On an early Thursday morning, I drove out to what seemed the middle of nowhere to conduct an interview with our Wholesale Manager, Caleb, in what can only be described as his castle. A 10,000 sq. ft. warehouse decorated with coffee brewing equipment, supplies, syrups, machinery, and even Lucky Goat’s famous Brew Bus tucked away in one of the corners. Caleb walked in with a messenger bag over one shoulder and a cup of coffee in the other hand. “Morning!” he yelled as he walked toward his office. I followed, and we began to chat.
“So, who are you and what do you do at Lucky Goat Coffee?”
“I’m Caleb, and I do lots of things at Lucky Goat, but my title is Wholesale Manager. I’m in charge of ordering products from our vendors and dispatching our technicians to various calls around the southeast region.”
“The southeast region of… Tallahassee?”
“No, the southeast region. We service restaurants, churches, coffee shops, offices, schools—whoever has coffee needs or equipment, we either fix it, sell it, or get them some sort of product.”
“How does that work?”
“Basically, we just take calls and send people out. I might take a call where a customer tells us something is wrong with their espresso machine, I try to diagnosis the issue over the phone, then I’ll send out a technician to fix the problem.”
“So you’re the closest thing we have to a coffee doctor…if a coffee doctor also ordered thousands of bottles of vanilla syrup on Tuesdays?”
“Are there other coffee doctors out there?”
“There’s other wholesale roasters out there and other distributers who sell the same items we sell. But…no. There’s no one who specializes in coffee, tea and espresso repairs like us. There are restaurant equipment companies or air conditioning companies who will take your call on an espresso machine, but there’s nobody that specializes in it. We’re in a specialty coffee niche. There’s no one else you can call who will roast your coffee, fix your brewing equipment, and deliver your supplies. We’re kind of a one stop shop for coffee supplies. That’s essentially what I do.”
“Is that everything you do?”
“Well, I also help people start coffee shops.”
“Of course you do,” as I laughed.
“If someone’s been an accountant their whole life and wants to retire and open up a coffee shop, I’m the person who realistically walks them through everything they’ll need. Equipment, menu, staffing… We’ll go through everything and dream up a business over the phone. Then it’s my job to continue supporting that dream.”
“It seems like your job must have come with an elaborate hat rack. How does that amount of multidimensionality impact your job?”
“We’re multifaceted for sure, so our attention is spread over a lot of different disciplines. For example, the distribution side requires a totally different set of customer service than fixing broken coffee equipment does, and so on… We’re responsible, in different capacities, for somewhere around 300 wholesale customers, who call us for any number of reasons. So yeah, we’re busy. Sometimes it’s chaos if everyone calls at the same time, but we’re trying to lasso in that chaos and make it work.”
It didn’t take long for me to get an understanding of the pace Caleb is able to “lasso” things in at. I asked all sorts of questions about what a normal day looks like and how he’s able to pull off such a complex operation. However, in a similar cowboy-esque theme, he more or less said “we just get it done”. He pulled out a map to show me the driving routes for that day alone— “Look at this, I’ve got one guy driving this route… another driving this route… and I have another doing repairs at one of our shops.” He even confessed to the lengths they might go through to get these (often 300 mile) adventures underway.
“Taking care of the customer is primary. If it takes strapping two chest freezers onto pallets and shoehorning them into a delivery van to get people cold brew, so be it.”
“Did you really do that?”
“Yeah, do you want to see? We had to do it. But it worked, and we eventually bought a refrigerated van because we proved we could pull it off. No day is the same here. I like that.”
An understandable sentiment from a man whose previous job was waking up at 2:00 AM and making bagel dough before the rest of the world had woken up. “That kind of thing is hard work. I knew exactly what I was walking into every morning. It was early and I was alone. When you wake up that early, nothing in your life feels stable.”
In a lot of ways, I get that. “So, you enjoy each day being unlike the last. What other aspects of this job do you find rewarding?”
“I love the wholesale side of my job because I get to support businesses that are employing and providing livelihoods for other people. I’m not just fixing espresso machines or ordering supplies, I’m taking part in helping other businesses work better, which helps each person down the line. For me, this job was one of my main steps to becoming an adult.”
“Can you elaborate?”
“I didn’t start this company. I was hired by someone who initially had to take a risk, and now they pay my salary. This job has helped me realize that my wholesale customers are the same. They’re the “Ben” to their employees. They’re the one creating jobs for other people, helping college students pay their tuition, and offering them a step into adulthood. So knowing my customer’s names and how many people they employ is important to me. I love that. I also don’t have to wake up at 2:00 AM anymore.”
It was at that exact moment the phone rang, to which I told him I don’t mind. “Lucky Goat Coffee, this is Caleb.” There was a brief pause right before he burst into laughter with a customer on the other end—a regular I assume. I didn’t ask. Not a moment later, Caleb walks out of the room, solves this person’s problem, and returns asking “So, where were we?”. As if I was some big-shot interviewer he was trying to impress with a staged call.
I realized in that moment Caleb had nothing but honesty to offer me. Everything he said checked out, and even unfolded before my eyes. I saw the truck with the chest refrigerators, and I saw him take a call on the fly. In fact, when I asked him what his least favorite thing about his job is, he admitted it’s when he can’t help somebody for a reason that’s out of his control.
“So out of everything, why coffee?”
“I initially got into coffee because I was going on mission trips to Nicaragua every summer with an organization from my home town. Around the time I was graduating college, they started a coffee company which imported coffee from Nicaragua to support an orphanage down there. So when I graduated and couldn’t find a job, I started volunteering for them, trying to support this orphanage I had been visiting for about a decade at that time. I went with them to visit the farmers to see what they needed in Nicaragua in order for this operation to work stateside. Before long I was importing coffee in suitcases.”
“So, in some ways your job has stayed the same, the location has just changed.”
“Basically,” as he chuckled.
And with that we wrapped up the conversation, moving on with our hectic days from rambling and revisiting coffee-related memories and responsibilities. While no day is alike in Caleb’s to-and-fro, it certainly seems as though his passion for people remains constant.