Crafting a Concept Bar with Melissa Stinson of Everybody's Busy

  
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To walk into Everybody’s Busy is to walk into a precisely curated space—like a gallery, but without pretension. The coffee, supplied by Onyx Coffee Lab, is spot-on; the menu design changes monthly and reflects a deep love of music; the speakers are always playing something fun, selected by the shop’s owner, Melissa Stinson.

This is the second time I’ve sat down and recorded with Melissa, and we’re revisiting a few of the themes we covered in the first episode, including our local coffee scene—we’re based in Chicago—and what it means to make something totally unique to you. In that conversation, we lamented that, for such a big city, there’s not as many coffee shops as you might expect. There are definitely folks opening interesting and fun shops, but Chicago is the third largest city in the nation—and there’s room for more. Way more.

But recently, we were spurred to record again after we noticed something promising happening: Despite the fact that COVID-19 has devastated the local dining scene, a number of new coffee shops have been opening across the city, many of which are run by people of color.

Along with a commentary on Chicago’s current coffee landscape, Melissa and I talk about being value-driven, and what it means to have a vision for your business. I reiterate a theme that came up in our first recording: No one else but Melissa could have made Everybody’s Busy, and her vision shows through in every detail and decision.

Our conversation is more a swapping of thoughts than a traditional interview, so if you want to hear two coffee folks try to dig into the reasons why their city and its coffee culture are so peculiar and idiosyncratic, you’ve picked the right time to tune in. Here’s Melissa.


Ashley: I have Melissa Stinson on with me from Everybody's Busy. Melissa, thanks for joining me.

Melissa: Thanks for having me.

Ashley: This is the second time that you and I have actually recorded together. We recorded with each other about two years ago, and some of the big things that we talked about in that episode were the state of the Chicago coffee community and just what it was like to open a pop-up bar.

I wanted to revisit some of those themes with you, because we're in COVID times now, and pretty much everything has changed. So I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about what Everybody's Busy has been up to in the last two years.

Melissa: Let me see. So last time we met, I was actually at my first location, which was on 51st Street. I have since moved to Pilsen. I moved a couple of times in Pilsen and I'm now on the other side of Ashland on 18th Street. So I'm now in this really small—it used to be an old butcher shop, and I'm in the meat locker. Then my friend who does the clothing, he has his store on the outside. So I've got more space. I've kind of gotten settled.

Since the last time we talked, I've added Onyx Coffee. Before I was just a multi-roaster. I specifically use Onyx as my coffee provider; I only use Oatly. What else has changed? I mean, a lot has changed, but yeah, that's kind of what…

Ashley: Yeah, those are the tangible things that have changed, but I wonder for you, how has your mindset changed, or maybe the way that you approach your business changed?

Melissa: I don't get so down on myself like I used to. I mean, it happens because I'm human, but I feel like I know what I'm doing that day. Before I was just kinda all over the place. I don't know how to explain it. It's interesting because when we spoke there really wasn't a lot of options. There's a lot of local coffee now. There's a lot of, not a whole lot, but it's way more options than it was before.

Ashley: That's interesting—the idea of competition. And coffee shouldn't be competitive, but Chicago has never [even come close to being] competitive. Which I totally agree with.

Number one, Chicago coffee has never been competitive, but two, I don't really think it'll ever be competitive because Chicago is number one, a humongous city and two—and I think you'll agree with this—I don't really believe in competition.

Melissa: Yeah? But I would say to me, in my opinion, I don't have experience in coffee shops. I literally just built my own house because I wanted to get into coffee. But it's still kind of divided. I mean, it's getting better, but to me it's still divided—not just by neighborhoods, not just race, but it's divided in quality. Does that make any sense?

Ashley: No, that makes sense.

Melissa: Yeah. It's divided in quality. And since this is a metropolitan city, we're working people and teachers and all types of things and people drink a lot of coffee here, and there's a lot of Dunkin and there's a lot of Starbucks, which is fine. There is limited quality. It's kind of like there are shops that are up to be social, which is totally fine, but the coffee’s not good—to me.

How do I put it? I'm not saying to be more competitive about that, but I would think the stakes would be raised because, okay, I have a shop, here's another shop. Like I said, there's shops popping up on the daily, on the weekly to have the best product, but it doesn't feel like it's about the product. It feels like it's the space. Does that make any sense?

Ashley: Makes sense. And that's an interesting point to make, because I think about that too, with the new shops that have opened. I think that some of them have really hit the mark on quality, just off the bat, but then there is an evolution I'm seeing in other shops where … you're right: Quality might not be the target.

And I don't know if I necessarily agree that quality needs to be the target as much as community can be the target or serving an underserved community can be the target or just solely the idea of business ownership can be the target. But it does seem like an oversight that Chicago has missed the mark on quality, just because we have so many excellent restaurants, we have so many excellent—pretty much everything. And I would say that our coffee scene is probably one of the least interesting ones.

Melissa: I would say that too.

Ashley: How has COVID sort of changed things for you? Because one of the things that you and I have talked about on the side, not on recordings, is that there have been so many coffee shops popping up during COVID, which is not what you would expect.

I don't know that other cities are experiencing this the way that we are, but we have so many coffee shops that have popped up in the last eight or nine months.

Melissa: I think, I mean, granted, COVID has an ugly side to it. I think it made a lot of people pivot because nothing was guaranteed. Like literally you had no idea if you're going to be able to leave the house next week, tomorrow, or—you just didn't know!

You didn't know if you're gonna be able to go back to that building you used to be in, because then we also had the social injustice going. I mean, literally everything was torn up, basically. I mean, except for like the really big corporations, because they have money.

But I think people started to, because they had time to reflect and think about, “What do I want to do? What do I want to have next to my home? What do I want to have in my community?” Because they had time to see—everybody before was just rushing.

You had all these options and you also thought you had all this time. And I think that it changed because you just really didn't know if you were going to be alive or dead or if the city was going to be destroyed, you just didn't know—to me—day to day. So I think it made people look into themselves or think about things they always wanted to do. And I think coffee, [maybe] some other things were probably on their minds. And it was like, just all or nothing, you might as well because you literally do not know what's happening the next day.

Ashley: Did that enter your mind when you were thinking about your business?

Melissa: During COVID?

Ashley: Yeah.

Melissa: Because I am a micro coffee bar, concept coffee bar, and I believe in delivering a great product and also an experience, it did sort of fuck with me a little bit because now I was like, “How is this going to happen? How do you make … how's this going to happen?”

I was kind of troubled by that. I didn't know what to expect. I didn’t know if it was over. I was trying to think of how to pivot. But because I have a really small business, I was worried, but it wasn't as if I had a huge space and employees and had to figure out how to pay them. That's really something to worry [about]—it's just me.

I didn't know if the experiences now, if that was done and things are going to just be like, you walk past, you pick it up, and you keep it moving. You don't have time to think. You have to go home and think and do everything. I just didn't know what that looked like. I didn't know if my concept was, I guess, necessary.

Ashley: Oh, that's kind of a scary thought.

Melissa: I mean, yeah.

Ashley: So what do you think kept you going then? Or what kept you open?

Melissa: I tested the waters a few times. I mean, granted, as much as I'm a homebody, being at home for those many days and hours started to also mentally—and I suffered from depression, chronic depression—but mentally it was messing with me and like any other human being, you need interaction of something.

And so as they [city officials and ordinances] kind of said, “Okay, you can go back and do this,” this was maybe April-ish, I can't remember, I would tiptoe out maybe once or twice for a few hours. Just to medicate myself, that was a way of medicating myself—doing something. And I knew I could [keep going, even if] okay, maybe somebody wasn't coming, but at least I could be in that space and I could entertain myself. And it wasn't at home. I could get my mind off of all these thoughts. You know what I mean? I was occupied.

Ashley: I think something that you mentioned that I want to touch upon is the idea that your business was really … I mean, you have obviously lots to worry about because it's your business, this is your livelihood, but you didn't have to worry about employees. And the stakes were a little bit lower because it's only you that you have to watch out for.

As I'm looking at all these new businesses that are opening up versus the businesses that we've seen close, it seems like a lot of the businesses that have suffered because of COVID are larger businesses, which makes sense, because there's a lot more to lose when you have a lot more employees. But then that to me also speaks to maybe the negative aspects of growth. Like maybe aggressive growth is not the way to go, because if you could grow this fast, you can lose it that fast.

What seems to be holding true are businesses that number one, have really strong concepts, and really know who they are. I think you're one of those people—you know exactly who you are. Even if that changes, even if that evolves, but two, businesses who maybe aren't striving for aggressive growth. And I also think that you probably fall into that category.

Melissa: Hmm…

Ashley: If that makes sense.

Melissa: It does, I’m just trying to process it. I don't know, I'm trying to think of how to respond. Let me just say this, nothing lasts forever. Some people think everything lasts forever, but they just don't. They have to change or they have to break down and become something else. It's just impossible. To me, I'm not speaking for everybody else.

And I think, like I said, COVID and the social injustice and just everything that was going on broke down businesses, or let's just say broke them open, because it was a lot of stuff going on. I mean, it's business, it’s always a lot of bad guys. It's a lot of immoral people. For a lot of business it's about money and power, so it's ugly. I think [this year] just kind of broke that, not all of it, but a lot of it down, and people didn't have anything to depend on. They didn't have a place to go and have a check to get, I mean, there was unemployment that they were getting, but they were left to their own devices. If that makes any sense.

Ashley: I think that first part, where you said that COVID and the social injustices of the summer broke businesses open, is a really poignant thing to talk about, because you're right. It broke things open, and you were suddenly exposed to all the shitty things that a lot of people were doing.

And I think, kind of going back to my question, I think it really exposed people's values. What are you here for? Why are you doing this thing? And I think we're seeing that now with some of the new businesses that are opening in Chicago and—this is maybe a very Chicago-centric conversation, so people listening to this might be like, “This doesn't apply to my city”—but just to set the scene a little bit, a lot of coffee shops have opened during COVID.

A lot of pop-ups that happened during COVID, and almost all of them are helmed by people of color, which is awesome. And I think something that I'm seeing through messaging and social media is that a lot of these businesses are really value-driven—they seem to have a really good sense of who they are as people and are able to lead with that.

I think you've kind of always done that—which is cool to see you as almost a pioneer in this space. That you've been able to take who you are as a person and really translate it into your business. And this is something we talked about in our last episode. Nobody else could have opened Everybody's Busy, only Melissa Stinson doing what she's doing could have opened Everybody’s Busy. And I think we're starting to see that more in other businesses, too.

Only the folks behind thrd. coffee could have opened thrd. coffee, only the husband-and-wife duo of Atmos Coffee could have opened Atmos Coffee. Only people who were really obsessed with Scandinavian coffee could have opened Dayglow. It's all these things that I think have really forced people in the coffee industry to think, “Why am I opening this business?” And if you don't have a good why, if you don't have a good sense of who you are and can translate that into your business, then nothing really matters.

Melissa: Yeah. Okay. That's, that's a good point. And people are paying attention actually.

Ashley: Right, exactly. People are demanding more as well.

Melissa: Yeah. They are. Before it was like “do-do-do-coffee.” But, because I think, like I said, we had so much time to reflect and we didn't have anything to do, so you started to pay attention and you started to notice and even the coffee industry, and all the other industries too, but the coffee industry it’s like, “Oh, wait, these people like coffee, these people like coffee? Oh!”

It's an all-around drink. You could be nine and love coffee. You could be 99 and love coffee. You could be fresh and love coffee. You could be stale and love coffee. It's coffee, it's a drink, like water. So I think people were able to sort of identify with coffee. “You know what? I don't have a space I can go to and have an okay cup of coffee,” or, “I don't have the space I can go to and see art or feel energy.”

So it's like a bunch of sneaker stores, but it's coffee. Right? Some of them have identities. Some of them don't, some of them are still trying to figure it out, which is totally fine. The point is that you tried, you gave it your all, whether you had money or you didn't have any money, you tried. And to me, those that were able to push through during this time will hopefully be really successful once we get into the new future, because there's no going back, it's over.

Ashley: Talk about that a little.

Melissa: When people say, “Oh, when we go back to normal…” I just don't look at it that way. Maybe they're just using that as wording. Like I said, everything's been broken and cracked open, and it's still continuing to be pooled.

There is no 2019, there's just 2020 and 2021—to me. I mean, philosophically, that's what I'm saying. There's just go.

There's almost like, I want to say maybe you had a handbook, but there's no handbook. Nobody's ever been through this. This is like the first time globally everybody's having this experience. It's not a United States thing or African thing. It's the whole planet. And that's interesting at the same time: Everybody's experiencing the same thing, whether you're a business owner or you're not, you’re a caretaker, whether you're a 10-year-old doing home school at home, I mean, everybody is having similar experiences. Don't you think? That's something.

Ashley: Absolutely. We're all experiencing a collective moment that will probably never be repeated in our lifetimes. This idea that everybody right now is experiencing not the exact same thing, but at least an umbrella under the same thing—we're all experiencing COVID probably in very different ways, but we're all experiencing COVID. Right?

Melissa: Right.

Ashley: I think you're right, there is no 2019, 2019 is over. We're never going to go back there. So I was wondering when you think about that, when you think about going into the future and not being able to go back in the past, what are some relics that you think that we can't go back to, or what are some ways that you've had to reshape your mind to be like, “This is my new normal, this is what I have to think about now. That thing that I used to do doesn't work anymore.”

Melissa: Well, I'm a bit of an oddball, and I'm proud of that. It took many, many years to just say, “You know what? Okay.” I've always kind of been, I don't want to say a futurist, but I've always kind of been ahead in a sense. So for me, I'm not really struggling with how to adjust because also, I worked in the entertainment industry. Your world is being shaken constantly, so I'm kind of used to it.

I'm just trying to figure out how to keep up. Because like I said, the one thing I don't know is what's happening from day to day, month to month, but there—to me—there are no, I wouldn't say there's any old ways. And maybe because I've been doing me, maybe I'm so into me and so into the music and so into my idea that—how would I explain—that hasn't penetrated that or it hasn't affected me because where people are kind of going to now, I've already [been there], I'm there. Does that make any sense?

Ashley: No, I think that speaks. I mean, yes—not no, jeez Louise.

But that totally speaks to what we were talking about earlier, about businesses who seem to have a really good core sense of self being able to penetrate through this really difficult time. And you've always had that, that's always been clear every time we've talked or anytime I've gone to Everybody's Busy. And every time I look at your social media, I'm like, “Oh, Melissa knows what she's doing.” Not necessarily that you have to have the answer to everything per se, but you are able to connect everything you do to the core of what your business is. And again, that doesn't mean that things don't change. That doesn't mean that things aren’t fluid, but it seems like you've always been able to connect what you want to do to who you are as a person.

I wouldn't go into Everybody's Busy and think, “Oh, this isn't Melissa. This doesn't seem right.” But I think that when you go maybe to some other coffee shops, you're kind of like, “Oh, why are they doing this? This doesn't really make sense.”

We've seen coffee shops like that close, and I don't want to name names, but we were talking a little bit about that off the air, and I think the coffee shops that maybe have suffered a little bit, have been places that don't have that really core sense of self. And because of that, they can't connect to their communities in the same way.

On the other end, the coffee shops we have seen close are coffee shops that have pretty much just denied union rights to their baristas, which is ludicrous. We've covered that a lot on Boss Barista, but everything you're saying totally makes sense to me. And I don't know, I guess it just speaks to your strength of character, which is pretty cool.

Melissa: Well, thanks. You know what, I think I had a, not a great thought, but an okay thought.

Ashley: All thoughts welcome here.

Melissa: I think for me, it took me so long to make sense of what skills either I possessed or could do—I'm still figuring it out—or what kind of creative I was, or if I was going to be one to make money or if I was going to be that reclusive creative. And coffee was sort of my little tool to say, “Okay, huh? What are we doing here?”

And organically just things started coming. The other thing is too is I'm a person of color, but for me, I'm not one of those shops or brands or people who have to post, “Hey, I'm a person of color. Hey, I'm this. I'm that.” That doesn't work for me. I happen to be a woman. I happen to be Black. I happen to really love a lot of great music. I happen to really like coffee.

It's like all these things are organic and they’re not contrived or anything. They're just like literally flowing through me. I don’t go on my Instagram and say, “Okay, what am I going to? What pictures I'm going to take?” I have a lot of pictures and it really just deals with lifestyle.

I don't want to go—there’s a lot of coffee places you go to and it's like, “How many times can I see latte art? How many times did I see a coffee cup? I can do that at home. I could do that at the shop.” I mean, I get it, but a lot of the coffee brands, not all of them, but a lot of them too have sort of led that way where it's like, “Okay, well you got to show instead of just being,” does that make any sense?

Ashley: No, that totally makes sense.

I think maybe this is a little bit contrived, so maybe go with me on this one.

But I think that just speaks to the idea of what we were talking about earlier about aggressive growth. I think for so long in the coffee industry and pretty much any industry in general, we've had this idea that if you're not growing, you're not thriving. You're either growing or you're diminishing, but it seems like COVID has really taught us, I hope, that it is okay to do the thing that you want to do and be content in that thing that you want to do. You don't have to have a hundred coffee shops. You don't have to have a big expansive bakery or whatever to be successful.

And that goes back to the idea of knowing what's right for you and being like, “This works for me, this business model works for me,” or, “This messaging works for me.” And not to say that that won't change again. This is not about being rigid, but rather about pursuing things willy-nilly without thinking, “Why does this serve my business?”

For example, you switching from a multi-roaster to Onyx, that is a decision where I was like, “Oh yeah, duh, of course, that makes sense to me, you actively pursue quality really aggressively. And Onyx produces some of the best coffees in the world.” And the co-branding thing that you're doing with them is really cool. We'll talk about that in a minute. But at the same time, I see other coffee shops who are doing other things and it seems like, “Oh, maybe you're doing this because this is what you think is right. But it's not true to you.” Yeah.

Melissa: That's kinda what I'm trying to say. (Laughs)

Ashley: We’re getting to those points. We're just circling each other.

Melissa: I talk in in circles sometimes.

Ashley: So let's talk a little bit about Chicago coffee specifically. I mean, we have pretty much only talked about Chicago coffee, but I was wondering what it's been like for you to see more and more pop-ups in the style that you've been popping up. I would say you were probably one of the first to do it in the city. What has it been like to see other coffee shops kind of pop up during this time? What does this make you feel about the Chicago coffee community?

Melissa: It's interesting. And this is solely based on—this is an emotional answer. Like anything, things become really popular. I called it many, many, many, many, many years ago, but coffee is like that thing. Not tea, but coffee. Boutiques have them, barbershops have them, I mean, coffee is everywhere.

And now seeing that Chicago is kind of slowly getting into that, where you have coffee and South Side, the West Side, the North Side, in the hood, in the suburbs, you can find something, somewhere—before you had just a few places to go or you just make it at home or you just suffer with bad coffee. I think too, it's become very Brown.

Instagram I call my family. Chicago is my home, but Instagram is really my virtual family, my virtual cheerleading squad. I virtually cheer for people on there. So here [in Chicago], I think people are still trying to figure it out. I think as usual, some people do stuff for the wrong reasons. Some people just do it because they want to jump on the bandwagon. And some people are just interested in it.

And like I said, they had to pivot, they had to figure something else out because they didn't want to go crazy. They had to do something. So it's like all types of reasons people have started their coffee business or the coffee space business or the mobile coffee. I think to me, and I'm kind of hard on Chicago, I think it’s still very separated, not just by race, but by neighborhood.

This is just a very, to me, separated city. It just is. It is. So why would I think the coffee scene would be different? I mean, you have to have people who run it so naturally they're going to bring in how they feel and it just becomes a mini Chicago if that makes any sense—a mini Chicago coffee scene.

I think it's getting better. I haven't gone to every coffee shop. I haven't had everybody's coffee. I have gone to quite a few. There are some gimmicks to me, but that's not my business. I wish you the best and things will play out the way they're supposed to. Then there's some people who are really into it. And I totally appreciate that. It's somebody to talk to you. Before, I didn't have anybody to talk to. Like I said, Instagram was my family. I could talk to Ian [Williams] from Deadstock or Nigel [Price] from Drip.

Now I have more opportunities to go to somebody's space, experience what they're trying to do, learn about their way of, I don't know, getting into the coffee scene or their history of being a barista for 10 years and finally they want a coffee shop. You have those spaces now. Before it was like, “Who do I talk to about this?”

Ashley: Right, right! Yeah. That feels similar to me too. For awhile, I felt it was because I was an outsider—because I think when I had met you, I'd only been in Chicago for less than a year. And I felt like, “Oh, maybe I'm just not part of this community. Maybe I'm just outside of it.”

But then I would talk to my partner, Jesse, who worked for Intelligentsia for almost a decade. And he even expressed some of the fragmented nature of it and I will blame Intelligentsia—I'll name them—for part of that. I think that's true of any city that has one major player in general. And I think that's true of any city that has a dining scene or a whatever scene that kind of takes over at a very particular moment in time.

I think for a while, and maybe this is, I don't know if you agree with this, but I feel like Chicago was just stuck, because Intelligentsia was so dominant for so long and it was the innovator for so long. And then you get stuck in that moment. This is not like a knock for or against any particular brands per se, but just commenting on how a coffee company who's dominant can stall progress.

Melissa: I agree. And if it wasn't for Intelligentsia, you wouldn't have a lot of other people. I don't hate on them, I don't hate on Starbucks because this is all part of the experience. You can't have one without the other, but I think, I don't feel like coffee was … I think it was very personal here. I don't think it was as important. You know what I mean?

We'll have a coffee shop. We'll be really scientific about it. And you know, we're into this. But I don't think it was a necessary thing, which is why to me, I couldn't find any good coffee shops. I mean, you happen to be in a bodega or a diner and you have some coffee, but it wasn't like we got to have good coffee.

It was like you had to go to certain places. Most of the time it was downtown or up north where maybe coffee was valued more. Because for some reason, the South Side, they didn't think they value coffee, maybe the South Side didn't value coffee, even though people drink coffee every day, they make it at home. They have great-grandparents and they'd grown up with it. I just don't think it was valued the same way.

I think too it was intimidating, because it's like, “How do I make this a business?” It's coffee and it's complex like beer, wine, bourbon … You would talk to people and it's like, “Oh my God, I don't know anything about that. I just like the drink.” I'm coming from [the perspective of] a consumer. I'm not coming from a worker. I'm coming from a consumer that's now behind the bar.

It was very important and it was really upsetting to me. Especially, and I lived in New York and you had thousands of little bitty spots, restaurants, whatever. I still had trouble finding really good coffee. It wasn't a big deal [then]. It's a big deal now. It's a way of life for a lot of people. It's a way of communication for a lot of people, a way of expression, which is great.

I think now you're starting to see people of color are now like, “Hey, hello, I drink coffee. I've been drinking coffee. My grandma has been drinking coffee. My mother's been drinking coffee. What's this all about?” But it's still some kind of … still a divide there because, say for instance, the coffee masters or the coffee key holders—they're not really helpful to everybody. You know what I mean? And granted, it depends on how you approach things. If you approach things wrong, you're going to get what you get. But it hasn't been presented in a comfortable way or a welcoming way. It's been very intimidating.

Ashley: Yeah. That makes sense to me. I totally get what you're saying.

And again, not to knock anybody specifically, but just the way I think that coffee has been served in Chicago for so long until I would say very recently, it is super intimidating. You have to know what a pour over is. You have to know what the single-origin menu means. It's like we went from zero to a hundred without any space in between to build up a customer base. So naturally that customer base became pretty stratified because we didn't think about accessibility.

I think that’s where Chicago really suffered. So that's why we don't have as many community shops. We don't have as many people who are like, “Oh, I live here, I'm going to build a coffee shop here,” or, “I want to start a concept bar because I care about X, Y, and Z. and I don't necessarily have a built-in customer base.” Which is really interesting.

I was wondering, as we start to think about what the future holds, what are you thinking about? What's on your mind, because you said you're a futurist, you think ahead—what's ahead for you?

Melissa: Well, I'm not going to reveal that. (Laughs) Because I do change my mind too.

Honestly, Ashley, I don't know. And I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing because I am definitely the person that takes risks, but then there's a fear there—but I definitely will jump off the cliff and be like, “I have no idea how I'm going to land, but I have to jump off the cliff, you know?”

I don't really know. I'm hoping to make Everybody's Busy a bigger brand, because like I said, it's not just about coffee. It's also about culture and about paying homage and design and art and photography, all these organic things that I do. It's also about raising awareness—I mean, music is my number-one love, in case you don't know that.

My Instagram pretty much says I'm a music head. I don't know all music, but music is my lifeline and I've kind of used coffee to push that agenda. I don't know how it’s communicating with everybody.

I would like to see, for instance, because it is a very divided city, South Side, North Side, the West Side—and granted, the kids have changed, the industry has changed, but for it to be such a … it was a soulful town. It was a music town. A lot of people from the music industry came out of the Midwest, came out of Chicago, came out of the South Side. Nobody looks back—like there's no soul as a whole, like there's people who have souls, but for me there’s no soul. I don't know what that looks like, but like I said, it's me pushing a mostly musical agenda and really trying to get people to play more music, play other music.

You got to go back to the past, because if you didn't have the past, you wouldn't have right now. Instruments, bass, I mean, like just that feeling. I don't really feel that when I'm here, I'm not going to compare us to New York or LA, because that's completely different. We're in the middle, so we're different. But I'm really trying to push that.

I don't even know how to put it into words. It's an experience, but it's also paying homage and it's also learning. Music does a lot, but right now it doesn't seem like it gets credit, if that makes any sense. I mean, it literally is like chicken noodle soup. It does a lot. And it blows my mind when I go into spaces, and they don't really ... it's either in the background or they kind of abuse it. I know as my opinion, bad music, whatever. It's just—it's abuse to me. I … (Sigh)

Ashley: I used to know this one barista who would play nu metal at like, 7 a.m. And I was like, “Why are you doing this to people?” But I see what you're saying.

I think it's easy to enter a space and feel like, and I'm going to extrapolate a little bit outward from the music analogy because I think it can apply to a lot of different things, but it feels like there's not consideration for a holistic experience.

Melissa: OK.

Ashley: Does that make sense?

Melissa: Yeah.

Ashley: Music is part of that.

Melissa: I don't think people are thinking about that. Because they also haven't been taught to, they're not accustomed to that. Maybe nobody told them it was okay. Because for so long, you'd go into spaces and you'd have Muzak playing. There’d be somebody in Seattle who's basically programmed all his music, sent it to the store and you have to listen to that over and over again. Now, and same with all these streaming services, to now create a playlist or create a vibe it's a job for certain people. You know what I mean? It's a lot. To run the register, to make the coffee, watch the people, but you got to worry about the music too.

Ashley: You also have to worry about all of it, right? You have to worry about the seating, you have to worry about where your lids are. I get really frustrated when there's not a natural flow in a coffee shop, where it's like, “Okay, if I enter, where do I exit? Am I bumping into people?” Like it's all of it.

It's not to diminish music by any means. But I think that you can take that example and extrapolate outward and think, “How do we think about this experience holistically?” And I think you're right. We don't really teach people how to do that because a lot of that is subtle. If you're doing a good job, you don't really notice it. You know what I mean? It all flows. So it's really hard to say this is actually super intentional. Especially when we don't have a lot of examples of that in Chicago. That's what … I dunno?

Melissa: I mean, like you said, if you have to worry about all facets and maybe music kind of falls to the side, I'm not saying everybody can do that. Because you just can't. If that's not your thing, that's not your thing.

I get up every morning. I don't know who I'm going to see. I don't know who I'm going to run into. I don't know who I'm going to be introduced to, but I'm ready, if that makes any sense.

And I think we sort of miss that—and that's me being like, kind of petty—but we sorta miss that expression from our clothes, our feet, our hats, or not wearing hats. It's a total thing. And you don't always see that and that's that either you have it or you don't.

I'm not mad at anybody if they don't have it, but it's full on you trust that person when you go in [their space]. It's like, “Oh shit, look at this. All right. The product—it's gotta be good because everything else in here is good.” And a lot of times you don't see that it's like half-assed, and that's not something that a lot of people can control because if you don't own it, what can you do? But just show up and go to work.

(Sighs) I just want a lot.

I just want a lot and it's not necessarily fair. And I mean, I'm not perfect by any means. I'm still figuring out. But I want an experience or I want to be inspired.

Ashley: I think that's a pretty good place to end. Thanks, Melissa, for taking time to talk to me.

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