elissa Pryor, with equal measures of love, passion and zeal, Spinnaker Bay Brewing, and its savory signature brews -with names like Little Dinghy Blonde and Fraid Not Pale Ale™ – has become synonymous with bringing Christmas Day to your taste buds, and developed into a magnet for attracting the residents of the broader Rainier Valley area.

On any given night its warm and welcoming atmosphere, complemented by carefully curated vintage decor, houses collars both white and blue – hipsters from Columbia City, hyperlocals from Hillman, and the beer curious from Mt.Baker, Seward Park, and Rainier Beach. All are often immersed in good-humored conversations, while sharing home made pastries or delicious eats provided by the local food vendors just outside the brewery. While serving as an incubator for community, its main allure remains its herculean tasting beer, which many have christened as the best brewed in all of Seattle, north or south.

A testimony to this fact, is that most of its servers – who it should be noted  in an era where customer service has become as archaic as silent movies, and chivalry, appear to have graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Nordstrom School of Client Relations – labor there for incentives that trump the financial, as in response to why she loved working at the brewery, one of the staff replied: “To be honest, before here, I never knew Beer could taste this good!” So speaks another convert.

Biz Bio: Tin Umbrella, Coffee That Changes The World

What:Tin Umbrella Coffee

Where:  Hillman City (5600 Rainier Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118)

Tin Umbrella owner Joya Iverson
Tin Umbrella owner Joya Iverson

Hours:Mon- Fri  (6:30am-2:00pm), Sat-Sun (8:30am- 3:00pm)

Website:www.tinumbrella.com

 

“Coffee that will change the world!” This audacious response to the question of, “What do you hope to accomplish with your business?”, drips smoothly from the mouth of Tin Umbrella owner Joya Iverson, as if she were channeling the taste of the curated java she serves daily to her faithful patrons.

While it’s overly tempting to dismiss this pronouncement as hyperbole that derives from the chutzpah inherent in the archetype of an intrepid entrepreneur, that becomes almost impossible to do once the backstory of the coffee shop that could is recounted. By all accords the nearly year old coffee roastery, located in one of the more obscure areas of South Seattle, should currently be occupying a place in the rubbish heap of forgotten local businesses, whose grand opening ran neck and neck with their unceremonious closing.

Its very existence defies all of the ironclad laws of business etched in the proverbial stone of entrepreneurship. Not only does it reside in one of the most glossed over, and ethnically disparate locations that can possibly be found in South Seattle, but its founder’s prior experience in the coffee business consisted of consuming five cups a day to slog through her previous life as a virtual marketing consultant. As if that weren’t enough, the coffee shop had no product of its own to sell during the first five months of operation, and when it did, it quickly ran out of it at the most inopportune of times, as national coffee day came and went without Tin Umbrella serving a single cup. Add in malfunctioning utilities, a business partner who decided to abruptly quit, and an owner who had exhausted all of her life savings into what seemed like a sinking enterprise, while she recovered from  serious traumatic brain damage, and you seemed to have a deluge of calamity on par with various biblical plagues.

Yet despite this torrent of adversity, or perhaps because of it as its founder will tell you, Tin Umbrella Coffee has not only persevered, but flourished ,while galvanizing an area that is often referred to as the forgotten stretch between Columbia City and Rainier Beach. It effectively serves as the central hub for a community that was once the epitome of urban decay, and an enticing target for the gentrification wave that has swept through much of southern Seattle.

It’s this coffee shop that has helped to transform the community of Hillman City into a place where once jaded neighbors now discover each other as friends over a cup of joe, and its diverse residents, with origins from around the globe, no longer feel worlds apart from each other. Change the world? It already has, at least a small portion of it anyway. With all it and its founder has survived, who can doubt that it might just be able to transform the rest of it?

 

Emerald: What stoked the belief that  a coffee shop would be able to thrive in Hillman City? It wouldn’t be the first place in Seattle that most people would choose to establish a business.

Joya: Our dream was to build a coffee shop where there was none. I’ve lived in Hillman City for over 10 years and I love it here! In fact I live just two blocks away from the coffeeshop. I was tired of this area being overlooked, and seeing nothing but abandoned buildings, and bars on windows when I would go outside. I wanted to see if I could do my part in altering our surroundings.

I wanted to see this building (that houses the coffee shop) revitalized. I thought it would be so great to bring it back to something people could use. In my time in Hillman, it had been a troubled dumping spot where garbage cans, mattresses, and tires ended up. Just nothing good had happened here, but the building had this beautiful history and structure, and in my heart I wanted to believe that a little coffee could make a big difference. And there wasn’t a coffee shop here, something that most neighborhoods take for granted. We just assume that there’s good coffee in Seattle and here we are without coffee in walking distance of Hillman. It seemed like, well everyone else has it, except Hillman City. It’s a huge opportunity!

 

Emerald: What makes Tin Umbrella different from more “generic” coffee shops? Why shouldn’t someone in Hillman or South Seattle just take the “ritual” visit to one of Howard Schultz scads of caffeine hubs (Starbucks)?

Joya: Because, and I truly believe this as I see it running the shop everyday, it’s more than just coffee. Yes this is a coffee shop but it’s also a community space, and a place where neighbors can meet neighbors. I’ve seen some of my neighbors here, who I had never spoken to before, and we’ve figured out, “Oh wow we’ve lived a few blocks from each other for all these years and didn’t know it. I know this person who you also know.” And all that happens here! We of course, strive to have great coffee, you have to in Seattle, but we also think our place should be fun, amazing and enjoyable!

I’ll make coffee, and listen to other people have conversations while they’re in line, or at the table. Strangers engaging in conversation doesn’t always happen in Seattle, especially in coffeeshops, due to the Seattle Freeze. Since I had been here for so long with an established friend circle, I guess I never really knew what that meant until I’d hear it enough, from other people who would talk to each other about how no one actually talks to each other in coffee shops. Here they’re talking which leads them to becoming friends. They exchange information and make a playdate, to weed a garden, or get together. It’s just that cool things happen when a community connects, and Hillman City prior to this we were going to other places and now we have our own little nook.

Emerald: Tin Umbrella actually now roast its own brand of coffee which is named after the Hillman area, a complete turnaround from when you first opened and were serving coffee from other roasters. Can you share a little more about that?

Joya: The most amazing thing about this coffee shop was when we first opened, the goal was to just get the doors open, then to eventually roast our own coffee because roasting our own beans meant that by not paying that a mark up we would actually be able to sustain a coffee shop where there was none.

There’s plenty of traffic along Rainier (Avenue), but we needed to get people to stop and  take notice of us, to make coming here part of their daily ritual. We knew that would be something the coffee shop would thrive on, and having a roastery would help do that. When I first looked at things I thought, oh this will be easy enough, “We’ll just build a coffee shop and a coffee roastery”, and of course it was anything but easy. There were a lot of unexpected hurdles and challenges, from outdated electrical and plumbing, getting the right people and team in place who was just as excited as the community as the community was to be here, and all the things that happen when you’re first starting out, like running out of supplies. Getting the shop up and running was more than I could imagine.

That was just the shop, the roastery was a whole other beast (laughter). Its construction kept getting pushed back, so what we did for our first 6 months here was use Olympia Coffee, who was so kind to support us while we got off the ground, which also showed me just how excited people in the community where for our shop. They didn’t care what kind of coffee we served as long as our doors were open! In the meantime we kept plugging away at our roaster and had to keep working through everything from faulty gas outlets, to rewiring the electoral system, to venting and… I’m not even capturing everything we had to go through; I’ve blocked it all out. It’s too painful (laughter).  When we finally got the roaster up and running though you could smell the coffee along Rainier Avenue and within five minutes of me posting that it was up on Facebook, a local realtor, and his young son, saw the post did a U-turn from walking in the complete opposite direction and made a beeline for the shop so they could see Hillman City’s first coffee roastery for themselves. The entire community was excited!

Emerald: Can you tell us a bit about your amazing personal story, in the context of founding Tim Umbrella Coffee?

Joya: I think the funniest thing is that people always ask me what my background is in coffee. To which I reply, “nothing!” I was a five cup a day coffee drinker because I was a virtual consultant for various companies and lived on coffee and in coffee shops. One of the perks of the job was that I could work from anywhere in the world, so I ended up living for months at a time in New Orleans, then Mexico, surfing between work breaks. Then I went off to Indonesia, learned Indonesian,  and would just followed my heart to wherever. It was great! I found a real passion to travel. I could actually live in a place working Monday thru Friday  on my laptop, and on the weekend I could just connect with everyday people from these different places, blogging about my day to day experience off the beaten tourist path. I visited Ethiopia and Istanbul, not realizing at the time that I was picking out the best coffee producing regions in the world to visit. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee after all

I had came back to Hillman for a bit and had decided to rent out my house for a year and head back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, then onto Kenya. I was learning Swahili and sponsoring a girl at the Daaja Academy in Kenya. I had written to her that I would be there soon. But before I left I had decided to head up to Mt. Baker as I’m an avid skier. So as I headed up on a two lane mountain highway another car lost control and I had a head on collision at 60 mph. The other car flipped completely over and I was doing 360s down the highway. My life was flashing before my eyes, and I was saying goodbye (in my mind) to all my friends and family. I kept saying that I wanted to live but if this was it, I lived a beautiful life. Then the airbag slapped me in my face.

Even though I had made it, it didn’t feel like it, because I had hit my head during the accident, and on top of the concussion I suffered from a traumatic brain injury, amongst a long list of other health issues, as my brain struggled to get along. I went from traveling the world to being unable to leave my house in Hillman City. I could hardly open the door, or go to the grocery store.  When I got there I would have panic attacks, break downs and all kinds of other problems. I couldn’t listen to the radio it was too scary. I couldn’t listen to music, I couldn’t read, all those things were too intense.

The worst part about the whole injury was that it was all in my head, literally, so it was something no one could see. And because I couldn’t see it, I just kept thinking this was silly. I was in denial. And then within the next couple months, still concussed, I was involved in 2 more wrecks (that were thankfully less serious). The police officer at the last one said, “I think you should just go home and hide.”

That’s pretty much what I did. I just sat on my couch playing the ukulele wearing an eye mask because the light hurt my eyes, trying to make the best out of what I still had. Moment to moment was hard, but with a lot of help and time, finally my mind got calm and I was able to do more, and I asked  how can you make meaning of this?How can you take something good from this? I want to choose to do something, because while I was alive I was no longer able to do my chosen profession. So I thought, “Well I like coffee, I love Ethiopia,” I love my time there and I still want to get back there,I loved my neighborhood, and I also had a background in online data analysis and marketing, and so I created these business models of what it would take to open a coffee shop, and then I texted a friend, who was coffee person, and I said, what do you think about, “Coffee to change the world?” Starting with Hillman City, and just do something big?

The world had just done something Big to me. This was my one chance, my life had flashed before my eyes and all I saw was the beauty of trying things. Things I didn’t know would work. I had already done hard things like traveling, often alone, to places that I didn’t know and learning new languages. I thought  about how every step I took connected me to a person, a place or thing or a memory, and how beautiful that was, never in that slideshow (of my life flashing before my eyes) was there any regret for anything I had tried and so I was like,  “You can die at any second so what are you going to do with your life?” So to me it was like, you get one big flying leap! You can do anything right now, anything! Because the only thing I’m really scared of is death. So I’m like, even if I fail, at least I would have tried  and you can walk away knowing that you tried something that you didn’t think you could do. So why not open a coffee shop that was going to be only two blocks away from my house, which was about as far as I could walk at the time! My life has become about a routine of trying and trying and trying again.

 

Emerald: Have you applied that ceaseless trying to the operation of Tin Umbrella Coffee?

Joya: Hopefully with all my heart, yes! I have to keep reminding myself that we’re here to try, and not everything is going to work, but we’re going to try and we’re going to do what feels good and fun, and just encourage the people around us. It’s neat how many people have shared in my dream of having a coffee shop here. I live in the most amazing neighborhood! I can use anyone of the 5 or 6 languages I speak. Just the other day I ordered chai  in Somali. Opening this shop has been kind of like finding my own community.

 

Emerald: Speaking of community, how have they supported you?

Hillman City's own blend of coffee.
Hillman City’s own global blend, made of beans from around the world, inspired by Hillman City’s global Community.

Joya:  The support we’ve received has been wonderful!  When you take a step in the direction of your dreams it’s scary and hazy, but everyone around me has been so supportive, and it’s neat to see how many others are doing something cool. There’s this positive energy, even when I don’t know if I have what it takes.

One example is that I had been working for months straight without a day off, and as a girl with a brain injury I have to sleep ten hours a day.  so there’s a windstorm, and our newly installed sign blows down and it’s the only day I’ve had to truly sleep in months, and the girls at the shop text me and say : “We don’t want to bug you but this sign has blown down, it’s hanging by a thread” and it’s a metal pointy sign so I tell them, “I’ll be there in a second”, my ladder was already at the shop since I live two blocks away, and so I hop in the car thinking that  if that sign hits someone that could hurt a customer and we need every customer we can get! (laughter)

So in the time it takes for me to get here, which isn’t too long, I see two regulars, a husband and wife, who ran home to get their own ladder, and she’s holding it as he is fixing the sign. They’ve taken it upon themselves to do all of this!  I’m like “Wow!” That probably never would have happened at another coffee shop. People just jump in and contribute, I can’t explain it!
I tell everyone about International Coffee Day, when our coffee grinder broke, so we didn’t even have coffee for International Coffee Day, because by the time we got our grinder working we had ground through all the coffee that we had, so everyone was like: “You know I’ll have hot chocolate, or tea.” One woman said, “You’re more upset about this than I am,” and I was like, “Yeah, because you’re coming to a coffee shop and I’m telling you that we don’t have coffee on International Coffee Day!” but everyone of our customers was fine! People want us to succeed!