Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Caffeine in a Time of Crisis

OFF THE RECORD:  Although I write a lot about coffee, I don't usually drink it.  I generally prefer the way a hot cup of Yerba Mate makes me feel in the morning.

Yesterday was a different story.  Operating on a few hours sleep, I started a new gig at UMass Lowell (very exciting and wonderful!), then zipped into downtown Boston for a meeting with a potential client.  I was tired, hungry and desperate for a cup of coffee!  I knew I needed not only to be "on" for the impending meeting, but also that I would need to stay "on" for the networking event I would attend afterwards at the Intercontinental.

Alas, there was no coffee to be found.  Places were closed at 4:30 in the afternoon; the city was winding down from a water crisis.  Fortunately, I found inner reserves of energy and effervescence and enjoyed both a wonderful meeting and a great networking event.

This morning, my friend Rodney, who works for Equal Exchange, sent me this note:

As you may know Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and most all the local coffee shops went “dry” and had nothing to serve.

But not our café. Not only did our intrepid staff manage to stay open  and serve coffee but they served 15% more customers than usual.

The following note to staff from our co-President, Rob Everts, gives you a glimpse of the accomplishment.

Good morning Causeway Café Team,

I know you are in the midst of another morning rush, creatively working around the water issue and keeping customers happy.  Meanwhile, when you come up for air, check out what you did by the numbers yesterday: 

                Transactions       Total Sales           $/trx
                       533                     $1,829                $3.43

That is 80 more transactions than the prior Monday and $200 more in sales.  And the lower $ per transaction reflects being handcuffed not being able to sell higher dollar espresso drinks.  So congratulations and thanks for busting ass under arduous circumstances. 

. . .At 533 transactions yesterday, clearly the word was out that the EE Café on Causeway Street was the place to be!

And this note to staff from one of our lead baristas, Miranda, helps to paint the scene.

Hey there :)

I've had a blast these past few days.  But I tend to enjoy stepping up to the plate under pressure. :)

Customers were impressed that we were open and brewing coffee and remarked that it seemed absurd that the big chains didn't have the necessary equipment/know-how to do so.  Someone today said, that "you'd think they would just go out and buy this kind of brewer and put it into place rather than shut down coffee completely." 

In the few minutes here and there when I wasn't in a brewing frenzy, I remarked to customers that because we often do events and brew coffee in tents at festivals, and such, that we were well-versed in using pour-over brewers (and pumping bottled water).  I even joked and told a few people to imagine that we were under a tent in the middle of a field with rows of vendors and live music.  I told them this is what that would look like (if stopping by the festival happened to be part of their morning commute).

While I know our coffee didn't taste the same this morning, as it was an experiment to find the right dose/grind/water combination (on the fly), people were able to get coffee and that seemed to be all that mattered to them.  Some of our regulars even remarked that they liked it better than what they usually had (as many were forced to get a roast they were unaccustomed to since we were only brewing Mind Body and Soul, and then switched to Peruvian Medium).

(For me) It was fun and fast and adrenaline pumping.  I usually say ‘hi’ to all my regulars but didn't have the chance to do much more than dose, grind, brew, pour, pump, repeat.  All of us morning peeps are intuitive and we work together so well that this wasn't that big of an adjustment.  We trouble shoot, make decisions, and share tasks - picking up in the middle and switching places so smoothly that everything just worked out as it usually does (even when plugging in the brewers shorted circuits, etc.).

We had long lines and they moved much more slowly than usual (due to our ability to brew the equivalent of two truck-stop pots at a time) but we got through it and only today did customers start to grumble.  They didn't understand that though the water ban was lifted we had many regulations to go through as a food-service establishment (i.e. flushing lines and changing filters).  Having a technician in the middle of everything created a lot of sidestepping/dancing around, but it didn't slow us down.  :) . . .

Next time there's a crisis, I'm heading to the Equal Exchange Cafe!

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