Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.
Each month, we ask an influential San Diegan: What was it like for you in the beginning?
Live: Bird Rock
Work: Bird Rock, Linda Vista, and Little Italy
How Long: San Diego native
What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business?
It started as a hobby and then it turned into a weekend farmers market gig and a delivery service for Pacific Beach and La Jolla. When I realized it would be a long, long time before a community college, tenure-track teaching position would come up, I took the leap full-time into coffee and quit teaching.
What struggles did you face starting Bird Rock Coffee Roasters?
Realizing that coffee is a morning job. Previously, I arranged my teaching schedule so I would not have a class that started before 11am. The coffee business starts at dawn… that was a struggle at first.
What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
Opening across the street from Starbucks 10 years ago. No one thought it could be done, and at the time it had not been done. Starbucks had grown in the 80s and 90s by finding fair local coffee shops and opening across the street. Trying that technique against them was either genius or really stupid.
If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
I think I would have pulled off the band-aid and expanded to other locations earlier. We waited about 8 years before opening our Little Italy shop. Coffee people now are planning their second shop before paying off the capital investments in their first.
Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
No. I am unemployable.
What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
A drive to succeed and/or intense fear of failure. While I have an Masters Degree, I was really a shitty student. School was never easy for me and at best I am an inconsistent low B student — probably because I never wanted to sacrifice my time to study and do something that was difficult for me. But, when I opened in Bird Rock, something clicked. I realized I needed to sacrifice everything to make it work.
A new business owner must spend every second, today, thinking about how they can be better tomorrow. One must understand that there is no alternative to working hard. And by “hard work,” I mean there are no holidays. Again: there are no holidays. There are no days off. There are no half-days. I have seen so many boutiques and cafes and restaurants come and go in Bird Rock over the last 10 years. Sure, some fail because their product may not fit the needs of the community, but more often than not they fail because the owner wants to take weekends off. Or they only want to work 9 to 5. Or they want to close all day on Christmas Eve. Nope. can’t do it. If you are in retail, your number one priority is accommodating the people who want to spend their hard-earned money on your product. Your number one priority is not taking a day off or closing shop early.
In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
Thankful. Proud. Tired.