Man it’s good to be back in the Northwest, a crazy place where independent bicycle lanes take up most of the highway space, cars run on saturated fat imported from Southern BBQ restaurants, and preschoolers prefer coffee mugs to juiceboxes. Today, we are right outside of Portland in Gresham, a city that is powered by about 100,000 people and its major coffee shop – Cafe Delirium, which provides nourishment to the neighborhood’s delirious coffeeholics. Located in a historic downtown Gresham, this shop offers excellent customer care and coffee quality standards that have been generating some buzz for a while now, and you know that we profile these kind of places. Enjoy my conversation with Delirium’s owner Cody Clark:
V. What up Cody! Let’s start from the basics, how did you get into coffee business?
C. I just had a passion for coffee. Loved it and have been drinking it since high school. The whole atmosphere of coffee shops always enchanted me. Before I opened up a coffee shop, I helped my friend to open a pizza place, so that is how I got my “starting a business” experience. Then I thought: “I’d love running my own business, what could I do?” I also loved coffee, so it was an easy fit. First I opened up a little tiny coffee shop inside a movie theater and then Cafe Delirium went for sale by a previous owner 9 years ago, and I purchased it.
V. So you bought the place 9 years ago, how did the coffee scene develop in Gresham over this time?
C. I think this was like the 4th or 5th coffee shop in Gresham at the time, and now I would say there are twenty. It has really grown. It is weird though; more coffee shops open, but they aren’t hurting my business. More and more people out there are drinking coffee, and this keeps us growing and keeps us staying fresh. I always make sure that our employees are really well trained and prepared to give our customers the best service that we can because of all the competition out there.
V. I know that Cafe Delirium was a disaster before you bought it. What are some of the challenges that you’ve had after acquiring a coffee shop business and what would you do differently if you were to do it today?
C. It hurts to say this, but my biggest challenges were the employees. I took over a place that was failing, and I kept all of the employees that were already here, but none of them took the business seriously. They didn’t seem to care about anything, and they would be training new people and teaching them the bad habits, so it took many years to get these bad habits broken and to put the right people in here. I have had new employees for the past 5 years, and this is the main reason why we are so successful right now. If I was to do it again, I would definitely take every employee that worked here previously and reinterview him because by keeping them all here in the first place I set myself back a couple of years.
V. So what is your algorithm for choosing the right employees now?
C. I am very picky when it comes to hiring because you are pretty much bringing someone to your family. Personality is really important. You can teach somebody how to make drinks, but you cannot always teach personality. They need to be able to work with others and communicate with customers. Somebody who is positive, upbeat, and can handle a fast pace at the same time fits my standards.
Also, we don’t let new employees make drinks until after the first month they are here. I teach them everything else first, and then during the closing hours I let them touch the machine. I believe that one cannot be rushed or stressed when making coffee.
V. What would you say is your most powerful marketing tool?
C. You know, I think we really excelled on word of mouth. My biggest thing is training employees on customer care, and giving every customer a really good experience, so we have grown tremendously just by people bringing new friends and family. We also have almost 2000 fans on Facebook, where we send out specials or whatever it is that we need to advertise. I feel that it is very important to reward current customers.
V. I am curious: Have you been noticing if a younger customer base is getting more and more interested in coffee?
C. Oh, yes! Absolutely! Especially over the last 5 to 6 years. We are seeing more and more high school and college students hanging out at our place. Since I took over the cafe 9 years ago, I have watched many of my young customers grow up. They went to high school, later to college, and got married afterwards – I watched this town grow right before my eyes. This is what we are about here: we allow people to relax and socialize as life goes by.
V. What do you think really sets you apart from all other shops out there?
C. It is definitely the warm welcoming environment that we provide and our commitment to personal touch in customer service. We are the largest coffee shop here in terms of seating, plus customers feel very comfortable with the way they are treated as soon as they come in. I preach to my employees to memorize customers’ details such as names, jobs, and favorite drinks, and it’s amazing how many customers don’t expect that or are a little shocked at first. We have met a lot of great friends just by doing that. The customers become part of the great family that we already are, and this is what I feel really sets us apart.