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The government desk worker who started a coffee shop

by | Nov 15, 2019 | Latest, Stories

So a few years back, I dropped in to my favorite coffee shop off Main Street in Front Royal, VA. It’s a small town pressed between the shoulders of the Shenandoah Mountains, and the sweep of the Shenandoah River. Most of its stores are stacked with antiques, lined with trees and flowers and that old town feel.

Main Street begins and ends with a restaurant and a church, and has two coffee shops. The one on main itself is called ‘The Daily Grind,’ and it serves the standard crowd of morning hustlers and midday business folk with black coffee, ice creams and muffins.

But tucked back off Main, is another. Happy Creek Coffee and Tea. This place is very different; it’s an old mill, with massive wooden beams and bricked floors. A kaleidoscope of postcards from around the world are tacked to the boards above the baristas. It’s warm, and unique.

I frequently ordered the latte, or the Earl Grey with lavender and honey. Today, as I watched the barista pour hot water over my freshly ground Peruvian beans, I realized that I didn’t know the origin story of this place.

So I asked him, and he paused for a minute. I was a little surprised it wasn’t on the tip of his tongue, or the front of his training manual.

But then he smiled and said something like this;

“A few years back, the founder was working in a government position, maybe FBI, or some kind of paperwork job. And he was getting really tired of the food in the office. They worked long days, and most people ate breakfast at their desks.

“So he started making his own meals, and bringing them in. Usually something healthy, like oatmeal, with chopped nuts, fresh fruit, organic honey, real cream, that sort of thing.

“People started noticing. And they’d slip him a fiverr to bring him some extra for them. And apparently, it wasn’t long before it was becoming a big deal, and he was bringing in loads of food each morning.

“That’s when he realized he had a choice. He had always loved the world of food and coffee, the relationships from farmers to fans. He could either strike out and start that kind of business, or stay where he was.

“So he quit, and started up a franchise to focus on healthy, delicious meals for the organic crowd, who hunger for sustainable food sources, and responsible, exciting cafe choices.”

The bones of this are true, my details may be a teensy bit elaborated. 

I was blown away. Standing there, amid all that wonderful blonde wood, the love letters people had sent from Rio, Panama, and China, and the warehouse behind bustling with families and people enjoying their food.

I had no idea that was the reason this flare of warm magic existed in Front Royal.

Because it wasn’t on the website. It wasn’t printed up anywhere. It wasn’t on a little card placed on the tables.

And yet, it was the reason why the whole thing existed at all.

It was a cool story, and it made me like Happy Creek even more. That was why they hired a certain kind of people, why their cafes looked a certain way, and why their branding attracted a certain audience.

I told him that everyone should know that story. It should be on their website!

He nodded, and grinned, and went back to pouring.

It’s been 4 years since that moment. It’s still not on the website, when I last checked. (And I’ll totally amend what I’ve written if they see this…)

But this just goes to show the power of a short, origin story.

Have you thought about yours?

So what do you think? Leave a comment.

PS: Who’s one person you know would like to read this post? Can you share it with them? Thanks!

Dominic de Souza is a novelist-turned-marketer. He believes that passionate small businesses should stop with ads and funnels, and get back to the human roots of business: clarity, excellent service, and building a community. Everything you’re already good at.  Meet Dominic →

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