Life is full of sliding doors moments — decisions that, when reflected on in hindsight, changed the course of history. We’ve had no shortage of those in our 21-year Summit story, but today we’re going to flashback to early 2015.
Tim and I were laying the groundwork for our burgeoning roasting operation, venturing into an aspect of the coffee business that was so completely foreign even the basic language left me confounded. There may have been moments when Tim or I volunteered ourselves as the first “Master Roaster” for Summit, but we never took the other, or ourselves, seriously. Frankly, there was only one person who ever made sense as Summit’s roaster — Evan Pollitt.
Evan had worked for Summit since early March 2014 or so, somewhere right after celebrating his birthday and just before taking the NC Bar exam. With a passion for craft coffee, and experience brewing beer, Evan made all the sense in the world to us as our roaster — even though the three of us had a combined 0 minutes of experience. So in the same breath we announced our roasting intentions, we shared our plan with Evan that he would, indeed, be the one to actually roast the coffee.
Here’s where the sliding doors come in. At the same time, Evan let us know that he and his partner, Adrienne, were moving to Vermont. In fact, Adrienne had already accepted a job and was relocating. I was crushed. Surely there are lots of people who can roast coffee, and ten times that amount who want to roast coffee. People who were more qualified for the job, in its most traditional sense. But Summit’s always been about the people, and Evan as our roaster (and Director of Coffee) just fit.
I’m pretty stubborn, and really impatient, so when I decide that something ought to work, or ought to be, I pursue it pretty relentlessly. My response wasn’t to thank Evan for his nine months, give him a high five and ask him to mail us some Heady Topper from Alchemy Brewing. No, I rejected Tim’s very reasonable list of alternative candidates and insisted it was Evan’s job. Nearly two months later, after handfuls of meetings and conversations and probably too many guilt trips, Evan sent us this email.
“Tim and Brian: I am committed to a future with Summit Coffee and looking forward to growing as the company grows. I know that things are still unfolding but I think that this is a good place to be and the right place for me.”
And in that sliding doors moment, we had our coffee roaster. We knew Evan was going to dive into the deep end with remarkable intellect and curiosity — a perfect confluence for any artist.
Likewise, I’ve known, or feared, or dreaded, that the day would come when Evan decided it was in fact time to move on. As he said to me last week, Evan never thought Davidson would be much more than a pass through. Yet some six years later we’re still here sharing a desk in our roasting facility that he more-or-less brought to life.
Next week will be Evan’s last with Summit Coffee. He’s moving to Florida, his home state, where he and Adrienne will settle nearer to his family and for the next chapter of an always adventurous tale.
There’s a lot to say about Evan, and the impact he’s had on Summit. He’s made our coffee program better, and then better than that, by constantly asking good questions and pushing for good answers. He’s challenged our menu, adjusted our recipes, trained every barista we have. His fingerprints are all over Summit, even the literal ones on the gold roasting machine that he won’t be here to wipe off.
Evan has made me a better leader. His constant rejection of using inertia to justify decisions has forced us to go into deeper thought, have harder conversations. We’ve had dozens of chats that spiraled into some sort of awkward and tense silence, only to sit there for however long it took to dig the conversation back up and end it on a positive note.
I don’t know what Summit would have looked like in 2019 had Evan moved to Vermont, but I do know that I sure like what it looks like now. And he deserves as much credit as anyone for that progress, for taking Summit from Main Street coffee shop to blossoming craft coffee brand.
When I arrive for work next Wednesday, the first day post-Evan, it will be the first morning since 2014 when Evan isn’t my go-to on all things coffee. He won’t be on the opposite side of this desk, or across the cupping table, or in the next room teaching an espresso class or down the hall roasting some coffee. I’m a super nostalgic person — I cried at every family goodbye for the first 30 years of my life and still do most of the time — and Evan’s goodbye is likely to hit me as hard as any at Summit since Tim headed to Connecticut in 2016.
Transitions are, more or less, points in time between other transitions. Evan’s departure ends one chapter, and it opens another. Perhaps the greatest testament to his legacy is that, next Wednesday, we’ll continue moving quickly along the path he’s helped forage. The most you can ask of a great employee is that they leave their company better than they found it. By all measures, Evan is leaving a Summit that’s greater than the Summit he started working for in 2014.
Cheers to you, Evan. Your impact is indelible, your commitment to excellence enduring, and your legacy forever minted as one of Summit’s great pioneers. Summit, and specialty coffee in general, are losing a great leader. But we’re sure as hell lucky we grabbed you for a few years.