Wake Up and Smell the Chaos

I love the java jive and it loves me...

When Nate got to work early on the first day, he was surprised to see several large vehicles parked outside the R&S building. As he was unlocking the front door, he heard cars shutting off their engines and vehicle doors creaking open. He turned around and waved them off; he mouthed the words "Not yet, we are not open" and shut (and locked) the door behind him. He walked to the rear of the building and opened the alley door to find his coffee partner in crime, Gary, waiting for him with a symbolic cup of coffee to start the morning.

Gary smiled and said, "Congratulations. I see you already have visitors. Are you ready to start selling the goods?"

"Well, we are the best part of waking up but I see that as well but I might be a bit more exclusive than that. Also, turn the heat up a bit: this will be a customer who constantly complains how cold they are."

"What do you mean?"

"I am not sure yet but I have a few other ideas but make sure you jack the thermostat a bit. Speaking of ideas, do you have the coffee ready for me?"

"Absolutely. I have three urns: one regular, one semi-decaf and one really strong regular. Feel free to take what you need: I figure I have invested three dollars in this caper so far. Also, I now officially out of decaf at the restaurant but I will get by without an issue."

They both smiled; substituting regular and decaf coffee has been a long-standing restaurant tradition, almost as ancient as re-using untouched bread baskets. People would come in and insist on decaf and if they were jerks about it, would almost always receive the high-octane java as a response. While decaffeinated coffee was lower than caffeinated, the ranges varied wildly from ten to forty percent depending on the batch, method and luck of the draw. And when one combines range with the server variable, it was safe to assume that anyone who was a jerk was consistently drinking the real thing for all obvious reasons.

"I feel you will get your money back."

Gary smiled and walked away, "The door is open, I have a box of old clean cups and saucers and let me know when you need a refill."

Nate went it the building and did a quick once-over. He had laid out eight round tables, laid out a series of tablecloths, made sure he had enough old chairs and then laid them out in a semi-orderly basis. He looked around one more time and took a deep breath: it was showtime.

He walked to the door and unlocked it. Within two minutes, three women walked in and looked for a menu, looked around for anything and looked then looked at him. Nate stared back and finally said, "Good morning, may I help you?"

"Is this a coffee shop?"

"It will be the coffee shop soon but we are still under construction. However, if you want really some coffee now, I might be able to get you a cup."

"Really?"

"That is great. I would like a decaf latte with skim and ..."

Nate interrupted her and said, "This is a coffee shop, in fact the world's most expensive and exclusive coffee shop, and the menu is set. We will not do milk-infused drinks, flavored drinks or anything outside of straight, ultra-exclusive coffee. I have personally chosen the finest coffee in the world and am preparing to present it to you, in its purest form for your drinking pleasure."

His speech stunned the ladies and finally one said, "How expensive is it?"

Nate did not hesitate and said, "It is planned at fifteen dollars a cup. Perhaps one, two refills but no credit cards. No cookies. No scones."

To his surprise, it didn't frighten the women. They were from out of town, pockets flush with cash and dying to have something which is the "world's finest." Nate deviated from his script and said while looking around, "But since we are not technically open yet, I will offer you ladies the opportunity to taste the first cups at this establishment at no charge. If you like it, I want you to quickly compose a testimonial which I will leave on display at the shop. If you do not like it, I will close the shop today."

"You will allow us to get to taste the first cups here?"

"Yes. Are you ready?"

The women all nodded frantically. Nate waved them to the table near the window. The bohemian nature of the shop combined with the exclusivity of the coffee was created a low level rush of a great adventure. Once they were settled, he asked the ladies one question: describe the coffee you want. One said she wanted decaf, one wanted the house special and one wanted "something exciting." They were all rampant with anticipation when Nate had arrived with three cups just pulled from the three urns. Presented in different cups, he could hear the women internally applauding as the coffee cups were placed in front of them.

"Now, here are the facts with this coffee," said Nate with a solemn tone. "In my opinion, these are absolutely the finest blends available in the entire world. Please allow yourself a moment to smell the bouquet of the coffee and when ready, you may finally taste the coffee. But do yourself a favor, really taste the coffee."

Nate stepped back and solemnly paused while he watched them size up the event. Each woman took their assigned cup and smelled the coffee with deep, sincere inhales. One by one, each one sipped the diner coffee and began to moan and squirm with a olfactory version of self-actualization. They all three had their eyes shut, per Nate's final instructions, all non-verbally oozing with the coffee as it headed south inside them.

"That was wonderful, the finest coffee I have ever had," whispered one of the three women. Her two clones nodded in unison and added a few complimentary murmurs to the affirmative. "And it was warm inside your shop; I have been so cold all day."

Nate further astounded the women by reiterating his promise: he would the shutter the shop that day if the three woman said so. As he began to repeat the promise, the woman all assured him in a sincere manner that, indeed the coffee was the world's finest. He acted surprised, shook their hands and handed them each a blank sheet of paper and a pen. He took their pictures with a digital camera and once receiving the testimonials, he framed them and placed all three on the hallway that opened up to the great room.

"May we buy this coffee?"

"Unfortunately you cannot. I will not sell it except in a cup: my production standards are exacting and to allow anyone to attempt to make these blends outside of my laboratory...I mean kitchen, would result in disappointment."

All three women nodded knowingly: this was no ordinary coffee. As they finished the first cup and began positioning for another one, Nate came to their table, took their cups and thanked them for their time. That would be all the coffee dispensed that morning: although Nate was actually thinking about turning the shop into an appointment-only establishment, he wanted to shut down early because he accomplished his initial goal of starting a buzz. He pocketed the fifty dollars that the three ladies insisted on him keeping for their astonishing adventure and walked through the back door to Gary's Diner to share the news.

"So, how did it go?"

"Well, it's hard to say but care to guess today's take? And don't forget to include the tip."

Gary thought for a moment and said, "Two bucks....no, four bucks."

"Close. Fifty dollars."

Gary looked at Nate with an expression usually reserved for witnesses of supernatural powers or the appearance of pancake batter coming out of one's eyes. "Did you say FIFTY, F-I-F-T-Y DOLLARS?"

"Yes. I had offered them the coffee for free to validate my theory but they were in such earthy rapture, they insisted on paying for the whole caffeinated adventure."

"Now, what?"

"Well, I will make a sign announcing the hours. You should think about making sure the urns are ready to go tomorrow...and I have to stop at the Thrift Shop and pick up more orphaned coffee cups."

"This will never work."

"You are wrong my friend, it has and it will."

Nate spent the rest of the week arranging for periodic staff assistance, finalizing his collection of free and second-hand furnishings, meeting with a variety of the townspeople informing them of his plan and generally getting ready to pull off the coffee caper. Each day, Nate would pull in a few of the occupants of the queued-up vehicles and repeat his challenge regarding the coffee product and each day, he would deposit the cash with Gary for the war chest. However, each time he did this, the urban legend of the coffee grew and grew: it was time to officially open the doors. The last touch was the posting of the testimonials by the front door; he intended to continue the tradition as it appeared to be a good strategy in the face of some impending lawsuit by the FDA or the FTC. The locals were tipped off to his ploy so there was always room at the inn for the visitors who viewed the shop as their little clubhouse for the coffee-enlightened. As visitors gathered, they collectively determined their palates were far more sophisticated then the locals and combining that discovered fact with the far more discriminating needs of large city people, they grew stronger in their enthusiasm of the shop.

The grand opening was neither grand or a formal opening. Nate opened the doors the day he was ready and didn't look back. He repeated his sales pitch when time permitted and at the end of the first day, he had make fifteen hundred dollars and once subtracting his coffee costs, his net profit was fourteen hundred and seventy dollars. Over the next four months, fueled by only word of mouth, the coffee shop turned a net profit of over three hundred thousand dollars. With that money, the city council quietly purchased several large tracks of land from owners planning to sell in the future. At the end of year one, the profit for the last eight months of the year were slightly less than seven hundred thousand dollars. With that income, the council purchased all available buildings and lots well before they would have hit the market as well as funding athletic teams, a few scholarships and general maintenance improvements. The locals continued never to say a word and the town remained galvanized as the legend grew deeper. Nate also advanced his legend by deflecting requests to create franchising offering circulars, accommodate media requests and his favorite, declare the shop closed at anytime. If he ran out of coffee and was too lazy to go across the alley to reload or if he wanted to go fishing, he would lock the door, flip the sign to "closed" and announce to the folks within that they, and they alone, were lucky enough to experience that day's batch. As people arrived, he would walk outside and notify them that the coffee was now done for the day, please try again tomorrow and when the exiting customers would pass him, he would give them the look of the lucky few, which only motivated today's outsiders to try again, but much earlier.

Nate also established a communication plan which was committed to memory by the locals and combined with a cooperative local government which made real estate moves extremely frustrating and time-consuming, things began to turn. The scripted whispers to the visitors from the outside was "top quality land plots were never available in the first place" and "the culture landscape of the town was truly underwhelming" and eventually the general curiosity of the gentries grew quieter and quieter regarding large parcels of land. The gentries now switched to settling locally and sought out opportunities for new businesses in and around the coffee shop. Visitors from around the world started to drop in; the legend of the magical coffee began to loom larger and larger while the town had to decide when it was prudent to declare victory and avoid running the risk of being exposed by someone with common sense and a curious nature.

One afternoon, Nate was stopped on the street by a local: an older woman from the town who had alienated most of her neighbors with a constant and exhausting conversation style. She had complied with the ruse because she might have been a drag but at least she was a team player (while she dragged down whomever she had engaged in casual conversation). Nate knew this day was going to arrive but he had hoped it was still somewhere in the future. However, today was the day.

"Nate, may I ask you a question?"

"Sure, Mrs. Rollenbach." Nate had left himself open to a potentially long diatribe; his answers just fueling her questions for as long as they both could stand.

"Why are you doing this?"

Nate was surprised at the question: it was obvious he wasn't gaining anything tangible for himself with this project. The town, now flush with cash and on the rise for the first time in decades could answer for him but he knew it was up to him to shut her up.

"Mrs. Rollenbach, I want to begin by saying that the word "why" isn't real important here. In fact, the word "why" is a pointless way to start a question. The person asking it either uses it to assign blame or they use it to focuses on the past."

"Really?"

"Yes, really. I am all for enlightenment but those insights can be better gained without subjecting one person to a series of "why" questions. I did this to give the town a fighting chance in the face of crazy, stupid commercialism. I did it to preserve our way of life and I did it to teach the people with too much money that they must not need all that money. That's why."

Nate's face was red; Mrs. Rollenbach was shocked because no one had come after her like that before. She knew she was a pain but his response stopped her in her tracks and she lost her train of thought. Maybe tomorrow she would ask him "why" again but it was time to beat a hasty retreat.

Nate watched Mrs. Rollenbach wander down the sidewalk back to whatever gloomy little corner of the town she wandered out from earlier and he had to admit, she did have a good question. The momentum of the success of his plan had clouded his judgment on the timing to shut it down. Obviously, this could not go on for forever; he needed to create an exit plan. One of these days, someone with legitimately tax or restaurant authority would be arriving at his door and would likely not be sympathetic as the local authorities. After the day's business, Nate decided to de-identify the store as part of the back out plan and decided to have a meeting with his two co-conspirators; the Mayor and Gary. It was time to move to a new phase or close this idea down.

Later in the day, in the Mayor's office, the trio sat in a circle, drinking  Gary's beers. They listened to Nate's concerns and realized he had a good point. This charade was in need of evolution because they were only as good as their security and it was only a matter of time before someone, somewhere would say something innocent and the jig would be up.

Betty took a long pull from her beer bottle and said, "I see two main problems: the media and the government."

"Agreed" said the gentlemen in unison.

"I can help with the government issue but I am rather useless when dealing with the fourth estate."

"How can you lessen the government issues?"

"Not lessen," said Betty, "I am rather sure I can make the all go away."

"How so?"

"Tom's son works for the state tax department."

"Really?"

"Really."

"That solves one problem. You boys can work on the second and I will button up the first."

Betty and Tom Murkowski had been boyfriend and girlfriend for thirty years.  During a brief hiatus, Tom had gotten married and with the briefly married June Murkowski, and had a son, William.  The marriage did not last and fairly quickly, June had left town and was overjoyed to sign over all her parental rights to Tom. There was no smoking gun; June should have never married and was far too immature to raise a child. Tom took on the role of both mother and father and did an admirable job. Betty took on the role of a surrogate mother out of proximity and general obligation and Billy Murkowski enjoyed a normal childhood. Tom Murkowski had asked Betty at least two hundred times to get married but she did not see the sense in it. They were a solid couple with or without the license of marriage and after awhile the topic died a death due to disinterest. Occasionally, one of Tom's proposals would make the conversation circuit, but would easily get dropped in priority as other, more interesting topics arrived on the scene.

The next day, Billy Murkowski walked into the now-anonymous coffee shop. The removal of the street advertising actually caused a positive bump in business and Nate spent most of the morning re-assuring his amped up and intensely highlighted clientele that the decision to go stealth was an attempt to keep the offerings exclusive. Each one of his paying customers loved the idea on being just outside of an inside joke and continued to throw money at him.

"Hello Nate"

"Hello Billy"

"Betty told me about the situation. She also told me to help with it."

"And you are?"

"Helping with it."

"What do you want me to do?"

"First off, I don't know if I should hug you or arrest you but that isn't my place. My place is to provide you with sufficient cover so you don't run afoul of some law."

"I appreciate it."

"I am handing you an envelope with three items in it. One, is a post-dated license to allow you to conduct fair trade which was created by a recently retired inspector. Number two, is a series of health inspection records, elegantly matching up with the license. And number three, well, let's say Betty still has a sense of humor."

"Which is?"

"A historical designation certificate to protect you from absolutely everything. Evidentially, this building was used in the Manhattan Project."

"And the project is...."

"Still classified."

"Nice touch."

"I was never here."

"Understood. However, just for fun, do you want to try the coffee."

"Absolutely."

He went in the back and poured some high-test into a fairly clean china cup. He brought it out and presented it to Billy with a sincere flourish.

Billy took the cup, without reverence, and drew back a healthy sip. He smiled and whispered, "Really, you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Nate said, "Any other advice?"

"I am glad you  took down the signs. You may want to affiliate it with a church but you should be good for awhile. Say hi to Betty and tell her this makes us almost even."

Billy smiled and walked out. Nate waved and figured the next step was the media; this would be tricky.

 

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