Great Minds Behind Great Missions
Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to sit down with the owners of Belmont's Mugshots Coffee and Tea. I stumbled into their shop one morning, still half asleep and in desperate need for Caffeine, and fell in love with the interior of their shop instantly. It was a smaller establishment and it was so very cozy and inviting. Instantly, I could see, as could anyone, that they are doing things differently here. Their attention was in the detail and I knew I had to make the time to talk to these guys about the big wave they are making in Belmont.
When I sat down with Darren and Reuben you could feel their passion and their excitement for what they do. As people came and went from the coffee shop they spoke to just about every individual. Most times, it seemed there were standing relationships there. It was clear these men had an innate ability to turn customers into friends and I originally got the sense that this was what Mugshots was about for them.
I asked them to describe Mugshots for me, as I'd only been in a few times and my knowledge of coffee was wildly underdeveloped. Darren took the lead in discussing their business with me.
"One of the things that is really cool about this place is that it's been described as, 'tongue in cheek', the coffee world's Cheers, if you will. We have a lot of repeat business and a lot of the people who are new, end up coming in again and again. It's not like an assembly line establishment. We have a really unique coffee shop and our regulars all talk to each other and sort of network. We will also get people in here who are new and have no idea what to try and the regulars will chime in and start suggesting different things to try. It's more like a family get together here."
"At the end of the day there is more in this to us than just making a cup of coffee and handing it out and our customers know that. Which is the reason why our coffee is expensive, to put it bluntly, it is not cheap, but you get what you pay for. There is a real crisis world wide, as far as sustainability goes, in these different coffee farming regions and in different third world countries where this is their cash crop. There is a real sustainability issue and it is not like food where you have places like the UN getting involved in it. So, you have all these different companies getting involved with it and the big buzz word is, 'Fair Trade' and 'Sustainability.' Well, there is nothing fair about 'Fair Trade.' What you are talking about are these people getting minimum wage in their countries which equates to 25- 50 cents a day. Then you have 'Sustainability' and people don't know or understand the real true concept of it. Whereas, we actually have connections who are actually sourcing through these farmers directly and we hear the real stories that go along with them. It is so much more than a simple cup of coffee."
"Fair Trade is basically a stamp that larger companies place on their coffee, so they have the power to mass produce guilt free. But, one of the standards for Fair Trade is that these people farming it get paid more than the minimum wage, but they don't say how much more. So if the minimum wage was one dollar a day, then you can give them a dollar and a penny a day, plus a hand full of lollipops, and you qualify for Fair Trade."
"Our purpose here, we get to take the glory of what the farm workers are doing, from where it started. We do it right, we make sure that we are producing the absolute best cup. Which is why we don't use any automated brewers, we don't use any batch brewers. Everything we do is manual. We do these things from scratch that other people aren't doing, because of how we source our beans. Ours are a higher quality and deserves to be prepared so that we are getting the absolute most out of that bean. But as I was saying, we're very big on how we source. My partner Reuben's favorite story is of the Sanchez family out of Guatemala, on one of the farms we source from. Deforestation is a big problem were seeing and the Sanchez family has the opportunity to Deforest and grow their coffee on 400 acres of land, but instead, cut their income pretty significantly and only grow their coffee on 250 acres, because they don't want to contribute to Deforestation."
Reuben continued, "Our goal with Mugshots is to treat people like people. Get them going, focus on the individual relationships. There's lots of regulars that come in and we don't set out to make anyone feel dumb, you know, if you want sugar in your coffee then you want sugar in your coffee."
Darren laughed, "You'll get shamed slightly.. No, no, no, no, no. I'm just kidding. But, he's really right on. It's a really unique vibe in here and the secret agenda, of course, is to educate people. Slowly telling people about the things we're talking about today. I want people to see what I see about coffee. I see it as a rare fish that a sushi chef uses. That's what coffee is, it is this precious commodity, we don't have an infinite supply of it."
"At the end of the day our goal is to make enough noise that we start making a difference. Isn't there a big Feminist quote that says, 'well behaved women rarely make history?' It is the same with what we are doing here. If we behave and follow the rules and we're quiet about everything, then we would just exist in our little world. The people that found us, found us and the ones who didn't, well didn't, but that's not our goal. We come from law enforcement. We got into law enforcement because we wanted to do the right thing. Reuben was in the military before that. We do these things because we want to actually feel and truly make a difference. While it's nice to do that and educate people in our little spot in Belmont, the goal is to start expanding enough that people start taking notice and maybe some change will come from it."
Lastly, I had to know about these awesome t-shirts they were selling with their logo on them. What in the world is it and how did they come up with it? "When creating our logo, we wanted something that would really show what we were really about here. You've seen what we do here, a lot of it is really just like a mad science experiment and we wanted something to show for it, so it's actually the molecular structure for Caffeine."
I was absolutely blown away by the stories I heard both Darren and Reuben tell and also by the type of human beings they are. They were very clearly passionate about coffee, but even more passionate about people and about people being treated with the same value of the product they are producing. They see the hard work of the farmers and believe that they deserve to be fairly compensated for that work. Mugshots, without a doubt, is so much bigger than coffee and even Belmont and that was incredible to bear witness to. I hope Darren and Reuben one day are able to see that they indeed were a catalyst for the change they're working so hard for.
A huge thank you to Reuben and to Darren for taking time out of their days to talk to me about Mugshots and about their passion in educating beyond the coffee cup. Darren provided me with all the photos I have included here from Uganda, Mexico and Ethiopia Guji where they acquire their coffee beans.