Happy employees are an important part of any small business, but for Pilar Westell, the owner of Zendo Coffee in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it’s less about management and more about empowering her team to build community while delivering food and beverages to hungry patrons.
Most of the 6 baristas that work for Westell’s coffee shop have been around for at least a year, some since the opening in spring 2013, and they’re all extremely loyal.
They’ve helped with anything from normal barista activities like brewing coffee for the next day & working the counter for art openings and parties, to the less standard like keeping an eye on her two young children while she carries in supplies.
“When we hired our first employee, it was this thing of how do we maintain quality, it’s the process of letting go…being able to say this is how I want it done, this is my vision, and trusting that the person that you hired is going to be able to do it. Every one of my employees is an extension of my family.”
Learning to delegate
Though she’s always made a point of appreciating her employees, like many small business owners it took time to learn which responsibilities to pass along.
When Westell first started Zendo Coffee she did everything by hand, and with not much time to spare. A typical week included many trips to Costco, each time buying just enough to get through the next few days.
“I spent the last two years of my life doing shopping & ordering by myself – when you do it that long you know how much you need, you understand the business flow, but I’m also raising two small children. I now have an employee that does all of the shopping / ordering, delegating that task has increased quality of life significantly for me and helped me run the business.”
As the business grew she got into a rhythm and planned ahead, eventually handing off that part of the business to her team so she could focus on other tasks. Adding Square as her point of sale helped, and she’s looking forward to automating more of the day to day coffee shop routine going forward.
But that mindset isn’t reserved for the close knit crew of employees, and it’s not random. Building community has a lot to do with how she thinks about growing relationships with coffee shop customers and vendors as well.
Keeping people at the center
The motto of Zendo Coffee is simple: good coffee, good people.
Westell approaches her relationship with customers like she does everything else: community comes first. She’s constantly in motion, but makes a point of saying hi to regulars and new customers alike.
When they first started an average day saw 20 customers to her coffee shop…now that’s less than what they get in an hour. There’s a core group of people that come in and work, have meetings, hang out, and a a crowd of semi-regular visitors. At the two year mark it’s an exciting shift, and evidence that the business is really starting to grow.
Zendo’s mission of staying community focused isn’t always easy. They’re located in downtown Albuquerque, and get their share of random foot traffic. Sometimes that’s paying customers, and sometimes it’s not.
She and her team approach the challenge gracefully – during a recent visit one of the baristas gave a homeless woman ice water while also asking that she keep her voice low enough for other patrons to get work done. It’s a balancing act, but she and her staff value the neighborhood and make a point of welcoming anyone that is willing to be respectful.
Their reputation for great coffee and service is spreading – people from other parts of the city show up specifically to try Zendo, and it’s becoming a destination for out of town visitors too.
Interestingly, community is something Westell also thinks about when it comes to vendors – many of whom are local business owners themselves, and are a reliable source of advice and support.
“It’s really important to build a community with the people you’re working with, and be able to talk about how a product or service is working or isn’t working…who are doing similar things and can understand how difficult it is.”
A bright future
What’s next? At the moment Westell and her team are focused on continuing to grow the downtown location, but there is an investor interested in helping to open a 2nd Zendo Coffee location at some point in the future.
Unsurprisingly, it’s someone who’s already a part of the community / regularly grabs a cup of coffee there.
No matter what happens, she’s focused on continuing to learn…
“It’s been a non-stop learning process, I can’t think of a day where there isn’t some type of negotiating or learning how I can make things better or make the workplace better for my employees.”
*** Visit Zendo Coffee in Albuquerque any day of the week from 7a – 6 pm at 413 2nd St SW (and don’t forget to try the Zia Latte, Breaking Bad inspired Heisenberg drink, or amazingly tasty cold brew with coffee ice cubes…but be careful, it’s strong ***