Monday, June 27, 2011

Outsourcing Your Core Competencies

Testing and vetting brew methodologies, January 2010.

Lately, I've been thinking that it's time for me to start up a restaurant. A restaurant that can seat about 30-40 people and turn roughly 200 covers on a busy service. Without a doubt, it should be cutting edge, comfortable, casual but with serious ingredients and a serious approach to quality and service. I want this new restaurant to be the best restaurant in my city.

To achieve this, I'm going to find a local supplier of restaurant equipment and produce and ask for their help. I'm going to buy the best equipment available, like a Jade cooking suite and maybe even some equipment for sous vide and molecular gastronomy.

Problem is: I'm not a "chef." But it's all good because both the guy selling me my Jade suite and the local farmer selling me super quality heirloom tomatoes are going to teach me how to use the suite and cook the food properly. In just a few days time, these people are going to teach me and my employees how to make and run what will easily become the best restaurant in the city serving high-quality food product. It's going to be awesome!

If you're reading this and thinking "this guy must be smoking crack cocaine" then you'd be right. For anyone to invest the kind of money it takes to get a business going and then expect their equipment and produce people to teach them how to cook and run a restaurant is absolutely preposterous and foolhardy.

Yet, day in and day out, people get in the coffee business expecting their coffee roaster to teach them how to become a "barista" and be "the best" and make "quality" drinks.

At Spro, we do coffee. That is our core and our focus. We are Baristas. That is what we do. This is who we are. Why I would ever allow another company and another person from outside the company and our culture to come in and "teach" our team how to do what we do, is as preposterous as me starting a restaurant and asking my Sysco rep to teach me how to be a "chef."

We have a culture. We have an approach. We have a way of doing things that is uniquely different than others. While other baristas rely on their coffee roaster to tell them how to brew coffee, pull shots, make drinks and cup profile, our baristas do it themselves. They cup the coffee samples, they cup the new arrivals, they help create the descriptions and they know their coffees.

We teach our own on how to tamp, pull shots and prepare drinks. We teach our own on our culture and our approach to hospitality and service. Our team tests and vets brew methodology. We develop and train. We learn how to make everything by hand, as a craftsman should.

The road to becoming a Spro Barista is long and difficult. There is a lot to learn - much more than can be taught in a couple of days with some roaster "customer service representative" - who, chances are, either doesn't have real world barista experience or has been away from cafe service for so long that I question their suitability to teach modern coffee production techniques.

Truth be told, I don't encourage so-called "Third Wave" thinking. I don't encourage "rock star" worship I see in many other baristas. I don't even encourage competitions. I should note that I don't discourage those areas either (except the "third wave" thinking part - I truly abhor "third wave"). And while I don't encourage and don't discourage, I would be supportive of any Spro Barista that desired to engage in those areas of the industry.

What I do encourage and support is craftsmanship and hospitality. Our focus is not somewhere out there in the pretense and condescension of "third wave" or in the hype and fallacy of barista competitions, it is here on the home front and making great coffee day in and day out for our guests. We make coffee and provide a warm, nurturing environment - one that must come from within and one that cannot be outsourced to a third-party company.

It's time that those who desire to call themselves "baristas" and "coffee professionals" break away from this fallacy that your coffee roaster can make you and your people "baristas."


Anonymous said...

What you do well doesn't always need a title like "third wave" to be legit. Chasing titles can be a tiresome and unrewarding goal anyway.

Favor is sometimes earned, sometimes remembered and mostly deceitful. I'd prefer a failure and recovery over mindless favor any day. How does that relate to your post? Service and hospitality are constantly evolving, titles/labels don't always evolve and symbolize a moment in time. Good or bad? Depends on the student and their current idea of quality, should be ever evolving.

onocoffee said...

Well, certainly I don't follow the ideology that we must label what we do - that's something I leave for more idle minds to consider and worry about. I'm interested in actually doing and moving forward than labeling.

Favor is "mostly deceitful?" Care to elaborate further?

Rich W said...

Good post. There's an interesting entrepreneur up here who runs what would probably be a 3W ice cream shop if there were such a thing. His training philosophy is "my most recent hire is always my best trained."

As trainers gain experience and as more information/theory/debate on brewing becomes available almost daily, that point makes perfect sense.

Anonymous said...

this is so right on. our roasting company refers all the "teach me" "brand me" "rip me off" time waster start ups to the most famous self proclaimed third wave roaster (whichever we are most irked by at any given moment), then we send the really good ones like big restaurant groups & hotels to our favorite un-hipster totally awesome alleged second wave professionals they have never heard of who can give them serious training and brewing systems and great coffee, the real coffee guys who are not on twitter OR facebook all day making themselves sound important.

Anonymous said...

I work at a cafe/roastery, and one of our big challenges is sending wholesale product out essentially unfinished. We often need to do basic training if just to ensure that customers don't try our product and assume it's terrible due to bad brewing. The biggest problem is usually people not using enough coffee. Ideally, we would work with more professional cafes, but the training does need to exist for us to feel comfortable with wholesalers using our name.

onocoffee said...

Not quite following the "we sell unfinished wholesale product" line of thinking.

Without a doubt, there are operations who turn to their roaster to train them, and just like a Sysco operation, I don't expect their experience up to par. Common, mediocre coffee is to be expected across America.

What I do find curious are those "quality focused" roasters training "quality focused" shops. God knows I don't want some trainer with either no experience behind the bar or experience so far in their past that it's a non-qualifier. Worse yet are those roasters with absolutely no retail experience giving "training" to operators? Completely absurd to my mind.