With all apologies to my non-local clients (in New York and Pennsylvania, for example), I have to admit that my favorite place to work is a local coffeeshop called The Brothers K. All of my local clients refer to it as my “satellite office” or my “north office,” as it’s about eight blocks from Jebraweb HQ. The baristas here know my usual order, can identify my bike helmet if I leave it behind, and will give the wireless router a little smack for me if I tell them the internet is patchy. It’s like Cheers, but instead of people making poor decisions from drinking too much of the house brew, people are incredibly efficient from drinking too much of the house brew.
Whenever I come in, I order a large soy mocha and a cranberry-pecan scone. The scones arrive each morning — sometimes, while I’m standing there — in a large plastic tub balanced on the head of a quiet man named Sam who bakes them fresh every day. He delivers warm scones, banana and pumpkin breads, and huge bunches of bananas, and goes behind the counter to carefully lay them out in the display case. The hot, chocolate-y coffee, the warm, not-too-sweet pastry, and the hum of noise and community around me are a signal to my brain that the work day has begun.
I appreciate the whole gestalt of this coffeehouse on several levels. Obviously, there is value in simple rituals for their own sake, for the sake of rhythm and familiarity. Besides that, though, sitting at a locally owned coffee house where “everybody knows your name” means something more to me. Across the street from The Brothers K, there is a Starbucks. I don’t sit there to work for the same reason that my clients don’t use the web design tools offered by a nationally-known, superbowl-commercial-sponsor web hosting company. When there’s a choice, I shop local — and that includes my mocha, which is an indispensable business tool for me. No mocha, no web sites. Sorry, folks.
I extend this preference for supporting independent businesses to my choice for the other of my favorite things in the world: high quality chocolate chip cookies. You will never, ever see me eat a Chips Ahoy cookie. Never. It’s not going to happen. Cookies are too precious to me to disgrace with something that has a faint whiff of chemicals and a shelf life longer than my mortgage term. I would rather not have a cookie than have a cookie which insults my cookie IQ. For a chocolate chip cookie to meet my standards, it needs to have been baked this week. It must be firm, to stand up to an afternoon in a baggie in my purse, where it might be nibbled at my leisure. Ideally, it contains nuts: walnuts, peanuts, or pecans, in that order of preference. I like them not too sweet, not too soft, fully cooked (no mushy, half-baked dough! No!), and the chocolate chips must be dark.
Frankly, I used to believe that this could only be achieved by a local bakery, and that I would never walk into a grocery store to find a cookie that would meet my exacting standards. Then, several years ago, someone offered me a taste of a Carol’s Cookie. It was purchased at a local Whole Foods and came in a cellophane wrapper, which immediately aroused my suspicion. How could this be homemade or fresh?
I took a nibble: rich, buttery, dense. Hints of salt and sweet. I ate more. I ate more. I kept eating.
It was fantastic. I did some research and found that Carol (a real person) started making her cookies not too far from my home town, in another suburb north of me. Her web site tells the story of home baking, followed by a shy entrance in the local market and an explosion of success. It also warns consumers about the ephemeral deliciousness of her cookies, which only stay fresh for a few days. Carol took her cookies from homemade to locally sold to nationally celebrated while maintaining the principles I held about cookie quality. Needless to say, I’ve been a huge supporter of Carol’s cookies ever since. If you are a client of mine with any sweet tooth at all, the chances are good that you’ll receive Carol’s Cookies for a holiday gift some time. If you’re a friend, you might also find them in my home on special occasions — when I’m not baking my own, of course.
I believe that even the smallest decisions — ones that seem to have no bearing at all on designing and developing web sites — can have an impact on my business, and yours too. If you want to hear more, let me know. We can meet for coffee at the K.