A Chat with Neighbor
This one’s been a long time coming, but now that I’m currently locked in an aluminum can hurtling through the sky en route to a new job I have a bit of time to think and recall my conversation with Caleb at Neighbor Coffee. To be quite honest he’s probably annoyed that in the time since our conversation I’ve only been back three times but believe me it’s not because I dislike him or their coffee or anything else. It’s mainly a fact of my life that I’ve been exorbitantly busy and getting over to see him has been difficult. Also an inconvenient truth is that I’m a creature of habit. If given the choice I’ll find a routine that suits me and blindly stick to it until forced by some cruel twist of fate or feral children to switch it up. At those points I’ll grumble like a badger forced to leave their hole and scrounge for new, comfortable surroundings.
Caleb is also probably annoyed, even though he’s certainly too nice to say anything, that he gave me a free latte while we chatted and he’s yet to see any return on his investment. He has my apologies, things were weird when we spoke, and I got in a pretty strange headspace right afterwards. Also I went on a pumpkin spice fueled bender for a couple months…
Sitting down with Caleb was a treat, as I listened back to the recording I made while chatting over coffee with him about the shop and what they’re doing; I couldn’t help but smile as you would while thinking back to a fun time with an old friend. Neighbor is their name but it’s also their spirit. It’s their brand but it runs all the way through everything they do. The location is set up to be inviting and feel like a place that you want to spend time. They have punch cards specifically to entice you back because “We want to see the same people over and over.”
I’ve always been impressed and slightly jealous of people who start something from nothing. They look chance in the eye and, through willpower and determination, build something which can provide for their family and for others. With that in mind, I reached out and asked if he’d be open for an interview and Caleb, being the generous person that he is, agreed to it.
“I’ve been in coffee for about 6 or 7 years. Different coffee shops, different companies, it was kind of an odd job in between other career paths we were pursuing. I always had the idea of doing a coffee shop or coffee truck in the back of my mind and I just came to a dead end with some other paths I was on, some doors were closing and I tried opening some doors with coffee and it just all came together. “
For context this was the first thing he said to me and, when I was presented with that information up front, I knew the rest of our time was going to go well. The very next words out of his mouth made me respect him and his resolve even more.
“We had the initial concept in January or February of ‘let’s go set up a picnic table in a parking lot somewhere and sell bags of coffee’”.
Cheers to you, brother, for possibly the most inspirational thing I’ll write. Sure, it’s January 2021 and we’ve all just come off the unpredictability of 2020 and unbeknownst to everyone we’re about to get smacked by a once in a hundred year snowstorm in central Texas, but you’ve got a dream and, come hell or high water, you’re going to achieve it.
Post snowstorm, things came together quickly for the plucky entrepreneur. They found funding, a truck, and a vacant space in the course of three months. Which is crazy because as of our conversation they’d only been open for four months. I say that because they operate with the skill and efficiency of a shop that for all appearances has been running for much longer. They roast their own beans by hand to their own specifications with the assistance of another local roaster, Barrett’s coffee. This focus on quality extends to the way their beans are purchased — they are currently working with larger importers to select the beans they want to bring in but are looking to get to a place of cutting out the middleman and purchasing their beans directly from farmers growing a high quality crop.
A few years back Caleb was pursuing a career in film and had his eyes opened to how good coffee could be. A friend at the time made him a pour over with fresh roasted Guatemalan beans which tasted like biting into a strawberry. This awakening led him to search for that next great cup of coffee and eventually to the coffee shop we see today. His wife has been extremely important to the business by running the shop on Saturdays and providing the graphic designs for the shop’s artwork & branding. She came up with the idea for the spiced cookie latte, which is the best among many outstanding signature offerings (it’s also my wife’s favorite coffee drink and it’s well documented that she hates coffee), as well as their signature food item: homemade biscuits (which are a delight).
Eventually there are goals to open a brick & mortar location and do all of the normal things a business does to grow. Right now, though, they’re focusing on putting out a quality product each time someone orders and trying as best they can to make each customer’s experience as memorable as possible. Since our conversation, they’ve added several seasonal signature drinks (each one amazing) and continued to bring the neighborly spirit into every aspect of their shop. I personally keep coming back to them each time I have a chance because the coffee is amazing and they are people I genuinely want to see succeed.
To end, I’ll say a quick thank you for reading, and my heartfelt appreciation to Caleb for agreeing to this hare-brained idea of mine, and I’ll leave you with one last quote:
“Coffee can be a drink, but it can be so much more than that. It can be an experience and can do a whole lot of good for the world.”