2017 SHAWNA SHARIE
DIRECTOR OF RETAIL, BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE
Although we are big fans of entrepreneurship over here, one thing we find most striking about Shawna’s story is that she took a major leap from finance to starting her own small business plan (to own a coffee shop) and then wound up so happy at Blue Bottle that she didn’t wind up striking out on her own (at least not yet). For someone so impassioned, who had risked so much, her decision speaks volumes about the kind of company Blue Bottle is. Even more so, it sends a message to employers about why it’s worth it to make your employees truly happy.
Join Shawna and the rest of the Blue Bottle gang: they are now hiring on GFJ!
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I worked in finance for many years but never felt satisfied or inspired by it. I kept doing it because that was what I had gone to school for and what I knew. I started dreaming about what I would do differently if I could do anything at all and always came back to coffee. At the time, it was less about the product and more about my enjoyment of the atmosphere and community created within the cafes that I spent time in. I started dreaming about owning my own coffee shop and creating that same type of atmosphere. Fast forward 4 years from those first dreams and I was still in finance, but very near to burning out….and I was still dreaming. I went to bed one night feeling so torn on leaving what I knew and jumping into the unknown. When I woke up the next morning, while those concerns were still there, I knew that I had to try and didn’t want to forever wonder what following my dream would have been like.
How did you get your current good food job?
After resigning from my financial services role, I took several months off to travel – I went to South America to spend time on coffee farms in hopes of better understanding where the product came from, how it was processed, etc. While traveling, James Freeman released his book, The Craft of Coffee, which I read throughout my travels, learning more about the craft, the product and Blue Bottle itself. I had decided to move to the Bay Area given the deep coffee culture and I thought it would be a good place to gain some experience before opening my own café. I didn’t really know where to start, so spent quite a bit of time on Google doing research, looking for the true “top coffee shops in San Francisco.” The search results kept coming back to three, so I visited each one on multiple occasions to see about job availability. The first two I left fairly quickly – while the coffee was great, they lacked that warm, kind atmosphere that I’d grown to love in community-driven cafes. When I walked into Blue Bottle, I was immediately greeted by the barista at the espresso machine. When I told him I was interested in a siphon, he got really excited and in turn the other baristas got excited about what I’d ordered. They told me it was going to knock my socks off. I spent the next two hours there with the baristas, talking about coffee, how to brew, trying the nel, etc. I’d never felt so taken care of in a coffee shop – it was equal parts deliciousness and hospitality.
After that visit, I discovered that I had a connection to the CFO of Blue Bottle on LinkedIn. I reached out, hoping to grab some time with him to ask advice on how to open my own café. He quickly responded, and we spent an hour as he helped me try to understand what it would take to open a café. He then asked if I wanted to interview as a barista at Blue Bottle to gain some experience. I interviewed and started about a week later….and never left.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
I didn’t think that my finance life and my coffee life would ever overlap, but it has helped me substantially as we build a sustainable and long term business. We want to continuously improve our products, our guest’s experiences in our cafes, our team’s experiences working with and being supported by the company – in order to do that, one must also have a successful and sustainable business. Understanding the financials and the behind the scenes aspects of coffee has helped me as I work with my team to build a successful business that will result in ever-improving products and experiences.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
Convincing myself to leave everything that I had gone to school for and knew how to do well. I remember having one single fleeting moment of worry about two months after making the jump as I did not yet have a job and had not figured out how to open my own café. But that moment was brief as I was having the time of my life learning about a product that I loved, and meeting those who were also inspired by it. So, despite the worry, I knew that I was working towards something that I loved and would find a way to make it work.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
I spoke about this earlier, but the CFO of Blue Bottle responded to a cold email on LinkedIn from me – someone that he didn’t know, and someone who was interested in opening up their own café. He took that time to sit with me, shared lots of helpful information and tried to set me up for success…and he didn’t even know me!
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
If I wasn’t paid to come to work, I would still come to work to drink the great coffee….and to pick up my weekly bag of beans that each employee receives each week!