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4 Life Principles that led to opening my coffee shop!

Recently I was given the extraordinary privilege to hold a coffee-roasting demonstration at my Alma Mater the Culinary Institute of America. It was an absolute blast to be there as someone sharing wisdom and advice from real world experiences. I enjoyed connecting with students from the coffee club and other groups around campus as much as I enjoyed the coffee roasting itself!

I chose a specialty natural process coffee from Mexico as the featured roasting coffee and paired it with my signature El Salvador medium-dark and my cold brew for the tasting portion of the night. The only challenge I faced was the gas ended up shutting off by accident in the middle of the roasting, which made for an awkward 15 minutes of the facilities crew attempting to reset everything. Otherwise everything was smooth as silk!

One of the most important aspects of me being there that night was to share my experiences with the students. I'm a graduate of 2009 who now owns my own business, I qualify as a success story for the students. What could I talk about? What should I talk about? Technically I was supposed to share how my experience at the CIA helped me get to where I am now, but the truth is my current success has little to nothing to do with the curriculum there. In fact, to be entirely honest I had a pretty lousy experience there that has done more harm to my resume than good.

So, what do I share with a room full of young students full of hopes and dreams of becoming a chef?

Though I didn't learn much directly from the curriculum there, I did in fact learn a tremendous amount about life and how to work through its challenges. In other words, it wasn't what they taught at the CIA that helped me succeed, it was what they didn't teach. These are valuable life lessons I had to learn the hard way through years of difficulty, it's only fair that I attempt to pass this along to everyone else.

Here are the 4 life principles I've learned over the years, shared with the CIA students and now would like to share with all of you.

  1. Incorporate, "What can I do for you?" and "My pleasure!" into your vocabulary. For students and graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, the sad truth is, we have a reputation for being difficult to work with. We're known to be rude, arrogant and our performance not justifying our attitude. However, everything changed in my final semester. I had a new class, which was the perfect opportunity to start fresh with everyone. I began operating with the "What can I do for you?" mindset and instead of just saying, "No problem." I began saying, "My pleasure!" The change in how my classmates interacted with me was tremendous! Even the chef began helping me out personally anytime I was in over my head on busy nights, whereas he would just scream at everyone else.

  2. Keep an open mind about what you want to do in life and you'll never be out of a job. To be fair, this sort of applies better to certain career fields than others. For foodservice, it's vital to keep this mindset. Everyone in the world needs to eat, but not everyone needs to eat foie gras tureens and port wine reductions. My advice is, if you want to go into business for yourself, take an institutional job instead of going for the fancy restaurant jobs. Places like schools, hospitals and nursing homes have steady hours, which allow you to take on other projects outside work. Picking herbs for 90 hours a week at a 3-Michelin Star restaurant won't benefit you much if you can't get out on your own. These institutional jobs are also simple, which frees up your mind to make plans while you work. I've been cooking professionally for 18 years with the last 8 being schools and nursing homes, now I own my own business. I'd say it was worth it!

  3. Don't be an "elbow flapper!" You know the kind of person I'm talking about. Elbow-flappers are the type of person who just stands around with his hands in his pockets, shrugging his shoulders and hmming and hawing, saying things like, "Well, if I only had an opportunity to show everyone how awesome I am, everything would be perfect..." Meanwhile, opportunities are abounding right in front of the elbow-flapper's face, but he's too busy flapping his elbows to notice! Opportunities abound, make sure you're paying attention.

  4. Most importantly, it's all in the recovery! Not everything in life is going to go according to plan. In fact, it should be surprising when things DO go smoothly. The question is: How do you recover from it? I was faced with the gas shutting off in the middle of my demo, which was in front of roughly 100 students in a very prestigious culinary school, so no pressure right? Did I stop? Did I go ahead and pack up to never return? Did I curl up in a fetal position and rock back and forth? None of the above! I kept going with everything while they worked on getting everything reset for me. The fact is, you're going to have coworkers and bosses working against you, bullies, people sabotaging your work and setting you up to fail, try to convince you you're not worth it. What do you do about it? It's important that you find a way to move forward and not let these things stop you. Accept that things will get in the way, just focus on recovery.

To summarize, the world isn't going to change for you. The world isn't going to cater to your needs and wants. The world isn't interested in your success. It's up to you to make sure you're operating with the right attitude towards others, keep an open mind about where you work, look for opportunities both for success and self-improvement and don't let anything hold you back permanently.

So, there you have it! Even though these points were originally intended for culinary students with plans to become chefs, I'd like to think this is transferable wisdom. As always, I appreciate all of you for reading these articles and supporting the business!

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