LinkedIn alerted me last week that I am celebrating my “work anniversary,” my 8th year operating Summit Coffee, and I have an affinity for little notices like this because it makes me reflect. And the generic auto responses from my LinkedIn buddies — “Congratulations” or “Wow, 8 years already?” — made me both laugh and pause for a moment. Wherein my previous blog I wrote about my fears of what we’re facing, what ahead looks like, responding to these notes has allowed me to reflect on progress and a bigger, brighter story of the last eight years of Summit Coffee.
It was a weird fortune that made the Brian <–> Summit relationship happen in the first place. I was hustling as a journalist in Charlotte, and somehow found myself as a finalist for a position as an editor with Grantland, the ESPN project started by Bill Simmons. Well, I didn’t get the job, didn’t (have to) move to Los Angeles. But it did open my eyes to what a job switch could be, and 48 hours later my brother Tim asked me if I would join him at Summit to help grow the company. Had it been three weeks earlier, or three weeks later, I very well might have been in a groove as a journalist and spurned the idea of shifting careers. After all, being a sports journalist was my dream. But, it wasn’t three weeks earlier or later, and so when Tim proposed the idea of running a business I adored with my older brother, I jumped at the opportunity.
I spent my first day both as a barista and the emcee of our 13th anniversary celebration at Basecamp — wearing two hats in perhaps what was a forecast of what was to come in the subsequent eight years. And what I remember most about that first day back, other than that I wore a dress vest and thought it was a good look, was how many people came to celebrate Summit. For several hours, it was standing room only out back while music was played, beers were taken down and community was enjoyed.
We’ve done a laundry list of things over the last eight years. We’ve opened stores (and closed one), started roasting coffee, painted the walls a few times and redid our logo (twice). But this isn’t about what we’ve changed, what we’ve accomplished. It’s about what hasn’t changed.
A couple years later, on September 13, 2013, Tim gave me a copy of Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman’s book and inscribed it by saying, “B — let’s grow a business and write a book about it!” I shared that inscription on Instagram, rhetorically asking what we possible had to write a book about. And one Summit customer responded, “You guys changed a town!”
It’s pretty hard to remember Davidson back then, in 2011. It was a good bit quieter, and it felt like the energy and programming we were forcing onto the town was just that — forced. Slowly, Davidson grew, and so did Summit, and in the years since both of us have gotten a little more recognition, a little smarter, a little better. And like Davidson, while the facades may look newer and the pace may be faster, our roots remain the same.
Community has been, and will be, the hallmark of Summit. It’s in our mission statement, on our valve bags. We proudly broadcast who we are, where we are from, and we’re not going to hide from our small-town roots to present a picture of a company we’re not. We will share our story as a small-town company, a Davidson company, because there’s nothing that means more to Summit than being from Davidson.
I felt that a lot this week, in two ways.
First, after the aforementioned blog where I perhaps overdramatized the anxieties that come with being a business owner, people showed up. The first message I got was from Evan, who’s been in Tampa for a month now, encouraging me to “keep your head up.” I got texts from a neighbor, and a Summit customer, and emails from Davidson College classmates and former baristas. People encouraged me in person, checked in to say they read what I had written, and that they wanted me to know they were reading and listening. It’s hard to stay down when you’ve got a community like that right behind you. And that blog was a microcosm in a lot of ways for running this business — people show up when you need them. People you’re close with, but also people you don’t even know are paying attention. And that is the fabric of Davidson, the fabric of Summit, the fabric of community. (Also, yes, I am good.)
The second way I felt the strength of community in our fabric was how five Summit employees gave up their Saturday nights to volunteer at the Team Summit Foundation Fall Fest. TSF and Summit Coffee are not linked other than in the word “Summit,” and thus there is zero expectation that any Summit team member would support TSF. But sure enough, on Saturday, five people from Summit showed up to support TSF and volunteer hours of their weekend. Why? Because supporting this community is not just something we talk about, it’s something we fundamentally believe.
So while Summit has changed a lot over my eight years, it also hasn’t really changed. It’s like growing up – you evolve, you try new things, you succeed and fail. But at the end of the day, you are who you are. And for Summit, that’s being from Davidson, and being really proud of that. No matter what the next eight years bring, Summit will be from Davidson. Always has been, always will be. And how lucky we are for that.