I started in coffee more than 16 years ago now, starting a coffee shop on the campus of Augusta College (which became Augusta State University and now Georgia Regents University). I started that coffee shop to help build community on a commuter college campus, where community was harder to create on the campus. I started small, setting everything up in the school’s cafeteria with the help of friends who wanted to help, and then loading it all back up and carrying it home in the back of my Chevy S-10 pickup. All of those folks are still great friends to this day. Those folks believed in the vision of creating community among their fellow students, as did I. Nowadays, you’d call this a “pop-up”, but back then, it was just what I had to do to create this coffee shop every week.
I started in coffee not because I was passionate about the bean, but because I was passionate about helping create community, with the idea of using coffee as a catalyst to bring folks together to find more commonality, to think about new ideas, to ponder life’s hardest questions together. Community was the reason I was inspired and what kept me motivated. It wasn’t until later in my coffee career that I actually became passionate about coffee, under a great Roastmaster, and even better person, Gregory Kolsto, now roasting as Oddly Correct in Kansas City. And yet, even as I became more passionate about coffee, the craft, and the chain, it was still about people.
It was about the coffee community, one of the most inspiring and motivating career communities you’ll find. I now have solid friendships from coast to coast, from Miami to Seattle. I’ve been challenged, encouraged, called out, and made better by these friendships. I’ve been thankful to be a part of it. I’ve been thankful to join them in helping make the lives better for coffee farmers, pickers, processors, traders and their families. I’ve been thankful to hear their stories, to go from background stories to real people, with real challenges and real successes. You see, even now, it’s been about the people, the coffee has merely been the vehicle.
I’ve not always done it right, I’ve learned it as I went along. I’ve made lots of mistakes, both in real life, and in the always challenging world of social media. I’ve finally gotten to a place where personally I feel I do it better, where community is more a driving force again, where support replaces competition. One example in particular was the “Collabrewation Blend” we did with Kaldi’s Coffee, and encouraging other roasters to do it as well. Working together for the greater good. I feel like I’m not as big a jerk as I’ve been in the past, and that on the journey to be better at it, I’m on the right track.
Again, it’s an ongoing thing community, and social media is not a tool for the blind, but a pond of quicksand more than ready to take you down than to help you get to the other side. Social media takes on a life of it’s own that’s so much bigger than you can think or imagine. If you doubt that reach, tweet something controversial. In the past couple of years, folks have lost their careers due to negligent posting. Recently, it was someone from KitchenAid, but, it’s been so many people. Ask Gilbert Gottfried. It’s hard. And it’s worth it. Because again, it’s about building and developing greater community. Social media allows you to expand the reach of your community, offers ways to strengthen relationships, and ways to increase and expand your brand’s awareness.
So, what does this have to do with coffee? Well, it is now time I move on from coffee, and into the world of social media marketing/community-building and engagement full-time. I know it’s hard to swallow, coffee’s been so much a part of my life, it’s become my identity, and many of you can look at how I’ve tried to step away from that identity in the past year, and into my own skin, one that’s not wrapped around how I prefer to brew my coffee, or what I think a perfect shot of espresso is, but into an identity of who Jason Dominy is, both good and bad. To take that person, and try to make him a better person in the world as a whole, not just one segment. I’ve made conscious decisions to spend more time with my wife and family. I’ve made more time for my own extra-curricular activities, more time for my work with Blood:Water Mission and other causes that my wife and I are passionate about.
In many ways, most of the work that I’ve been doing the past six years really has been social and community-building. Creating events to bring baristas together, creating events to allow retail customers to see more of what goes into coffee and espresso, creating marketing opportunities to engage the community more in the greater conversation of coffee and what that is. I’ve used social media to help keep Batdorf & Bronson on the minds of folks all over Atlanta and the country who are buying coffee, or want to learn more about it. I’ve helped build opportunities for B&B to better engage with their customer base, and our company is stronger because of that work, and all the work being done by the team.
The work I’ve done with helping create solid collaborations between B&B and successful local companies like Cacao Atlanta, King of Pops, Monday Night Brewing, and the delicious Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, are all results of thinking about marketing in different ways, about building better community, and about engaging a larger audience. The work I’ve done with Scoutmob on projects over the past couple of years has been about engagement and community-building around the brand of Batdorf & Bronson. The Coffee Ambushes were originally just an idea around helping build greater community by engaging with lots of great local businesses, and only later did I realize it’s power in marketing. You see, even to this day, the crux of my work has been community, it’s strength and it’s power.
Moving into social media more full-time will help me more continue that work and that focus, as well as better provide for me and my family. Coffee for me isn’t and has never been about the money, or lack of it, it’s been about the passion of the bean, the craft, and the community of coffee, but at some point, you need to check on your priorities, where you’re at, where you want to be, and how you’ll get there. And that’s precisely what I’ve done. Coffee is not a profession you go into because you want to live financially comfortable, for most people. For the bulk of people in this career, the salaries are lower than the average medium salary.
I’ve often thought that we talk a lot about the sustainability for coffee farmers and the folks who produce it, but we’ve also got another problem with sustainability for coffee professionals. I can think of a large list of people that aren’t in coffee anymore, because they couldn’t afford to do it anymore. They, like myself, have had to pivot in their career. Living paycheck to paycheck is certainly doable, but you will not find yourself preparing for your future, or moving ahead in your own life or career. April and I would like to adopt one day, but the money has always been the biggest reason we couldn’t, and to this day, it’s the sole reason. Something else that is a priority to me, is that April would love to go back to school to get her nursing degree, to work with kids. She’s mentioned it I don’t know how many times, but again, the reason it’s not happened has been that we can’t afford for her to not be working. She currently makes a good bit more than I do from both her jobs, and that’s another reason why I need to pivot. My wife works as an afterschool teacher everyday, yes, but she also started and runs her own successful cleaning company, and many mornings before her school work, she’s cleaning houses. It’s time I carry more of the load in my own home.
I didn’t need to share any of that stuff, except that I preach authenticity and transparency, and well, that’s what I’m doing. It all adds up to this blogpost, and my moving out of the coffee world. This has been one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made, and I’ve sought out counsel from many of my friends, people I respect. This decision is about me and my family, it’s not about Batdorf & Bronson. Batdorf & Bronson has been a great home to me for the past three and a half years, their people have become good friends. I’ve been honored and privileged to get to work alongside with such amazing minds and talent. B&B is one of the best coffee roasters in the specialty coffee industry.
Like with the decision to step down as Chair of the Barista Guild, this difficult decision is about me and my family. It’s about moving forward, it’s about a goal, about getting my own priorities in check with my household. I will still be very active in coffee, I’ll still be a fan from the sidelines, I’ll still be happy to help in any way I can. But, coffee is full of amazing people ready to take the ball and run with it themselves, to pave their own ways, to continue to push specialty coffee as the better option, to make coffee more sustainable for the people who grow it, and eventually, I hope the people who work so hard on it from our side of the chain. This is not a goodbye, this is more a step off the carousel, only to see the beauty from the ground.
I want to personally thank several people who have been very instrumental in my coffee career, people who’ve been my inspiration, people who’ve made me better. This list is hard, because there’s no way I could include everyone, and people will be left out, and it is what it is, I guess. Gregory Kolsto, who sparked the flames of passion for the farmer. Ellie Matuszak, who was the person in coffee I most looked up to as a trainer, and effective leader. Heather Ringwood, who I greatly miss working alongside and under, someone I respect in more ways than I can say for her ability to lead, to train, to support, to motivate, and to encourage. Sandy Hon, who showed me that older people can still have an active role in the conversation of coffee, and also be a huge part. She was a huge catalyst in my becoming more involved in the Barista Guild. Scott Conary, who I always found to be one of the most accessible and thoughtful people in coffee, someone I’ve reached out to on many occasions for advice, and he’s always been spot-on. Peter Giuliano, who, despite our differences, I’ve learned an amazing amount about coffee from. Marcus Boni, and all the folks I worked alongside in the BGA. Jeff Taylor, Andy Newbom, David Johnson, for all their encouragement over the years. Sarah and Ken from Barista Magazine, who’ve always been in my corner, as well as the Sprudge guys. Kyle, Kyra and Joyce from Baratza who’ve been so supportive of me in the past couple of years. Lastly, Mike Ferguson, Dave Wasson, Larry and Cherie Challain and my team at Batdorf & Bronson, who’ve been great support of the past three and a half years, who’ve helped me in many ways.
There are many phases of my life that haven’t worked the ways I thought they would, but they worked out as they should, and I imagine this will be a similar situation. I am staring out into the unknown, out of my comfort zone, and out of what’s been normal and home to me for so long, but with that comes new challenges, new learning, and isn’t that what life’s all about? I can only hope that I’ve inspired people along the way, inspired them to drink better coffee, to work hard on behalf of the bean, to think of coffee differently, and to appreciate it on a new level. I can only hope that I’ve made a small difference in my time in it, and I’m proud of what I did. I walk away with my head held high. But walk away I must do. Here’s to the journey….
(And if you want to know where I’ll be heading, I’m joining the team of one of the leading digital and marketing agencies in the country, Engauge. My position is Social Engagement Manager, and I’ll be working on social and digital on the Chick-Fil-A and Wells Fargo teams. I’ll also be working alongside lots of friends that already work there.)