blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Being painfully uncool

Sometimes it is just painfully obvious to me how uncool I am. I think I used to be cool. But I lost it somewhere. Right now I am sitting at Algebra tea house in Little Italy waiting for the members of my writers group to show up. No one is coming, apparently, since it's half an hour after we were supposed to meet. I love these organic, hand made surroundings and the myriad colors that Ayman has chosen to incorporate. Not to mention the textures: colorful tin ceiling, carved wood, handwoven blankets. Everything comes together to make this place sooo cool. I love the firewood stacked by the front door, and the wood stove, the handmade tea cups, the cat snoozing on the ottoman. The service is non-chalant and unsolicitous, but that seems to be a prerequisite for a truly "cool" environment. Or is it?

I remember the first time I came into Algebra. I was wearing a navy blue pants suit and lipstick. I sat at the bar. I tried to convince Ayman that he should buy our coffee. He didn't buy on the spot, and I never followed up very aggressively, although he did end up buying at least his espresso beans from us. More than anything, I was glad to know that Algebra existed. Algebra reminds me of the cafes I used to frequent in Houston, for long hours, drawing the molecular structure of elongated hydrocarbons and nitrogenous compounds and debating important philosophical issues. Algebra reminds me of a time when I wasn't responsible for a business and a lot less was riding on the decisions I made.

I think the interesting question about my time at Algebra tonight (which is coming to a close rapidly because I'm going to go home and tuck my kids into bed) is...

Is it possible to run a "cool" establishment and still give good service? What would happen to Algebra if we put in a staff of folks who were truly friendly, welcoming, and knowledgeable? Would it work? Who would revolt first, the customers or the staff? Would business increase? I think so. By how much?

The coffee biz is endlessly fascinating.
Good night.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Why are you questioning running a "cool" place? You have one at the Lee Road Phoenix. Your staff is knowledgable and service-oriented, your customers are very diverse and "cool", everyone knows everyone else and they know that they get the best coffee in town.

Believe me, being stranded here in Erie, finding a "cool" place is impossible here. There are several places that try to be cool, but they either lack the ambience, the knowledgable staff (they are just coffee pourers), or the interaction between customers.

It is hard to see this "cool" of Phoenix because you see it everyday and assume it is normal. It's not. You know from your travels, that finding a cool place is very difficult, if not impossible.

You've created (whether you know it or not!) a place that people want to be. All you have to do is look at your repeat business and the friendships that have blossomed there. Don't change a thing - including your staff!!!

See you soon.

John in Erie

12:03 PM, December 14, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would definately agree with John in Erie. Phoenix Coffee is super cool and has a stellar staff as well. Big city coffee culture in Cleveland!!!!!!

3:05 PM, December 14, 2005  
Anonymous inonit said...

The morning after I saw this post, I walked into the Lee Road store to the sound of Linkin Park (rather than the unobtrusive folkish sounds which I've come to expect), and then two songs later was Depeche Mode, World In My Eyes. Overreacting to your coolness angst, were you? :)

I, too, enjoy Algebra, especially the prize for the math problem on the wall (at least last time I went). And they can pretty much turn it into an outdoor place with their building, so if the weather outside is perfect (i.e., 4 days per year in Cleveland) , ... well, it's a great place for a spot of tea.

8:08 AM, December 16, 2005  
Blogger Sarah Wilson-Jones said...

Next time I need an ego boost I'll just complain about not being cool.. thanks for your kind words!

I do think that Phoenix is cool, I know it's cool, that's why I love it, too. It's just when I walked into Algebra I got struck with a feeling of having aged, I guess. I'm not in college anymore! But I know that I can be over 25 and still be cool.

Phoenix can only be as cool as its customers, though! You guys are the best! Glad you like the Linkin Park. I gotta find out what muzak channel that was...

2:35 PM, December 16, 2005  
Blogger Liz said...

I think you are "cooler" now than you were in high school! You tried to be cool in high school whereas now you don't have to try, you just are cool! Well, minus the tapered jeans of course! :-)

11:11 AM, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Kerry said...

I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but this post has been bothering me since I read it. And I may be overreacting. As someone who spends lots of money in coffeehouses for a caffiene fix I could get at home but don't out of laziness and a need for a change of scenery, I don't necessarily want hip or cool. I want welcoming and non-judgemental, pleasant counter staff, and a smile. I don't want to feel like my uncool, formal, business dressed self is not in on the secret code and that I'm being scorned. So please keep in mind that one person's cool is another's stupid pretensous (sic) annoyingness, and there's nothing wrong with being yourself. Signed, Miss Cranky.

4:16 PM, January 01, 2006  

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