In terms of "Internet Time," at this point I might as well be talking about the Crimean War; however, I feel this little scuffle deserves further consideration. (You can skip the following paragraph if you already know the details).
Over this past weekend (Sunday, July 13th, to be exact), local blogger Jeff Simmeron walked into Murky Coffee in Arlington, VA, while his girlfriend was in a dance class nearby. He ordered a triple espresso over ice (his "usual summertime pick-me-up"), and was met with a shake of the head: "I'm sorry, we can't serve iced espresso here. It's against our policy." In the face of this, Jeff took a moment, apparently saw "corn," then ordered "a triple espresso and a cup of ice." The barista "rolled his eyes," rang it up, and served Mr. Simmeron, but not before instructing him that what he was about to do "[was] Not Okay." Yadda yadda yadda, things got a wee bit out of control: certain people threatened to burn certain establishments down, others threatened to punch said persons "in the dick," etc. You can read a summary account from all involved parties here.
Murky Coffee's fortunes have not been the greatest, of late, considering the recent closure of their Capital Hill location, and copious woes and grief regarding credit card transactions at their continuing locations. Though no publicity is bad publicity, this most recent affair puts this much beleaguered local chain in an ambivalent light at best. Aspersions have been cast and deflected, and the matter remains unsettled as to who was right and who was wrong.
To me, this point is uninteresting: Mr. Simmeron admitted to "acting like a total dick," Nick Cho is welcome to defend his business as he will, and until the barista in question speaks for himself, he is immune to real criticism. More intriguing in all this to me is the underlying question of policy versus service, and where and who should be meant to bend.
Murky Coffee's business model has always been one of craft over compromise. To quote their website vis-a-vis Cho's impetus behind opening shop:
"MURKY coffee? Why would I want to drink something called MURKY coffee?" Our response is, "Walk on. Go find yourself something that is boring enough to make you happy. Go find something that is nice and mediocre and has a safe-sounding name."
With the defiant statement, "Walk on," Cho built a string of successful stores, catering to an elite clientele who know their coffee, and know how it should be properly served. But wherefore the philistines?
Speaking from a wine retail point of view, I understand the appeal of the "piss off" school of gastronomical sales. I cannot number the amount of time when I have bit my tongue in the face of a truly vile food and wine pairing, nor the number of times a desperate plea to a White Zinfandel drinker to try something new has fallen on deaf ears. But the credo of the wine sales, "the right wine is the one that your customer will enjoy," must and will win out, lest I lose a customer, and in the end, my job. This is not to say that all customers who fail to heed my advise are fools, as the whole point of wine is enjoyment -- their is no wrong wine, so much as a "good" and a "better" wine.
My questions, then, are numerous: Does coffee, that gray area between consumer good and prepared food, best fall under my guidelines, or that of the chef who refuses to compromise his vision? Is Murky to be lauded for its commitment to serving coffee towards the beverage's preference, over the customer's? Is Murky an example of an antiquated business model which, in the face of such "customer first" outfits like Starbucks, is condemned to stagnation and failure? Does Murky have the right idea, but lack the willingness to educate new customers? Does the traditional wine sales model fit that of the progressive coffee shop, or, despite my desire to educate my customers, does my dearth of conviction make me a skeazy sellout?
I leave this open to
you, as I am truly torn. While I love the people at Murky for their
wonderful coffee, and I truly appreciate their dedicated commitment to its
proper service, I totally understand that not everyone quite gets it. What do
I leave this open to you, as I am truly torn. While I love the people at Murky for their wonderful coffee, and I truly appreciate their dedicated commitment to its proper service, I totally understand that not everyone quite gets it. What do you think?