One of my first outings after I moved to Durham was venturing to a place called Motorco. On Sunday’s they had a community market where artists and artisans were selling their wares. That is where I first met Areli. She had a table where she sold spices, chocolates, and coffee. While her wares were intriguing and attractive, the vibrancy of Areli’s smile and the light in her eyes were what made me interested in what she was selling.
I continued to follow what Areli and her husband, Leon, were up to. They began selling hand ground coffee around town from a bike that they had built for their mobile coffee business called Bike Coffee. Their momentum was building with a mobile food scene happening at the time, with a number of food trucks showing up to feed people around town. Areli and Leon were in the middle of that movement.
A while later, I saw them launch a Kickstarter project for their coffee business. They were planning to build a brick and mortar space to sell their unique wares. From the perspective of an outsider looking in, they spent a lot of time building relationships with the community here in Durham. When it came time for them to launch the fund-raising campaign for their business, people were ready for them to have a larger presence in the community. They raised $32,325 dollars for their coffee shop, Cocoa Cinnamon. That is $12, 325 more than their goal. To see a video about those guys and their Kickstarter video, click HERE.
Finally, long after my initial intention to have more than a causal conversation with Areli, we sat down in front of her coffee shop for a chat. I wanted to know what it has been like for her and Leon to get this business going. I wondered what it was like for them to work together. I wondered how they had created the magic that I experience when I go to Cocoa Cinnamon.
I feel like I could write a book about what makes Cocoa Cinnamon such an enjoyable place to hang out. I go there a couple times a week for coffee. You might remember just a moment ago when I mentioned what interested me about Areli in the first place. Extrapolate vibrancy, soulful energy, and passion from a human being, and they will create a space where people want to be. From the warm and welcoming staff behind the bar, to the creativity that spills off of the walls in their coffee shop, like attracts like.
Areli and Leon have been incredibly thoughtful about the creation of their space, carefully choosing who they have hired to be a part of their team, and deliberately selecting what they sell in their shop. I applied to work there when they began looking for staff. While I decided to continue my journey working in the restaurant world, it is still tempting to me to go to work for Areli and Leon. Their application process is different than most. They are digging into people’s interests. Areli says that their hiring process is like casting for a Broadway musical.
The process seems to be working for them from my side of the coffee bar. I enjoy good service. Having worked in the service industry for 20 years, I appreciate businesses that put a lot of effort into how they interact with their customers and the community.
Areli said that in their first year open that they were able to donate $5,000 to the community of Durham. That is remarkable for a first year of business. They also pay their staff a living wage. Thankfully, more thoughtful employers are into creating a long term staff. Areli said that their goal is to hire people who want to have careers with them. Having a staff that is passionate and invested in what they do for work makes a world of difference in how they perform. Most of the baristas at Cocoa Cinnamon never worked as baristas before. I made sure to tell Areli that I would have never known that before she told me.
A lot of training goes into the staff. Areli seems to be good at giving people responsibilities that fit their personal desires. One of her team members, Susie, has a culinary background. Susie creates the specials. These kinds of moves are important ones for a business owner to make. They keep the staff engaged and provide opportunity for personal and professional growth.
As a culinary and service professional, I know that it speaks volumes when business owners can relinquish control and allow their staff to take a lead in creating menu items or implementing ideas. That is what facilitates a culture amongst a staff.
This kind of leadership that Areli and Leon are exercising is integral for a young business to thrive. Businesses like theirs are breaking the mold of the old business models. We are living in a new world. Times are changing rapidly. While Areli did not mention how successful she feels after recently celebrating a year as a brick and mortar business, she did mention how they have only just begun. I got the notion that she and Leon have a lot of ideas up their sleeves and much more creativity to unleash.
With their attitudes and passion for what they are doing, these people are not only running a coffee shop. They are creating a model for a new way of doing business, and they are creating a model for building community.
I left my chat with Areli today wanting to know more and more about her plans and ideas. I wanted to say, “Hey, when can I start?” I left wanting to be a part of what they have going on.
Lesson: Doing business in this world today calls for a different quality of service and wares. Cocoa Cinnamon is embodying a way of doing business that is a model for the entrepreneurial folks here in Durham. The way Areli and Leon are doing things inspires me to continue to pay attention to all of the ingredients in my business and in my life! Little details make large impact. What little touches do you notice about a business that make a difference in the community? What makes it so important to you and your community?