Relax, It’s Just Coffee sprang from my mind in a moment of desperation and panic: I’d just been fired from a high profile job in a high profile way. My professional reputation was being assaulted, my ability to continue in the career field in which I’d worked for more than 20 years was in doubt, and my income suddenly went from six-figures to ZERO.The segment of my community in which I’d worked and socialized for more than a decade was shunning me and truly expected me to pick up and move on, hanging my head in shame. It was in this moment that I literally said, “Fuck it all, I’m gonna open a coffee shop.”
I had no experience in the industry, no money, no tangible reason to believe that I should succeed where four other coffee entrepreneurs had failed in downtown Mansfield... But I did it, because I had to, I couldn’t fail. I spent my family’s small savings, maxed out my credit cards, borrowed a little money... We simply did whatever it took. This same spirit permeates what we do to this day: Can we roast our own coffee? Sure, we’ll figure that shit out. Can we do bottled, ready to drink cold brew? Why not? Spin off a tea concept? Let’s give it a try.
We failed, A LOT! But we kept going, kept evolving, kept growing. I think we have lasted because I never limited the vision of what we could be. I learned early on that sometimes the best thing I could do as a founder was to get out of the way and let staff, family, friends, and customers help guide our path.
3rd Wave Coffee
The "3 waves" of coffee refer to the generational transitions the coffee industry has experienced over the past 100 years or so. The term "third wave" is used to describe coffee shops elevating coffee to a place similar to wine, craft beer, or spirits. So-called third wave shops, like Relax, focus on: sourcing the best coffee beans, meticulously roasting them in-house, and serving with the highest standards of excellence.
Building the Space
Our space was equally important to our early success. As a “road warrior” in my previous career I had always made a point to seek out the local coffee shop. I knew what I liked and wanted in a coffee shop, as well as what I didn’t. There needed to be places to work with easy access to electricity. There needed to be enough flexibility to be able to move tables together for meetings. And there had to be comfortable seating for casual and intimate conversations. In short, we set out to create a community family room.
The problem was we had no money to spend on furniture and fixtures. So we set to create a look that early on I called “eclectic poverty”. We recycled, upcycled, repurposed, and built from hand almost everything we needed to open. My initial thought was that this look would only be temporary until cash flow would allow us to upgrade. Instead, the look became part of who we are: a little bit funky, unpolished, and slightly unfinished.
Looking back, I think the description I wrote for our first website still holds: Relax, It’s Just Coffee... A genuine neighborhood coffee shop providing an "all access atmosphere" where coffee geeks, business leaders, artists, students, and neighbors can come together to work, create, RELAX, socialize, and unwind. Our objective is not to just sell coffee (though we are happy to do just that!), but to use the "coffee shop experience" to cultivate a community united by its love of coffee, tea, local art, and live entertainment.