Coffee Shop Sanctuary

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The woman who owns the coffee shop I frequent brought me a plate of grapes last week. On the house. I had been sitting there for hours, and my pizza and milkshake had long been consumed. I am not sure if this was a strategy for poisoning me to later steal my kidneys, however I ate half the bunch and tucked the other half into a plastic baggie I had in my backpack – I couldn’t take any risks. Seeing that I did not pass out or feel weak later that night or next day, I took this gesture as a really warm and kind greeting – a, thanks-for-coming-to-my-shop, if you will. This could have also been her way of saying, “We served you the pizza and milkshake, but refuse to allow you to be any more of an obese American,” though, I digress.

This coffee shop has become a safe space for me, and somewhat of a refuge from the small town living I have been experiencing since leaving Beijing for a few weeks. This also happens to be the same coffee shop where Sarah McLaughlin’s, “Angel,” plays virtually every time I walk in. This hit is followed by some version of county music, and I’m convinced they save the playlist just for me. I frequently run into KooKoo, a French teacher from France, here working at a small international school in town (and yes, KooKoo, like, “One Flew Over the [Her Name Plural] Nest”). She is a kind older woman, though typically complaining about Chinese food. I let her have her moment(s), and take solace in her rare smiles.

But today I set a goal. Just after lunch, I spent an hour practicing the Chinese version of, “Thank you for letting me come here and use your wifi, and also thank you for the grapes.” I felt like it was important to show my appreciation, and also my loyalty to the company (okay, so it’s been two weeks of loyalty – I’m committed nonetheless). Aside from some of these individual words being highly impossible to say/figure out, putting the sentence structure together had me feeling like I was about curse her restaurant amidst a jumbled version of what I perceived to be a kind gesture. Just after work, I hustled the 25 minute walk to the coffee shop, and was greeted by huge smiles and waves. The moment came, and as I entered the restaurant with an obnoxious, “Ni Hao,” I pulled out my small notebook to recite my newly-learned version of, “Thank you.”

It took me a minute to struggle through the sentences, and once I finished, I looked up with a huge smile on my face to confirm completion. Their response consisted of odd looks and blank stares. We stood in maybe three or four seconds of horrifying silence, before they looked at each other and yelled in broken English, “Thank you!” I wiped the sweat from my head and forced a few shared-giggles. The point was made, and I believe my attempt was well-received.

And here I sit, post-pizza, mid-milkshake, and all I can think of is how thankful I am for this coffee shop sanctuary. How often do we do this? How often do we pause and reflect on businesses and locations (or environments) which we appreciate and hold to the highest regard? I have previously posted about my TOMS Shoes experience six years ago, and receiving an opportunity merely from sending my résumé to the company in a box of shoes which needed replaced for a new size. But this might have been one of the last and few times I have showed such loyalty and appreciation.

Now, I’m not saying you should all go buy a pair of shoes (or insert some other item here) and return them with your résumé. I’m talking about the pure reality of appreciating businesses for being more than just a product. To me, this coffee shop is more than coffee (and pizza, and drinks, and milkshakes) – this coffee shop is a safe space for me to unwind and breathe outside of work. TOMS Shoes wasn’t just a prospective job opportunity or a company with stellar shoes – TOMS Shoes existed as a company doing good work, and one I heavily believe in. Loyalty is awesome. And showing people you believe in their brand is even better.

Sometimes it’s institution loyalty, and other times it’s loyalty to leadership. Whatever be the cause or case, find something to believe in today. And once you establish that value, find a way to articulate those beliefs to that company, institution, or corporation. After all, you’re not only a living brand-ambassador, you’re also localized investor. Spend your efforts wisely.

Loyal,

Michael

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