Summit is almost legal. Twenty years old. 20! And we’re celebrating with a week of events in Davidson (and Cornelius), so check those out here. But I also have some thoughts on turning the page on another Summit calendar.
I joined the Summit team as a barista in 2004, a sophomore at Davidson College and totally green to the coffee business. Summit had been open since 1998, and my brother, Tim, had just bought the company. I cranked out 20-ounce amaretto cappuccinos at 6:00am and caffeinated my way through college. Summit was a fixture, a habit, a passion — for me, for Tim, for Dave and the 7-person cafe staff, for the hundreds of loyal regulars.
My journey took me away from Summit in 2007, at least in terms of who signed my paychecks. But after a 4-year journalism career that reaffirmed my disinterest in sitting behind a desk for 60 hours each week, Summit called me back.
When I returned in 2011, the same regulars ordered the same drinks. Our Counter Culture coffee arrived from the same UPS driver. Basecamp was the same pale green inside, and sold the same Box Turtle Mochas on the same chalkboard.
All this is to say, Summit has a strong history that predates my time, that extended while I was busy typing in Charlotte, and continues today. Summit isn’t about one person, or even about one family. When Summit opened, Bill Clinton was president, the Euro didn’t exist and Apple hadn’t even conceived of the iPhone.
Because of this, each September brings both nostalgia and excitement. Nostalgia for the years in the rearview, the customers and staff who’ve come and gone, the customers and staff who’re still here. Nostalgia for how Basecamp used to look, for the old logo and menu and stage. Nostalgia for a history with so many stories yet to be told.
More than anything, though, September offers excitement. The anniversary month affords me the opportunity to remember the changes we’ve made and how (almost) all of them are for the better. Each year, we’re 12 months wiser. We’ve tried new things, we’ve grown, we’ve learned.
Year 20, the past 12 months, stands out more than any other. We opened our location in Asheville, one of the most beautiful cafes we’ve ever set foot in (biased). We renovated Basecamp, our flagship store that created the Summit story in 1998, to give it a look that’s both more modern and practical. We signed a new lease for the Outpost, made some needed improvements to the space and operation, and are back for our sixth school year. We’ve started kegging cold brew. Our wholesale business is 300% busier than last year.
We have an entire education department. We’ve added profit sharing and IRAs for our staff. We’ve taken work trips to New Orleans, Seattle and Peru.
Transparently, we also failed a bit this year. We opened, and closed, a cafe in Huntersville. We started the year with droves of enthusiasm for the space, and it just never worked. Fail fast, right?
But here we are, another September, waiting for the fall by counting our blessings. Thankful for 20 years of success and challenges and thrills. Thankful for 20 years of joy and sadness and celebration. Thankful for the opportunity to fail, the loyalty of a team, and a widespread commitment to creating something great.
I have some ideas of what year 21 will have in store, but I’m sure the wind will blow us in different directions, and having that opportunity to embrace change as it comes is what I love most about running Summit. Here’s to driving forward in the controlled chaos with clear eyes, a willingness to get better, and wanting to do it alongside the 60+ people we call coworkers. Here’s to embracing the unexpected and daring to be great. Here’s to finding our summit.
Happy 20 years. Thanks for being part of our story.