She’s the Boss: Coffee Lessons from My Mother

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On Father’s Day a couple years ago, I wrote a tribute to my dad, Red Rock’s founder. In it, I described the early days of our company and what it was like for my family. My mom, Nancy, left home before dawn to start baking at the original Red Rock Café in Rio Rancho. My brothers and I helped out there, and my memories include after-school chile-peeling, table-bussing, and putting labels on coffee bags. The feeling of togetherness—that we were all working toward a common goal—is what led me back into the family business after college.

Here are just a few kernels of wisdom I’ve absorbed over the years, working side by side with one of my best friends:

 A good local business takes care of its community

Why have we always donated 10% of our profits? Why do we pay livable wages with benefits? Why were we the first roaster in New Mexico to sell certified Fair Trade coffees? Why do we travel to origin to meet producers?

Because my mom believes that the point of having a business is to take care of all the stakeholders—that means our customers, our family, our coworkers, our local community, and of course coffee producers. She is especially concerned with food security in the US and abroad, as someone who makes her living off a food product.

This is the backbone of our business philosophy, and thanks to her decades-long commitment to ethical livelihood, all get to feel good about what we do.

Never, ever compromise on green coffee quality

She is the one always pushing quality forward for us. With a discerning and incredibly experienced palate, she simply cannot compromise on quality for reasons of price or marketing. “If you are not excited to drink it, why would you want to sell it?” she asks. She taught me to cup, and she still teaches me, because she is committed to professional development. My mom is never more excited than when she comes back to the coffee lab from an origin trip, or a conference, or a class.

Running a business requires patience

If my father has been the hunter all these years, traveling the state up and down to win new accounts, my mother has been the farmer, planting seeds and waiting patiently for them to grow.

She is determined to improve our systems. Just because we are a craft roaster with only six non-family employees, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the most efficient and professional manufacturing operation we can, to her. She attends workshops, reads textbooks, and implements her vision for a clean, lean, and safe craft coffee roasting environment. This is an ongoing process, and she is a patient woman. Just since 2012, when I graduated college (and, coincidentally, when we began to implement Lean manufacturing principles), we have increased our warehouse space, redesigned coffee bagger stations, added weigh-fill equipment and vacuum conveyance, improved physical green coffee screening and roast data collection, and generally made Red Rock a brighter, more efficient place to work.

Beyond the slow, steady work of improving her business, she is even-keeled about coffee trends, economic patterns, and such minutiae as collections, quarterly tax payments, and the eternal tedium of bank reconciliations.

Know Who You Are

One of the benefits of working with someone who’s seen many business cycles is that, having seen so many trends come and go, she really knows who she is.

And that’s what we bring to the table, as roasters. Yes, we’re the only roaster in New Mexico to date to have scored over 90 points from Coffee Review, and we did it twice. So there’s quality (she would never brag, you see, so I have to). And yes, we pay a premium to coffee producers, and we sell third-party certified coffees. So there’s principles. But we really try not to communicate these things as gimmicks. It’s just who we are, and who we’ve always been, not a slick marketing presentation.

To her, the goal is to show—rather than tell—our customers who we are and what we can do. And that process requires showing up, day after day, improving quality whenever possible, and consistently delivering on promises.

In turn, I hope that I show her how proud I am of what she and my dad built together.

Happy Mother’s Day to all those celebrating.

-RL

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