“I’m either ALL IN or I don’t waste my time.”

– David Waldman, Owner of Rojo’s Roastery

David Waldman is the quintessential renaissance man. From professional musician to corporate attorney to coffee roaster. David’s career has taken many twists and turns. Angela Giovine,  Owner of Happenings Media and host of Extra/Ordinary Small Business podcast, talked to David about what it takes to brew the best cup of coffee and make money doing it. They also discussed David’s life and how it has shaped the truly unique culture of his company.

Below is the episode transcript from Angela’s 2019 interview with David Waldman. To listen to the interview, click HERE. It is Episode #4. 

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David Waldman 0:00
You can do anything you want, as long as you’re devoted to doing it the best way with passion and to make the world a better place.

Angela Giovine 0:11
Pop culture has become obsessed with entrepreneurship stories from Silicon Valley, and big startup. But the backbone of our economy is made of small local businesses. Every day, millions of small business owners deliver quality products and services, support the local economy, employ their neighbors and follow their passion. We think their stories are worth telling. I’m Angela Giovine, welcome to the extra ordinary small business podcast. Today on the show, coffee roaster and businessman, David Waldman of Rojos Roastery joins us for a truly memorable conversation about what it takes to brew the best cup and make money doing it. Once a red haired touring musician, David’s nonlinear life is what has shaped him and has shaped the truly unique culture of his company. Learn why his mantra is, I’m either all in or I don’t waste my time. Since I left corporate America 10 years ago, I’ve become a bit of a coffee shop dweller. It’s really quite common among a certain subset of small business owners. Those of us who don’t own the traditional brick and mortar, it’s a place to meet, it’s a place to get away from the home office, it’s a place to gain that interaction and social aspect that the office typically fulfills. Something about that smell, the atmosphere makes for the perfect work environment. The caffeine doesn’t hurt either. As I became a regular at this cafe slash coffee roasting facility, I became more and more fascinated by its particular culture and its unusual owner, David Waldman. David’s diverse background makes him the quintessential renaissance man. From professional musician to corporate attorney to coffee roaster. David’s career has taken many twists and turn. What’s so incredibly fascinating to me about Rojos Roastery, is the fanatical group of regular clientele it’s cultivated. And that’s really due to David’s obsessive personality. We met up after a roasting shift at his Lambertville, New Jersey cafe. And we talked about everything from roasting in his basement, to farming alongside the coffee growers in Ethiopia. Direct quote, I’m either all in or I don’t waste my time. And he isn’t kidding.

Angela Giovine 2:39
Let’s talk about the name of… your coffee shop Rojos.

David Waldman 2:44
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 2:45
Tell us how you named it.

David Waldman 2:46
So here’s a bald guy talking to you with no hair. Rojo as you know, is red in Spanish. I had a very long red beard in the 70s and 80s. I’ve had it for ever. I’m a twin. She’s got red hair as well. All my family my grandchildren are redheads. So long story short, one of the many people I played with and traveled with and recorded with is Willie Nelson.

Angela Giovine 3:07
Oh, really?

David Waldman 3:07
Who used to call me Rojo because of my red ponytail and my red beard. Way back when. Yeah.

Angela Giovine 3:12
Oh wow!

David Waldman 3:13
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 3:13
I’m so glad I asked this question because I knew you had red hair, but I did not know the whole backstory. That’s so interesting.

David Waldman 3:20
Yeah. I brought my music history to the present.

Angela Giovine 3:24
To that, to that end. You know, this was a business that you started later in your career later down the line. Was it a name that you always had in the back of your head? Like someday I’m gonna create something…

David Waldman 3:35
Not at all. It was just a brainstorming moment. When I was trying to conceptualize what’s a good name, what’s a good logo. Our logo is like a rooster with an aura of the sunshine around it.

Angela Giovine 3:48
Right.

David Waldman 3:48
I just figured, this is the morning delivery system for caffeine that people want

David Waldman 3:52
when the sun comes up. It’s like sun coffee. So

Angela Giovine 3:55
Right.

David Waldman 3:55
Rojo was just in some way that I probably can articulate

Angela Giovine 4:00
Right.

David Waldman 4:01
to me. That’s who I am.

Angela Giovine 4:02
Right.

David Waldman 4:03
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 4:03
And we are here in Lambertville, New Jersey. This is your original location, correct?

David Waldman 4:08
Yeah. 2005 we established it.

Angela Giovine 4:10
2005. And…

David Waldman 4:11
We’re in the first flush toilet factory in this in the area.

Angela Giovine 4:15
That’s what this used to be?

David Waldman 4:18
Lambertville Pottery. So when we broke ground, it’s an old warehouse, from the eight late 1800s. And I’ve seen pictures of the throne, on a horse drawn carriage going down, going down a Lambertville Parade street from one of the old timers who sadly just recently died who used to attend those parades. We tore into the floor. And it was all crushed white porcelain.

Angela Giovine 4:42
And you like what is this?

David Waldman 4:43
Yeah. And that’s when… I figured out from our neighbor, the history and he showed me these cool

Angela Giovine 4:48
Oh, that’s so cool.

David Waldman 4:49
photos from the 1880s. Yeah, so it was a dormant building on the north end of town that… was surrounded by other dormant buildings.

Angela Giovine 4:58
Right and for people who are not familiar with Lambertville, towards the main part of town is a little bit more touristy, people come for the weekend-

David Waldman 5:05
Right, right.

Angela Giovine 5:05
big into antiquing. I’m staying over we’re right near the Delaware River. Over here. We’re probably 15 blocks from the center of town most-

David Waldman 5:13
Yeah, we’re in the north end. yeah.

Angela Giovine 5:15
A lot of tourists or at least before we’re not making it down here.

David Waldman 5:18
Right. It’s residential it’s

Angela Giovine 5:19
It’s residential-

David Waldman 5:20
people living in rowhouses and

Angela Giovine 5:21
But a developer here took this old factory and turned it into a studio for a bunch of businesses of which you are one.

David Waldman 5:28
Yeah, we became an anchor it was maybe 30% occupied, the long standing ballet company was here and a couple other offices and I just had a vision with high ceilings – 18 foot ceilings that were great for combustion for a coffee roastery. We put in a glass garage door to let in all the morning sunlight, Also so a forklift can come and go when we bring in our pallets of coffee. So it’s it’s a really unusual space is probably the only cafe in the world with a forklift.

Angela Giovine 5:58
Right, right. A functioning roastery slash cafe.

David Waldman 6:01
Yeah, yeah.

Angela Giovine 6:02
So you say you started in 2005.

David Waldman 6:04
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 6:04
Now, this was not your first career?

David Waldman 6:07
No, I’ve got a pretty long list of things I’ve done in no particular order of professional musician, a studio player in Nashville, a cabinet maker, an entertainment lawyer, a record executive, in New York City, an executive producer. What else? A bee keeper?

Angela Giovine 6:25
So, directly prior to opening the coffee shop, you were in music in New York with Sony.

David Waldman 6:32
Yeah, we had a 15 year run at Sony Music. I kind of did a bunch of things for them. I was in business affairs after a three year stint before them on Wall Street, which is a prerequisite.

Angela Giovine 6:43
Okay.

David Waldman 6:44
Doing transactional Wall Street law. So I was in business affairs and I headed business affairs and one other divisions. Then… I got kind of got bored and wrote my own job description that they accepted to be in the business development and technology area. Then I got kind of bored’s may be the wrong word, but I wanted to do my own thing in advanced technology and I became a blue sky thinker like looking and evaluating future technologies with the ability to invest using the Sony venture funds. And I was working in the think tank in Tokyo and I was it was an amazing job.

Angela Giovine 7:16
It’s not an understatement to say it’s somewhat opposite of what you do now.

David Waldman 7:20
Yeah, I was traveling a lot, I was commuting from the same home, my wife and children have been in for the last 35 years. A three hour round trip commute was becoming four hours in a nutshell, I got laid off, after many years at Sony due to a merger with Bertelsmann Music Group, got a package and went like, okay, now I can be my own boss, I can do what I want to do… I can travel 15 to 20 minutes to work and have a life.

Angela Giovine 7:51
Did you always in the back of your mind want to start a small business or was it something that came to you once you had the opportunity?

David Waldman 7:59
I think the honest answer is I’m always thinking ahead. And I’m a forward thinker. I’m a planner, and the son of an independent renaissance man who was an ophthalmologist who decided when he would work and when he would play. I’m sure he was the inspiration and it eventually became the precipitating reason why I said, I’m gonna do my own thing. So…. yeah.

Angela Giovine 8:21
So subconsciously, maybe you knew it was something but hadn’t really materialized in your head?

David Waldman 8:26
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 8:27
Yeah. But you-

Unknown Speaker 8:27
I always thought it was cool that. My dad cultivated bonsai, and did oil painting, and studied at Barnes Foundation. He’s got his glass work in museums all over the world. And he just he got to do what he wanted to do.

Angela Giovine 8:39
Right.

David Waldman 8:39
And then he was a, an ophthalmology professor in Philly at one of the prominent medical schools.

Unknown Speaker 8:44
Who’s modeled to you from a very young age that there is no such thing as a mold.

David Waldman 8:49
Oh, yeah. He played cello as I did. He had string quartets until his 90s. And so yeah, he it was there was a fullness and an independence and a self reliance that I think I’m enjoying more and more every day. Now that I’ve been doing this, and I wonder like, why I didn’t do it.

Angela Giovine 9:05
Right, right.

David Waldman 9:05
sooner when I look back? Yeah.

Angela Giovine 9:07
Well, this sort of answers my next question because… many people would receive a package like you received and go, okay, what are my skill set? And then maybe become a consultant in that area or look for another job in that area. But you said, Hmm,

David Waldman 9:23
I’m not linear.

Angela Giovine 9:24
Coffee. So did you always have interest in coffee? Was it something that you always loved to drinking, how did you say… coffee?

David Waldman 9:33
So my father lived in the Middle East during World War 2. 1939 to 45. He traveled around and lived in Cairo, Istanbul, Addis Ababa, and Riyadh, he was well steeped, pardon the pun, in a Turkish coffee. So as a child growing up in Philly, I was the one that he taught how to make him after dinner coffee. That to me was

Angela Giovine 9:55
A very valuable trait for a child to have.

David Waldman 9:57
Oh yeah….So, I wasn’t roasting but I was grinding it and going through the very ritualistic process of stirring it in a copper ibrik and grinding up cartman and pouring it into cups and letting it settle because it’s half mud and half drinkable. And I was growing up in the 50s and 60s I was born in 1950. So by 1964, I was really getting into coffee and I was using a chemex and using a miele or french press and

Angela Giovine 10:25
Before, these things were so

David Waldman 10:26
Whoa, yeah. To answer your question, I’ve always been looking for the better cup. And still to this day-

Angela Giovine 10:31
As a drinker.

David Waldman 10:32
Yeah, as a drinker. And now I’ve taken more control of the process. I’m either all in or I don’t waste my time. You know that about me

Angela Giovine 10:39
I do know that about?

David Waldman 10:41
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 10:41
So has the move from coffee as a hobby to coffee as a profession changed your passion or love for it at all?

David Waldman 10:50
It’s deepened it.

Angela Giovine 10:51
It’s deepened it?

David Waldman 10:51
In ways that are probably counterintuitive because most people sadly learn to hate their work

Angela Giovine 10:56
Right.

David Waldman 10:56
and they look for avocational engagement.

Angela Giovine 10:59
Sure.

David Waldman 10:59
For me, I’ve got plenty of avocation. I tie trout flies, I fly fish, I mountain hike. I am a sourdough freak. But for me, I’d love I’m excited to come in every day. And I have a lab where I get to play. And I’ve got some amazing antique equipment that I’ve refurbished that I use in production. And I’ve got a whole cabinet full of lab equipment. So I’m constantly trying to get better and better and better. So I love it, yeah.

Angela Giovine 11:24
So coming back to opening in this location that was less popular in town was that by design-

David Waldman 11:31
Huge risk.

Angela Giovine 11:32
Huge risk. So you thought let me get myself out of town.

David Waldman 11:35
I didn’t want to be at the cro what I call the crossroads of tourism, because I’m a community minded person. And I wanted to see the same people every day. I didn’t want to be in a tourist center where it’s like you never see them again.

Angela Giovine 11:46
So for you is more about locals versus tourists than it was let me figure out my business outside of the Main Street.

David Waldman 11:53
It was both.

Angela Giovine 11:54
Okay.

David Waldman 11:54
I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to do as much as I could in the… chain of custody from seed to cup,

Angela Giovine 12:01
And let’s talk about that for a minute.

David Waldman 12:02
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 12:03
So that we can tell our listeners how deep that goes.

David Waldman 12:06
Yes, seed to cup is just a a shorthand for working with the growers, the farmers, the harvesters, the packers and they’re all called producers and then working with the exporters-

Angela Giovine 12:19
And when you say your seeds a cup you physically fly to these places?

David Waldman 12:23
Yeah, I go to Ethiopia every year, go to Honduras or yeah, I travel – our social responsibility contract is with small independent growers and we want to pay them good money so they have a comfortable living. So we pay very good money, for very good coffee. I’m fortunate to have a good palate. I’ve been trained and certified by the Coffee Quality Institute. I’m an assisting curator just a couple steps away from what’s called a cue instructor which is I believe the highest level of certified palate in the world for coffee there might be 35 40

Angela Giovine 12:26
Similar to being a sommelier a for wine kind of thing?

David Waldman 12:57
And but there’s there may be three or four dozen in the world something like that. So what I do is I work with the farmers many of whom years ago never tasted their coffee because the economic duress of getting their coffee to market never allow them time to… understand what their coffee tastes like, so if anything I’d try to be a translator where can say, these are some farming practices, that you can undertake that will make your coffee taste better, that will score it higher, that will give you more money for your coffee. That in a nutshell, so I do that in Myanmar through USA ID with the women farmers, I do that in Honduras with some indigenous Lumpuria Indians near Marcala, these are the kinds of projects that make me wake up excited every day.

Angela Giovine 13:16
Right. Did you conceive of this business with that in mind, or were you just thinking I want to open a coffee shop and then it grew from there?

David Waldman 13:45
It was evolutionary.

Angela Giovine 13:46
It was evolutionary.

David Waldman 13:47
I don’t think I knew enough about it to imagine that I’d be doing it but because as I told you, when I commit to something, I go deep.

Angela Giovine 13:55
Right.

David Waldman 13:56
One thing led to another and it’s like, but of course I have to know the farmer’s I’m

Angela Giovine 13:59
Right.

David Waldman 13:59
buying the from because I want to understand their practices. I want to be sure they’re not using bad chemicals. And so for example, the growers that we’re working with an Honduras, it winds up, something I only discovered by spending time with them at origin is that they’re biodynamic coffee farmers. I’m not sure there’s a handful of them in the world, but they’re making their own micro organic soups. They’re doing

Angela Giovine 14:10
Right.

David Waldman 14:24
What appears to the outsider to be crazy stuff, but it translates into amazing flavor. And it’s all natural. They’re not using any chemical additives or amendments. So this to me is… really exciting.

Angela Giovine 14:35
Yeah.

David Waldman 14:36
So we’ve developed a good relationship with those families. I spend a week or 10 days there. And we literally spend half the time in the field at the farms, and then half the time in the lab, so I can instruct them how to taste. And then we connect the dots so we can help them understand, how can we make life better for them.

Angela Giovine 14:55
So you’re making orders with them directly?

David Waldman 14:57
It’s a true direct trade handshake. Yeah, there’s so many people who hold their hands out in the chain of distribution that in my opinion add little to no value. And I want to take the money out of their hands and give the largest percentage directly in the hands of the growers, the producers and that’s what I do.

Angela Giovine 15:14
And then you bring it here and you roast it, yourself.

David Waldman 15:16
We bring it here, we evaluate it in the lab, we roast it, we sell it to our cafes, as well as to other restaurants cafes, health food stores and online, yeah.

Angela Giovine 15:26
Give me an idea of how many pounds of coffee either monthly or annually.

David Waldman 15:30
So the the line of demarcation for specialty coffee roasters, which is what we are, and specialty is the highest level. Specialty means a couple things, it means you must be using current crops so you have to be following the seasonality of the harvest. It also means that the coffee has no defects that will score anything below 180. And it’s a very stringent scoring process that you’re trained in, that’s part of my certification process. We represent a relatively small but growing portion of the coffee industry. So the line of demarcation is typically you’re either a roaster under 100,000 pounds, and you’re called a micro roaster or you’re over 100,000 pounds. So I’m in the under hundred thousand pound micro roaster, our seasonal group of that. And of the 90 countries that grow coffee, both Robusta and Arabica, we only do Arabica which is to date, the better tasting coffee. So we’re bringing in coffee from 20 to 22 countries and we’re handpicking them based on the coffee that we think tastes best for what we’re trying to do.

Angela Giovine 16:41
Not all at once though, throughout like you said you’re following the seasonality.

David Waldman 16:44
You’re following if you will, it’s like a wheel. So you know when the beans are being harvested, then they have to be rested to reach a moisture equilibrium and balance. Then they have to be dry milled to remove the pergamino, the outer shell like a peanut shell, then their bags or boxed in a vacuum sealed box, then they’re shipped. And it’s typically a month at sea. So if for example, Guatemala’s harvesting in December, the stuff we get in the high mountains of say Waiwai too Nungo, they might not harvest until February, it might not ship until May. We might not get until June. And then we’ll keep something typically no more than six months. We’re not going to be growing heirloom tomatoes in February. So that’s the same metaphor.

Angela Giovine 17:27
Yup!

David Waldman 17:27
We’re only using stuff that’s seasonal, that’s been harvested and freshly available.

Angela Giovine 17:32
Right, that makes sense. When you launched the company you always intended to be the roaster. Is that accurate?

David Waldman 17:36
Yeah, that was the thing. It was always my intuition. And it is true, based on experience that roasting was a more profitable business. And it brought me closer to what I really wanted to do. I love being in the lab and I love experimenting and I love playing. While I love retail and love the cafe operation. My intuition was and it’s proven to be true that we want to be everything as much of the supply chain as we can be. So we import the beans, we roast them, we sell them to the cafes and the users and the wholesale accounts and then we sell all the equipment, so we’re turnkey. If somebody comes to me and says, I want to open a cafe, I go like, okay, are you working with an architect?

Angela Giovine 17:44
Right. You kind of know exactly what they need business plan wise?

David Waldman 18:20
Yeah. But I work with their electrician.

Angela Giovine 18:22
Yeah.

David Waldman 18:20
I work with their contractor. I can do for a consulting fee, I do their layout for workflow optimization.

Angela Giovine 18:28
Right.

David Waldman 18:28
We have a warehouse and we have direct manufacturing relationships with maybe 60 manufacturers all over the world- of best of breed equipment for brewing and a special machines and water towers, and Italian porcelain and filters and whatever. So if someone wants to, they can come to us and we can basically do everything for them, including installing the equipment, calibrating and programming, setting it up and training them.

Angela Giovine 18:52
So what percentage of your business would you say is wholesale versus cafe consumer?

David Waldman 18:58
We have two cafes. And then the roasting business, which includes the equipment business,

Angela Giovine 19:04
Right. So wholesale, I guess equipment and wholesale roasting-

David Waldman 19:07
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 19:07
are two different things?

David Waldman 19:08
So the cafes together are maybe half the business and then the roastery is maybe the other half, more or less.

Angela Giovine 19:15
And like you said, it was your theory that the roasting would help you support the launch of the cafe.

David Waldman 19:20
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 19:21
And that has really proven out for you.

David Waldman 19:23
Yeah, yep! It’s interesting, the de facto reality is that if things are slow in the roastery, then the cash flow of the cafes is very helpful. If things are slow, typically after New Year’s in the cafes, we often still have restaurant accounts. It’s a good balance and one is a good hedge against the other. Coffee along with pornography and alcohol are presumably the troika of rece

Angela Giovine 19:49
Right.

David Waldman 19:49
of recession.

Angela Giovine 19:50
Right. True, very chill,

David Waldman 19:51
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 19:51
recession proof.

David Waldman 19:53
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 19:53
product.

David Waldman 19:54
And until recently, maybe three years ago, coffee was considered the number one legally traded commodity in dollars. And I say legally traded because

Angela Giovine 20:04
Right, obvious reasons.

David Waldman 20:05
Yeah. And now it’s toggling with petroleum, but it’s still way up there, not to be underestimated. Although the market that they’re measuring is for commodity coffee, and of course, we’re not in a commodity market where we’re dealing with highly specialized selective coffee. yeah.

Angela Giovine 20:21
So you mentioned that when you started this business, you are basically taking your own savings to launch this business. You weren’t going to get investors or partners or bank loans to launch a business. This was all on you?

David Waldman 20:34
Partially correct. The cash that I got from my buyout, I banked. And because my house was almost paid off, at my age, I took a second mortgage because the interest rates were really low. So we did borrow money from the bank to finance this business.

Angela Giovine 20:50
But you had collateral.

David Waldman 20:51
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Angela Giovine 20:52
So you could have finance that yourself, you chose based on the right rates.

David Waldman 20:55
We could have, but the rates for really good

Angela Giovine 20:58
Right.

David Waldman 20:58
and I take risk, I’m clearly a risk taker. I mean, as evidenced by even doing this in the first place.

Angela Giovine 21:04
Right.

David Waldman 21:04
You know, spending some money in a building that had no water and

Angela Giovine 21:07
Right.

David Waldman 21:07
no electricity, in a part of town that the public didn’t even know exist

Angela Giovine 21:10
Right.

David Waldman 21:10
those who lived here, so I saw an underserved community and went like, yeah, this is pretty scary. But I believed that it would work and I just borrowed the money.

David Waldman 21:21
And signed like a crazy lease that was a serious 15 year commitment. But yeah, I mean, what it comes down to, it’s all about self esteem. Whether you’re hopefully you’re not delusional, but the ability of me to proceed in these untested areas, was based on a strong self esteem. I believe in myself, and I believe.. at this point, having been through so many careers, all of them with success, that and this is going to sound pompous but please take it in a way that isn’t pompous, that I don’t fail at what I do because I’m driven, when I see the problems and the failings and God knows I fail, I figure out ways to write the ship and to get it back on track. So I believe in myself and my resources, and I don’t mean money resources, I mean, my intellectual resources

Angela Giovine 22:08
Right.

David Waldman 22:09
enough to have the agility and flexibility to correct things when things go wrong.

Angela Giovine 22:13
And it could be taken as a pompous statement if you hadn’t just told me that you spent your life understanding coffee, learning coffee, and if you had said, oh! I was a lifelong grocery store, coffee drinker, I retired and thought, let me start a coffee business, that might be a little pompous. But you just got done telling me that you spent your life devoted to the fact that you were understanding it, you you developed your tastes for it, all of that. So-

David Waldman 22:39
I was a serious coffee nerd.

Angela Giovine 22:41
Isn’t fair to say that some of that your self esteem and some of your confidence comes from educating yourself? You can feel confident in yourself because you know the facts.

David Waldman 22:51
Yeah, oh oh yeah. Over the years, I developed a pretty extensive library. I have a background in organic chemistry from college, I took a lot of Sciences

Angela Giovine 23:01
Right, so you didn’t just stick your finger up to the wind and go “Ummm coffee sounds good”.

David Waldman 23:04
Yeah, yeah. It was pretty calculated based on my skill sets, combined with my curiosity, and my appetite for risk that didn’t scare me. I love gadgetry.

Angela Giovine 23:14
Right.

David Waldman 23:15
I love espresso machines.

Angela Giovine 23:16
Right.

David Waldman 23:17
I love all that stuff.

Angela Giovine 23:17
Right, right, taking it all apart, putting it back together

David Waldman 23:18
Yeahhhh….

Angela Giovine 23:19
understanding how it works?

David Waldman 23:20
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 23:20
All that kinds of stuff?

David Waldman 23:21
I repair everything that I sell and everything that I have. I love tools. I have a a crazy six foot high, multi drawer toolbox full of crazy tools just for working on anything from the forklift to the espresso machine, to our 1930 German roaster to whatever, yeah.

Angela Giovine 23:38
So even though this is a second or third or fifth career for you, like there are people who start businesses later in life as hobbies. It is fair to say this is not a hobby business?

David Waldman 23:50
Oh, no, no, no, it’s not a hobby. It’s a good living

Angela Giovine 23:52
You’re running it as a business.

David Waldman 23:54
I’m running it as a business.

Angela Giovine 23:55
To make money to to be profitable. It’s not like “Oh, I just retired and this is fun for me”.

David Waldman 24:00
No, no, no.

Angela Giovine 24:01
This is something

David Waldman 24:02
I’m 68 now, I have no interest in retiring.This business now is 13 years old, with the second cafe now being six plus years old, the three businesses, each one is profitable. We take care of our employees, we have maybe 18 employees across the three independent subchapter S companies. No, this is not a folly.

Angela Giovine 24:24
Right, right, right.

Angela Giovine 24:25
And this is not some crazy rich guy going like, yeah, it doesn’t really matter.

Angela Giovine 24:27
Right, right.

David Waldman 24:28
It matters.

Angela Giovine 24:28
It matters. It matters. You talked a little bit, earlier about finding this end of town and seeing in a a white space, if you will, an underserved market. You also talked about your love for the product, so product or customer, or both. Is that was your company created first with the product in mind? Or is there an avatar of your customer, the person that you thought you could serve?

David Waldman 24:53
Yeah, a little bit of both, but predominantly the former. So the logo was the beginning of the catalysts for what the product would look like, what the bag would look like how it sit on the shelf. So, the packaging and the branding was important, but we definitely had, if you will, an avatar of the customer. We knew that by definition, our customer was going to be a minority of the populace.

Angela Giovine 25:17
Like there are only so many people who are going to spend more on their daily cup.

David Waldman 25:23
Yeah

Angela Giovine 25:23
basically

David Waldman 25:24
Yeah, and we knew that going in. And part of the almost one year I spent designing the concept and then literally designing this space that we’re sitting in right now, down to like the parking spot for the forklift and roof top ventilation and lighting and counter height and ergonomic espresso placement, etcetera. Everything took into account and that amplified the risk that maybe 10% and that was probably generous, of the population would even be our customer. And to our great delight, after maybe three or four years, there was a enough traction, and enough awards from the various magazines, websites and coffee reviewers, that word spread organically because we didn’t really advertise.

Angela Giovine 26:11
Right. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ad for you anywhere.

David Waldman 26:13
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 26:14
It’s not something you focused on?

David Waldman 26:15
That’s not something we focus on. And because of I’m a musician, we do it less more frequently because I’ve got other things I’m doing but we have live concerts in here all the time that were generally free to the public. We had a Turkish afternoon where we pulled out all the furniture and had Turkish rugs from the Turkish rug merchant down the street, and we brewed Turkish coffee for free all day long.

Angela Giovine 26:29
Oh that’s cool.

David Waldman 26:37
with an ood player and pillows on the floor and hangings. So yeah, we, the public knows us as generous community minded, we’ve done fundraisers for cervical screening for women, we’ve done fundraisers for coffee children, the children of farmers to be sure that they have good schools and good clothing, we’ve done fundraisers for the ACLU in the Southern Poverty Law Center. We are committed to making this a better place to live. And this 1800 square space we built as a welcoming sanctuary for anybody who wants to come in.

Angela Giovine 27:14
And you mentioned, you wanted to have those locals the repeat business, do you believe

David Waldman 27:20
Oh, yeah…

Angela Giovine 27:20
that is who is coming in here mostly?

David Waldman 27:22
Yeah… We’re always getting people I’ve never seen before. But yeah, we we’ve seen marriages, childbirth, we’ve got markings on the wall, of all the kids and their heights we mark them off with a sharpie and a measuring stick.

Angela Giovine 27:23
Oh that’s what that is?

David Waldman 27:36
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 27:37
I always thought that was a flood thing, like you had marked

David Waldman 27:39
No…

Angela Giovine 27:39
up where water had flooded.

David Waldman 27:40
That’s all the kids who’ve come and

Angela Giovine 27:42
Oh…

David Waldman 27:43
we watched them grow from

Angela Giovine 27:45
Okay.

David Waldman 27:45
when they can barely stand up to

Angela Giovine 27:46
That’s so cool.

David Waldman 27:47
They come back at college and there they are.

Angela Giovine 27:49
That’s so cool. And I’m as I’m sitting here, I’m looking at a chair that was brought in by one local for another, right? Who-

David Waldman 27:56
Yeah, one of our dear customers had a double knee replacement and he needed armrests, which we don’t have in our chairs. So another of our customers brought in a chair from his waiting room at one of his practices and

Angela Giovine 28:08
And it’s sitting here yeah!

David Waldman 28:09
It’s here for him.

Angela Giovine 28:10
Right.

David Waldman 28:10
I mean, we love our customers. We have National Book Award winners, we have Arts and Letters recipients from Obama’s White House, we have Grammy winners. We’ve got some serious people that come in here but this is a town and a place of humility where you know, if anything, because people know my background, people come here, because they feel like their creative juices flow.

Angela Giovine 28:31
Right.

David Waldman 28:31
Whether they’re songwriters or graphic artists, or designers or financial planners or whatever. We want them here and this we want them to feel loved and comfortable and welcome.

Angela Giovine 28:41
So your avatar is really the person who loves fine coffee or welt the best tasting coffee really, and that’s the extent of it. There’s no other factors that delineate who these people are that come from?

David Waldman 28:53
Yeah, although interestingly, if if there are three characteristics of people like person A person B, Person C. Person A could be comatose, hung over with a headache. And we’re CDS. We’re caffeine delivery system.

Angela Giovine 29:06
Right.

David Waldman 29:06
They know their hand out, we know what they want, and we hand them the coffee and they’re good to go.

Angela Giovine 29:06
Right.

David Waldman 29:08
They don’t know or care

Angela Giovine 29:11
Right.

David Waldman 29:12
what it is, where it comes from,

Angela Giovine 29:13
Right.

David Waldman 29:13
How it’s roasted, none of that matters. And if they have a prepaid card, it’s like, we don’t have to have a conversation with them

Angela Giovine 29:19
Right.

David Waldman 29:19
by their choice.

Angela Giovine 29:20
Right.

David Waldman 29:22
And then customer two is the one who comes in and they’re a little bit more awake, and they look around and they go, where am I? This is a strange place that has African art hanging, it’s got a forklift? It’s got a glass garage door.

Angela Giovine 29:36
Sometimes heavy metal music playing.

David Waldman 29:40
And some strange equipment that like, looks really industrial, which of course it is, and then they go in and get excited about it and find out “Well, this is coffee education, I’m going to take advantage of it”.

Angela Giovine 29:52
Right. They’ll start asking you questions while you’re roasting

David Waldman 29:54
Yeah

Angela Giovine 29:54
or whatever. I’ve seen that.

David Waldman 29:54
Yeah. And yeah, and for those of you who haven’t been here, there’s no glass walls or no safety dividers or health code, I argued quite strenuously to make sure that this was an open and safe environment. So we can set up a chair for a two year old, to be three foot from the roaster, which happens all the time. And they can watch us roasting.

Angela Giovine 30:14
Right.

David Waldman 30:15
So we’re a place where you can raise your coffee IQ if you want to, which leads to the third person C, they’re excited. They know about harvest, they know about seasonality, they know wood beam they know when are the new-

Angela Giovine 30:26
They want to talk shop with you a little bit.

David Waldman 30:28
Yeah. Oh, more than a little bit. Yeah.

Angela Giovine 30:30
Yeah.

David Waldman 30:30
Or I’m not quite getting my grind right. Can you help me calibrate my grinder? Or can you test my water for me? I think I have too much calcium in my water. Because we’re water specialists as well. Water composition is critical to getting a good balanced tasting cup. So yeah, so we cover that whole range…

Angela Giovine 30:50
From everyone who just.

David Waldman 30:51
From everyone and indiscriminately.

Angela Giovine 30:53
Right.

David Waldman 30:53
So that’s the coffee piece but to further delineate your avatar, we’re really a trojan horse.

Angela Giovine 31:01
How so?

David Waldman 31:02
They come here at, they come here for coffee, but really it, we’re like the bus station. We’re really the community center.

Angela Giovine 31:09
You are.

David Waldman 31:09
where people can meet. So it’s not just your coffee shop.

Angela Giovine 31:12
Right.

David Waldman 31:12
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 31:12
Recently you can, you know, I’ve noticed there was a mayoral election in town.

David Waldman 31:17
Oh, yeah.

Angela Giovine 31:17
And the two mayors that were proverbially duking it out we’re holding court here.

David Waldman 31:22
Oh, yeah.

Angela Giovine 31:22
Regularly.

David Waldman 31:23
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 31:23
So, yes, this what is definitely some place where the locals come.

David Waldman 31:24
This is the place. This is the lightning rod, this is this is where people can find out what going on.

Angela Giovine 31:31
So the days of William Shakespeare and the meeting in the coffee house, all of that.

David Waldman 31:35
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 31:35
here.

David Waldman 31:36
This is what’s happening.

Angela Giovine 31:37
So you mentioned, that you got deeper and deeper into this in terms of the vertical from seed to cup as you grew the business. At what point did you decide to start sourcing your own coffee and what precipitated that decision?

David Waldman 31:52
A sense of social responsibility. This is a little bit technical. When you see the commodity market for coffee take a dive, and it’s let’s say a dollar, that means that a pound of coffee as a commodity is selling for a dollar? Really? it’s like how can a farmer make a living?

Angela Giovine 32:10
Right. And to by comparison, a pound of coffee in a Starbucks bag costs, I don’t know what 10 bucks, 12 bucks?

David Waldman 32:16
From a pound bag of coffee?

Angela Giovine 32:18
Yeah.

David Waldman 32:19
1820 bucks.

Angela Giovine 32:19
1820 bucks.

David Waldman 32:20
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 32:20
So from commodity to finished product-

David Waldman 32:22
So either the farmers getting ripped off

Angela Giovine 32:25
Right.

David Waldman 32:25
or something’s wrong, I decided there’s something I have to do. So I became fairtrade certified, I became organic certified, affiliated with Smithsonian Migratory Bird and the Rainforest Alliance. And then kind of grew out of that maybe 10 years ago, and went like, that’s not enough. I know I can do more. It was clear to me that I had a responsibility to make sure that the producers that were growing coffee for me, that I could assure them a livelihood so I could get their great coffee

Angela Giovine 32:55
Right.

David Waldman 32:55
for my lifetime. So and that’s what I mean by so I throw it around loosely and I haven’t really defined it but social responsibility for me, I want to improve the life of the producers and their families in enough ways that I pay them more money where they’re assured and increasingly better revenue stream of money. I literally hand a check, a hand payments to the growers.

Angela Giovine 33:18
so it can not get lost in the-

David Waldman 33:19
No. I mean that’s direct trade.

Angela Giovine 33:21
Now what percentage of you guys are doing it?

David Waldman 33:23
Yeah, I was gonna say in all fairness, that might be 35% of what we do. Another 30 or 40%, which comprises a total of maybe 75, or 80% is relationship based, which means I’m no more than one degree away from knowing the producer,

Angela Giovine 33:37
Okay.

David Waldman 33:38
the grower.

Angela Giovine 33:38
Okay.

David Waldman 33:39
and that’s either by using a like minded roaster like me, because you don’t have enough time or money

Angela Giovine 33:38
Sure, visit every single person

David Waldman 33:39
to do it all yourself. So I choose the origins that are interesting and important to me. And then we divide and conquer among a handful of roasters who share their sources. So we buy by relationship, so that comprises maybe a little more than three quarters of what we’re doing.

Angela Giovine 34:00
What percentage of smaller roasterys are going direct like that?

David Waldman 34:05
I don’t really know. I can tell you from experience. It’s hard to get the statistics, because the association is the specialty coffee association. And I don’t buy all their reports. They’re really expensive.

Angela Giovine 34:16
Right.

David Waldman 34:16
And I think I probably learned more by

Angela Giovine 34:19
Would you say…

David Waldman 34:19
being in the field with other people.

Angela Giovine 34:20
Is it a minority?

David Waldman 34:22
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 34:22
Is it a growing group?

David Waldman 34:23
So it’s a it’s an ever increasing group. And the way I see it, you’ll have a lot of small independent roasters who go “Wow! I get to travel to Colombia. How cool is that?” They might not know anything about tasting, and cupping, and scoring coffee,

Angela Giovine 34:39
Yup.

David Waldman 34:39
They might not have a certified palate,

Angela Giovine 34:41
Sure.

David Waldman 34:41
So for them, they’re cutting a deal because part of the rewards of owning a business is they get to travel somewhere. So there’s some places that specialize in coffee from one or two countries. They travel there they have a relationship with them. It’s direct. In all fairness, it’s good to social responsible contract, but I’m trying to do a little bit more than that. I’m trying to bring amazing tasting coffee on top of it all.

Angela Giovine 35:04
Right.It’s the it’s the business side, its the taste side, it’s the artisan side as well-

David Waldman 35:09
Yeah

Angela Giovine 35:10
as the social side

David Waldman 35:10
So yeah, there are quite a few people who are doing what I just described, And then… because it’s so expensive and time intensive, and money intensive, you pretty much only find direct trade happening in a majority of the buys from the really larger like 2 3 4 million pound a year

Angela Giovine 35:31
Okay.

David Waldman 35:31
companies. So

Angela Giovine 35:33
They have the bandwidth to do it?

David Waldman 35:34
They they have the bandwidth to do it, because I don’t.

Angela Giovine 35:36
that was really my next question. If you’re a small business owner here and you own a coffee shop and you want to achieve these goals, what kind of advice would you give to someone who might want to start down that direction but they don’t have the cash flow to be going and making handshake deals in Honduras.

David Waldman 35:54
It’s not necessarily ex that expensive to do the travel. What’s expensive is the time away from your responsibilities. So you need to have enough redundancy in your business to where someone can roast for you or someone can do whatever it is that you’re doing so you can afford to be away. And if that’s the case, it’s not that expensive. You have to decide what does it mean to have a relationship with a farmer. For me, it’s usually one visit a year. And then they come and visit me. So maybe that’s two visits a year. They come to me once, I go to them once. But to really do it, the way the big guys do it, they’re in every place for weeks, and months, three times a year.

Angela Giovine 36:36
Right.

David Waldman 36:36
They’re there for harvest. That means if they’re following the harvest wheel, so to speak, they’re never home. And some of my friends from whom I source some amazing coffee. They’re actually setting up their employees to live in Peru and to live in Colombia and to live in Weehawken to live. They’re actually living there. And that’s the kind that’s extreme.

Angela Giovine 36:57
Right.

David Waldman 36:57
For a small roaster. You can’t possibly do that. That’s often more the job of the small artisan exporters and importers who know how to find really good coffee.

Angela Giovine 37:09
Right.

David Waldman 37:09
And they’re the people that I rely on for maybe 35 or 40 percent

Angela Giovine 37:12
Right.

David Waldman 37:12
of what I don’t have the time and the bandwidth

Angela Giovine 37:14
Right

David Waldman 37:15
to to do… directly.

Angela Giovine 37:15
That make sense.

David Waldman 37:16
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 37:16
Over and over again. In my 10 years of talking to small business owners, it comes down to employees. Talk to me about what your theories are, what your philosophies are on… your team, bringing in people, from roasters to baristas, how do you staff your company?

David Waldman 37:35
Very carefully, very prudently. We pay well, I know, just factually that we’re probably the best paying roastery and cafe around. And I see it as a retention tool.

Angela Giovine 37:47
Sure.

David Waldman 37:47
We train everybody. If someone knows coffee, that’s great. But there’s a really good chance I might have to deconstruct them in my in my lab during the four to eight week training period to get them to do things our way.

Angela Giovine 37:57
Have habbits right.

David Waldman 37:59
Yeah, we stay off a little bit on the lean side sometimes too lean, aware if somebody burps it’s like, “Oh my God we’re all overworking”.

Angela Giovine 38:07
Right.

David Waldman 38:08
The tension is we’re walking that line where you want to give the employee the hours that they want. As that contracts and expand seasonally and as you enter holiday periods, we’re often hiring and you know, people move on. We have some people who are career coffee people, and we celebrate that. And when we see them, we get excited.

Angela Giovine 38:27
And when you say career coffee people, people that want to like become a roaster, or are you talking about they just like

David Waldman 38:31
Or they want to manage and be a professional barista.

Angela Giovine 38:34
Okay.

David Waldman 38:34
And we have some of them on our staff.

Angela Giovine 38:36
Yeah.

David Waldman 38:37
That’s all they want to do.

Angela Giovine 38:38
Right. And it’s fair to say that your baristas are getting a lot more training than the average.

David Waldman 38:44
Yeah, we have baristas who are now working in Oslo, Paris, all over the world. We train world class where they can literally go in and show somebody what they can do, and they pretty much get hired on the spot. Which is good and bad. You know, we don’t want to train any less than that.

Angela Giovine 38:58
Right.

David Waldman 38:58
But we realize we get people life skills

Angela Giovine 39:00
Right.

David Waldman 39:00
that translate, they can move and go

Angela Giovine 39:02
Right.

David Waldman 39:00
anywhere they want. In terms of retention, after we train somebody and I do the training personally in our lab, we give them a drink test. And then we ask that they commit to a full year after their green test, because we spent a lot of time and money and resources, training them.

Angela Giovine 39:20
And that’s sort of an unofficial contract.

David Waldman 39:21
It is. Tt’s not really in for I’m a lawyer, it’s it’s not really

Angela Giovine 39:25
Right.

David Waldman 39:21
and I don’t intend it to be enforceable.

Angela Giovine 39:26
No, sure.

David Waldman 39:27
If somebody’s not happy, or if there’s mutual unhappiness,

Angela Giovine 39:29
Right.

David Waldman 39:29
it’s like we want people to go their own way.

Angela Giovine 39:31
But it gives people the right mentality.

David Waldman 39:33
Yeah, the mindset is, “I’m going to be here for a year” and we have a good time. The staff is amazing. We all care for each other. And we invite people who have other careers and other interests. We have disc jockeys, culinary professionals, university ice hockey coaches, our staff is amazing.

Angela Giovine 39:52
So you mentioned earlier that you you haven’t done a lot by way of marketing and promotion. How long in to the launch of your business, were you able to say we’re going to be successful we’ve we’ve got something here we we’re going to be able to make it?

David Waldman 40:07
I found the 1956 German roastery after looking and looking and looking a really rare machine. But it took almost a year and a half to rebuild. By that time I have moved from roasting on a little toy roaster in my bathroom to I bought a professional what’s called a sample roaster in my basement. And word of mouth got out so I was roasting 18 hours a day, which is how I really learned how to roast on this tiny, small capacity roaster waiting for the bigger machine to be done. There was risk involved in that, there was pain involved in the timing being off to where the demand exceeded my ability to deliver

Angela Giovine 40:45
They call that the good stress, right?

David Waldman 40:47
Yeah, yeah. It was… insane. It was insane but it was good.

Angela Giovine 40:51
A Good problem to have, that’s what you get to told a lot?

David Waldman 40:54
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 40:55
It’s a good problem to have?

David Waldman 40:56
Yeah, I I guess it was? So when I designed the place one of the big risks one of the next big risks was what size roaster do I get, and they’re expensive. And I’m going like “Oh my God.. If I get one that’s too big, I’ll never be able to use it. If I get one that’s too small-”

Angela Giovine 41:09
And that’s coinciding with probably the expenses related to the build out and everything?

David Waldman 41:14
Oh the build out cost a fortune.

Angela Giovine 41:15
Right.

David Waldman 41:15
And the equipment was a fortune. So that was the beginning of knowing and then self-esteem place and then I’m going like “Wow, I can’t do it fast enough
in my basement”.

Angela Giovine 41:25
So when you’re doing this and you’re working 18 hours a day in your house you would already sign the lease here or no?

David Waldman 41:30
Yeah, I had signed the lease here after several months of being in the basement.

Angela Giovine 41:36
You used the home roasting process as an opportunity to sort of create them in prelaunch?

David Waldman 41:40
Yeah…

Angela Giovine 41:41
Potentially.

David Waldman 41:42
And then I found this place and then designed it and then built it. And that was 6 months of further torture in my basement, finally I could breathe but that doesn’t answer your question

Angela Giovine 41:53
Right.

David Waldman 41:53
About financial stuff.

Angela Giovine 41:54
Right.

David Waldman 41:54
because I’m spending money

Angela Giovine 41:56
Right, you’re not making it. yeah.

David Waldman 41:57
not making any, but then I start landing wholesale accounts it come out of nowhere and then, all of a sudden we opened the doors to the public and it’s like “Oh my God there are lines at the door, what’s going on here?” It was probably 18 months to 24 months more or less

Angela Giovine 42:12
Of nail biting?

David Waldman 42:13
Uh yeah… where I went like wow! I’m not using my line of credit, that much anymore it’s there and I’d probably might use it again when it’s slow, like in January or February which I did, but we were paying bills on cash flow we were ordering coffee, we were selling equipment espresso machines, there were lines at the door at the retail location.

Angela Giovine 42:34
So you would attribute, all of that to… the word of mouth from one coffee lover to another people who are-

David Waldman 42:43
Yeah from-

Angela Giovine 42:43
talking to each other.

David Waldman 42:43
from what I called an underserved community, I didn’t talk about it much but there was a process in that year of designing and thinking where I went, I live in Hopewell which is maybe 20 minutes from here up the hill.

Angela Giovine 42:55
Right, close to to Princeton.

David Waldman 42:57
Close to Princeton where our other shop is. So you go one way from my home and that 15 minutes to the one shop and you go the other way it’s 20 minutes here.

Angela Giovine 43:03
Right.

David Waldman 43:04
Which is all part of my trying to make my life more enjoyable and not spending so much time in the train or or whatever.

Angela Giovine 43:08
Sure.

David Waldman 43:09
We landed a wholesale account, and then a second wholesale account while I was in my basement roasting on that tiny little roaster and then, word of mouth other restaurants started calling, the health food started calling and then we started getting demand, and then instead of driving my beat up fathom station wagon to the warehouse to throw 1 or 2 154 pound bags of coffee in the back, I went like “Okay, I’ve got a forklift I’m going to have fox deliver it and put them on pallets and buy 2 3 thousand pounds at a time”.

Angela Giovine 43:37
Right. And so what’s interesting about this is when people start to call you

David Waldman 43:41
I’m scared to death. I mean…

Angela Giovine 43:42
They’re not calling you because they heard this great story, they’re calling you because someone told them what you make tastes really good.

David Waldman 43:50
Yeah. It was

Angela Giovine 43:51
Bottom line

David Waldman 43:51
It was all about the taste.

Angela Giovine 43:52
It wasn’t anything about a any other party business whether it was seed to cup or whether it was you you personally-

David Waldman 43:59
None of that matter.

Angela Giovine 44:00
It didn’t matter. It was the product

David Waldman 44:02
And interestingly there were plenty of roasters in the area so somehow I was distinguishing myself from the other roasters. And people were going “Wow, this guy’s not burning his beans”,Wow, you can taste the Ethiopia and the Colombia and they taste really different and you don’t have to add milk and you don’t have to add sugar” and you know yeah. So that was the buzz that was spreading

Angela Giovine 44:27
Right.

David Waldman 44:27
was this guy’s really into it and he’s like a mad scientist.

Angela Giovine 44:31
Right.

David Waldman 44:32
These are people who hadn’t tasted stuff like that and our typical mantra was, please take a sip of it before you add milk, please take a sip of it before you add sugar, give it a chance and all of a sudden people were going, “Oh my God I’ve never had anything like this etcetera etcetera”.

Angela Giovine 44:47
That makes sense.

David Waldman 44:47
And then the social responsibility grew and took shape and it was evolutionary as we said. As time went on as an I had as I had the ability to go those next steps

Angela Giovine 44:56
Right.

David Waldman 44:56
and dig deeper, yeah.

Angela Giovine 44:57
So 18 to 24 months in, you’ve taken a fair amount of risk at this point financially

David Waldman 45:02
Hundreds of thousands of dollars

Angela Giovine 45:03
And it seem to be panning out. Were there times throughout your now 15 years in business?

David Waldman 45:10
13

Angela Giovine 45:10
13 years in business where maybe you took a big risk and it didn’t turn out the way you expected?

David Waldman 45:16
I mean we tried to be a sandwhich shop and that didn’t work

Angela Giovine 45:18
Did you? Okay

David Waldman 45:19
We-

Angela Giovine 45:20
I was going to ask you about that.

David Waldman 45:21
Yeah, we had the best paninis anywhere.

Angela Giovine 45:23
So thab the baseline,

David Waldman 45:24
We bake the bread

Angela Giovine 45:24
the coffee shop currently serves very little food.

David Waldman 45:28
Yeah, right now just by comparison yeah. We’re doing a couple interesting yogurt, some unsual beverages that you don’t see everywhere, some scratch piped goods, some artisanol 2 ingredients small batch chocolates that are amazing and apples in season, it’s apple season right now

Angela Giovine 45:45
Right.

David Waldman 45:45
But yeah, it its where you can come and have a salad or have a sandwich. It was more trouble than it was worth then it was a money loser so we had the agility to just go okay, that’s not working

Angela Giovine 45:55
How long did let that-

David Waldman 45:57
2 years.

Angela Giovine 45:57
2 years, wow

David Waldman 45:58
Yeah…

Angela Giovine 45:59
So you really gave it a go?

David Waldman 46:00
We yeah..,

Angela Giovine 46:01
It was just you’re prolly spoilage and whatnot

David Waldman 46:04
Yeah…..

Angela Giovine 46:05
or the profit margin wasn’t good.

David Waldman 46:06
Yeah, the profit margin wasn’t good because when it’s all set and done, no matter what the ingredients are and we have local micro greens and the bread was baked fresh daily for us, everything was as local and as fresh as could be. They were amazing sandwiches but you you charge 8 9 10 bucks per sandwich you can’t charge 15 bucks

Angela Giovine 46:24
Right.

David Waldman 46:24
for a sandwich. There’s a point at which it’s not reasonable. So yeah, I’m an ingreadient freak

Angela Giovine 46:30
In your opin, in your philosophy it was do it right or not at all.

David Waldman 46:34
Yeah

Angela Giovine 46:34
Potentially

David Waldman 46:35
And we did it right, and we’re providing it. People were in tears when we stop carrying the sandwiches but it it did make sense but we gave it about 2 years. Yeah, we did ice cream for a while, there’s a local friend of ours who makes amazing ice cream and they’re dear friends and we carried them for a while but it just wasn’t moving and then another artisanol ice cream shop opened basically next door and we just figured ethically we didn’t want to take that, you know

Angela Giovine 46:58
Right.

David Waldman 46:58
we want to give them the room.

Angela Giovine 46:59
Right, and to to that point you mentioned earlier that where we sit originally was abandoned and now were sitting in a place where on a row we have artisanol ice cream, coffee, pizza and health foods grocer all in a row.

David Waldman 47:13
Yeah

Angela Giovine 47:13
I always joke that if I live dry I would probably never leave this street.

David Waldman 47:18
Yeah it’s interesting in an abandoned sleepy part of North Lambertville it’s now kind of like the hip part, the buildings are all pretty well occupied, it’s where people want to be and want to hang out. It went from like an abandoned warehouse funky part of town to like this is where I want to be.

Angela Giovine 47:35
Like the second main street, almost.

David Waldman 47:37
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 47:37
Your business being 13 years old, you launched at a very interesting time meaning that is really covering the time in which e commerce and social media have really taken over the planet.

David Waldman 47:48
Oh yeah…

Angela Giovine 47:48
When you started the business that was not much of as thing

David Waldman 47:52
Right

Angela Giovine 47:52
is at all.

David Waldman 47:53
Right

Angela Giovine 47:53
How has that change your business? Has it change?

David Waldman 47:56
It has. In one way, because we carry best of breed equipments for the prosumers well as for commercial people, we have some unusual equipment that you can’t see pretty much anywhere where you can pick it up and look at it. You can look at pictures of all that’s exotic equipment and you’re going to order it online from somebody never having seen it and touch it, never having talked to a pro

Angela Giovine 48:18
Not to mention on going maintenance.

David Waldman 48:20
Yeah

Angela Giovine 48:20
All of that

David Waldman 48:20
And we repair everything that we sell and we work directly with manufacturers so we actually have positive feedback. We help manufacturers improve their equipment because I’m kind of a design head and I because we use the stuff that we sell we help them improve the stuff on an on going basis. So in that regard, we’re really breaking mortar. And I because of what I consider an ultra competitive, highly concentrated area of online sales of web sales for coffee gear, we have ordered completely.

Angela Giovine 48:51
For gear?

David Waldman 48:52
For gear. And we do really well, we have a warehouse full of stuff and that’s a significant part of our business and revenues and as profitable and we do well at it and we have people coming from the city Hopewell, Philly and New York to look at the stuff and buy it so that’s an advantage. We’ve kind of gone against the green of wanting to jump into the competition of the web sales for coffee gear. We’re known for a place where you can come and see stuff

Angela Giovine 49:17
Right.

David Waldman 49:17
You can’t see anywhere.

Angela Giovine 49:17
What about the coffee itself?

David Waldman 49:18
Because we work with small independent growers, we typically buy the entire micro lot of the crop so no one else has the beans that we have. That’s true for probably 50 or 60 percent of the beans that we have. We have beans that no one else have. They might be able to get beans from the same region, from a neighboring farm and that’s fine. So we have pretty unique product offering.

Angela Giovine 49:40
And can someone go in your website and buy a bag of coffee or they have to come in?

David Waldman 49:44
Yeah, no no.

Angela Giovine 49:44
They can buy on the

David Waldman 49:45
We have website sales for wholesale and for retail.

Angela Giovine 49:48
Oh, okay.

David Waldman 49:48
Yeah, yeah. We sell uh 12 ounce retail bags and 5 pound bags. Where they can pick it up at either of our stores or just ship it out.

Angela Giovine 49:55
Got it.

David Waldman 49:56
So we ship daily.

Angela Giovine 49:56
Got it. So is that a-

David Waldman 49:58
So we do that for the beans not for the equipment.

Angela Giovine 50:00
For the beans. Now has that-

David Waldman 50:01
Because we think we distinguish ourselves for the beans.

Angela Giovine 50:02
Has that been a growing part of your business or is it just to meet the need of the people who had asked for it?

David Waldman 50:07
I wish it were growing we haven’t really figured that out, we haven’t addressed that it’s a good steady but not I’d like it to be bigger.

Angela Giovine 50:15
It could be one of those good problems to have because the more people that taste it, the bigger it is.

David Waldman 50:21
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 50:21
And you have to find more beans so…

David Waldman 50:22
We were picking more up new customers every week but it’s still small.

Angela Giovine 50:26
Sure.

David Waldman 50:26
We I can imagine we could do a subscription service and

Angela Giovine 50:29
Right.

David Waldman 50:30
and develop it.

Angela Giovine 50:30
Right. It will almost be an entire different addition to your business really.

David Waldman 50:34
And if anything, having headed business develop departments for Sony for example, If anything the next hire, if we wanted to would be to hire someone in business development to help us

Angela Giovine 50:45
Yeah.

David Waldman 50:45
understand how to grow those areas that are have been otherwise self limiting.

Angela Giovine 50:51
Yeah.

David Waldman 50:45
by our lack of expenditure.

Angela Giovine 50:53
Sure, sure. That makes sense

David Waldman 50:55
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 50:53
and social media, you…

David Waldman 50:55
We just recently hired a barista with social media expertise and we paid them to do that. He started about 2 months ago.

Angela Giovine 51:05
And you’re not doing like email, newsletters or anything like that?

David Waldman 51:07
We have them but we’re pretty judicious

Angela Giovine 51:09
Okay.

David Waldman 51:09
We have maybe a thousand subscribers

Angela Giovine 51:12
So what has been the hardest part of your business to delegate when reliquish control of? As you grow?

David Waldman 51:18
In the old days, I was a barista, I do shifts, I was managing, I was doing payroll, I was going to the bank and you know getting the right change for the cash drawers. So I gladly delegated that stuff.

Angela Giovine 51:30
Let me ask you a question because you’re not the first person to answer that, just like the, “I did everything and then I delegated”.

David Waldman 51:36
I think it’s important

Angela Giovine 51:37
That’s all my question was going to be. Do you think you can be successful if you haven’t, emptied the trash?

David Waldman 51:36
Awesome question, clean the green strap, yeah.

Angela Giovine 51:37
Yeah, can you be successful?

David Waldman 51:48
Yeah, you you can but hard wire to believe that you need to know everything, because there’s if you understand the intricacies of everything from washing windows to cleaning the grey strap to finding a leak, who the suppliers are, what pricing is, what is an ounce of Saigon cinnamon cost,

Angela Giovine 52:06
scheduling employees.

David Waldman 52:07
Yeah…

Angela Giovine 52:08
All of that

David Waldman 52:08
If you haven’t done that, you can’t possibly empathize with what the person who you’re now paying to do that, is dealing with.

Angela Giovine 52:16
Sure

David Waldman 52:16
And empathy is, if anything, empathy is the wrong word but putting it diplomatically, I spent disproportionate time being an HR person rather than doing this stuffs I’m supposed to be doing.

Angela Giovine 52:26
Right, right.

David Waldman 52:27
Managing staff is huge. It’s probably the biggest consumer of time and the most important thing. You want to keep people happy, you want to understand where they’re at, you want to have sounding borge, you want to know that that they can talk to you openly, you want to know you don’t want surprises. You get surprises, if you don’t have good and open and honest communications at every level and I don’t think that can happen if you don’t have credibility.

Angela Giovine 52:52
Yeah.

David Waldman 52:52
If you’re talking to someone about ways that they could maybe do something they believe you and listen to you more if you’ve already been there and they know that you’ve done that already for years so I think my short answer is, I think it’s really important you’ve gotten you hands dirty

Angela Giovine 53:05
You have context.

David Waldman 53:07
Yeah, I think that’s well put. You’ve got context for everything that’s demanding your time because you’re multitasking.

Angela Giovine 53:12
Right. You still roast but you are not the only roaster

David Waldman 53:15
Right.

Angela Giovine 53:16
When did you decide that you needed to begin to delegate that what you arguably is one of the things you’re most passionate about as it relates to coffee

David Waldman 53:24
Yeaahhh…. It was probably 5 years in when I said I need help.

Angela Giovine 53:29
Was it burnout?

David Waldman 53:30
I wasn’t getting burnout because I love it but I was it was exhausting. Here I am forklifting, lifting the bags, labeling everything, making orders it was just too much for one person to do. And I wanted help and I figured the only way that I can improve the process is if I hire somebody and train them how to do it, and then free myself up to figure out better systems.

Angela Giovine 53:53
Sure.

David Waldman 53:54
It was only then, if you turn around and look at that contraption hanging 18 feet up from the ceiling, it’s a electric lifting device that I designed and had built for me, so I don’t have to lift 154 pound bags anymore.

Angela Giovine 54:06
It gave your brain the opportunity to…

David Waldman 54:10
I freed myself up to go like how can I improve the work flow? How can I make it easier from materials handling, I mean roasting is materials handling

Angela Giovine 54:06
Right, right, right.

David Waldman 54:19
It’s bringing in 2000 pound pallets of coffee, integrating them into containers, putting them on pallet rack without interrupting the cafe

Angela Giovine 54:28
Right, right, right.

David Waldman 54:30
I mean you’ve been here when

Angela Giovine 54:32
I have..

David Waldman 54:32
And say okay, sorry

Angela Giovine 54:33
Everybody has to get up were having a shipment

David Waldman 54:32
Yup, remove the tables. We open the garage doors

Angela Giovine 54:37
The forklift comes out

David Waldman 54:39
Yeah, the forklift comes out and

Angela Giovine 54:41
I’m used to it but there are people that go what? What just, what happened?

David Waldman 54:45
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 54:45
You’re doing what?

David Waldman 54:45
And then a strange way, that’s coffee IQ. That’s elevating the educational component of not taking for granted the coffee that’s in the cup that they’re drinking

Angela Giovine 54:56
Right.

David Waldman 54:56
It’s like, “Oh wow!

Angela Giovine 54:58
Right.

David Waldman 54:58
What’s going on here? They’re bringing in a couple thousands of raw beans from all over the world?”

Angela Giovine 55:04
Right.

David Waldman 55:04
by forklift and they’re going to wind up going in that huge machine.

Angela Giovine 55:07
Right, right

David Waldman 55:08
So at this point, I happily delegate.

Angela Giovine 55:11
I have to imagine finding that roaster is… not only integral to your business but stressful, right? because he that he or she is an MVP in terms of

David Waldman 55:21
They are MV yeah

Angela Giovine 55:22
bottleneck and whatnot yeah.

David Waldman 55:24
We have a wonderful apprentice now, the last one we have was with us for 4 and a half years, the one before that for maybe 5 years which I think is a pretty good run. So a three year commitment of I’m teaching her everything from how to taste, measuring moisture content basically the the flavor chemistry of coffee and the thermodynamics of roasting,

Angela Giovine 55:45
Yeah.

David Waldman 55:45
It’s alot. It’s plenty of stuff. It’s science and art.

Angela Giovine 55:45
You mention each one been here for about 5 years and when you lose one of those employees I have to imagine it’s

David Waldman 55:55
I’m the guy that goes back in. It is.

Angela Giovine 55:57
So what’s the logic there behind not not have redundancy in that role?

David Waldman 56:01
It’s expensive. For roasting, under a hundred thousand pounds a year. It’s not economically prudent to have a second roaster on stand by because we’re only roasting 4 5 days a week.

Angela Giovine 56:12
You’d have to a lar… a larger size to make 2 roasters?

David Waldman 56:15
Yeah, if we had a hundred and fifty thousand pounds of business, we’d have to have 2 roasters.

Angela Giovine 56:20
Got it.

David Waldman 56:20
To recap there are economic considerations, you can always have what you want.

Angela Giovine 56:24
Right.

David Waldman 56:25
Said an exagger

Angela Giovine 56:26
It’s true.

David Waldman 56:27
Like when I decided the capacity of the roaster, I could have put in a much larger roaster, it would have been over kill when we would have a salad,

Angela Giovine 56:34
Right.

David Waldman 56:34
And I didn’t necessarily want to create tremendous overhead with having to do that.

Angela Giovine 56:39
Right. Yeah, that a really interesting point because… I’d imagine considering you have limitations around the size of your roasting machine, you have to control growth. More growth

David Waldman 56:49
It’s really true. It’s math.

Angela Giovine 56: 51
better.

David Waldman 56:51
It’s it’s pure math. You look at the capacity of the machine and you look at how many hours a day somebody can roast

Angela Giovine 56: 58
Right.

David Waldman 56:58
without fatigue, and that tells you

Angela Giovine 57:00
Right.

David Waldman 57:00
basically what you can roast, and then you could go into double time and then you could go on the triple time. This machine, can run 24/7. So we have tremendous underutilized capacity.

Angela Giovine 57:10
Right, so room to grow but it’s almost like it has to be a step up. It can’t be a gradual up.

David Waldman 57:15
That would be almost jumping at orbital. That would be like jumping to the next shell, yeah.

Angela Giovine 57:19
It would have to be planned almost?

David Waldman 57:21
Yeah.

Angela Giovine 57:22
Interesting.

David Waldman 57:22
Sorry for you Physics-ky s-. Quantum Physics.

Angela Giovine 57:25
That’s funny.

David Waldman 57:26
but yeah.

Angela Giovine 57:27
Well, I don’t want to take any, too much more of your time but I

David Waldman 57:28
No… I’m really enjoying this.

Angela Giovine 57:30
Two questions that I always finish with. Finish this sentence. I would not be standing here today, if not for?

David Waldman 57:39
I get all watery eyes. My wife.

Angela Giovine 57:43
Your wife?

David Waldman 57:44
I couldn’t do this without her. She’s she supports a crazy guy, yeah. I mean she’s put up with me going to law school with 2 kids in diapers I was the oldest one in my class. Yeah, she’s put up if she knows I’d succeed at whatever I do, but she’s put up with like one day you’re going to be a Wall Street lawyer, another day you’re going to be a coffee roaster? What? And said okay, fine. She implicitly trusts me in my judgement, and in my ability to care for my family and in my… devotion and passion to do whatever I do, to the best of my ability.

Angela Giovine 58:20
That’s amazing. I mean everyone needs that kind of support system especially in your case where you know was she, was it early on where she was… saying maybe having more questions about it

David Waldman 58:32
Oh yeah.

Angela Giovine 58:32
or maybe putting her hands up a little-

David Waldman 58:32
It took a couple careers for her to see me succeed

Angela Giovine 58:37
She kind of-

David Waldman 58:37
she go like “Oh yeah he knows what he’s doing”.

Angela Giovine 58:39
He got it, he got it.

David Waldman 58:40
worry yeah.

Angela Giovine 58:41
And she doesn’t get involved I

David Waldman 58:42
We’ve never failed,

Angela Giovine 58:42
Right.

David Waldman 58:43
we’ve never starved.

Angela Giovine 58:44
Right.

David Waldman 58:44
we’ve never not, had a roof.

Angela Giovine 58:45
Right.

David Waldman 58:45
We’ve always… had what we needed.

Angela Giovine 58:48
Right.

David Waldman 58:48
and more.

Angela Giovine 58:49
My last questions is, what is one piece of advice you would give your 18 year old self?

David Waldman 58:55
Travel and find out what you really enjoy. Let everything follow your passion and what you do, must make the world a better place to live in. I told my kids one of them is a midwife the other is an opera singer just for reference, follow your passion, make the world a better place and don’t hurt anybody in doing it. So an 18 year old should explore the world through that lens. You can’t create passion unfortunately so I don’t have an answer for that, but you have to find it. But that’s why I say “Do it through the lens of travel” because if you travel, and find a way to travel, you will see how the world works and what what’s the motor that drives the world and you’ll see that the possibilities are endless. You can’t imagine that there’s these people holed a way in these tiny little spots doing the most esoteric things you’re going like “What? The guy’s making a living doing blah blah?”.

Angela Giovine 59:51
Right.

David Waldman 59:52
That gives you the confidence to understand the possibilities. You can do anything you want as long as you’re devoted to doing it the best way with passion and to make the world a better place.

Angela Giovine 1:00:04
I’m going to add one more question for you. Your favorite cup of coffee?

David Waldman 1:00:04
It depends on what’s in season.

Angela Giovine 1:00:11
Okay?

David Waldman 1:00:12
Right now, I’m enjoying some of our Ethiopia’s and our Mexico’s our heirloom beans from Oaxaca. So it depends on the season.

Angela Giovine 1:00:22
Yeah.

David Waldman 1:00:22
And absolutely black no sugar, yeah.

Angela Giovine 1:00:24
Of course.

David Waldman 1:00:26
And I typically pour by hand and grind by hand for the cup I want to enjoy.

Angela Giovine 1:00:29
Awesome.

David Waldman 1:00:30
And I’m not drinking coffee all day long.

Angela Giovine 1:00:31
No?

David Waldman 1:00:32
Today, I’ve maybe had, I had a shot of Ethiopia, single large in espresso, here at the shop. and I have maybe 4 or 5 ounces of a Microlot Costa Rica before I left the house, yeah.

Angela Giovine 1:00:46
Okay.

David Waldman 1:00:46
So it just has to be a really good cup. I don’t drink crazy amounts.

Angela Giovine 1:00:50
Best cup of coffee you’ve ever had?

David Waldman 1:00:53
The best cup of coffee I’ve ever had, was 2 years ago, it was from Yemen. It was absolutely the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my life.

Angela Giovine 1:01:02
Here in the shop or in Yemen?

David Waldman 1:01:03
No, no. It was in Portland Oregon

Angela Giovine 1:01:06
Okay?

David Waldman 1:01:07
Taking one of my many pallet re certification exams. In a blind tasting, and they put a flight of a bunch of coffees on and I tasted it and went “Oh my God, What is this?” I said “I think it’s from Yemen”, and it was. And then I later found out the history of the coffee. It was a, It was a micro or a nano crop that was personally curated by somebody as sort of a religious devotion and they threw that in there just to throw me off, and I was like

Angela Giovine 1:01:40
And they didn’t.

David Waldman 1:01:41
And I was like, I know what this is and it’s amazing, yeah. And there is since been a book written about it

Angela Giovine 1:01:47
Ah cool.

David Waldman 1:01:47
that I just finished reading. but yeah that’s the most amazing cup that I’ve ever had.

Angela Giovine 1:01:51
Awesome. David Waldman, thank you for joining us.

David Waldman 1:01:55
Thank you so much, really enjoyed it, thank you.

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