Jan 5, 2021 • 51M

Crystal Graham and Toni Dale of On The Go Jo Will Find a Way or Make One

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Ashley Rodriguez
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This episode is full of laughter and joy, and shared moments of growth and reflection.

On The Go Jo is a coffee company based in Chicago, Illinois. Founded by three friends—Crystal Graham, Toni Dale, and Quiana DeBerry—the business started out as a mobile coffee cart and has since expanded to a bustling e-commerce site whose reach extends well beyond Chicago city limits.

In this episode, I chat with Crystal and Toni, and we talk about how On The Go Jo came to be. The two met in college, and their story is a tale about the serendipity of paths intertwining. While describing their mission for On The Go Jo—which is to empower women across the coffee supply stream, and to showcase beautiful coffees for their customers—they also share how they’ve grown together, both as business partners and as friends.

Growth has been a necessary part of running the business. Crystal, Toni, and Quiana, do everything—literally everything. They source coffee, they roast, they work on packaging, and they invest in their community. At one point, Crystal reflects on how they’ve been able to be so industrious and creative: She lives by her school—Clark Atlanta University—motto: “I will find a way or make one.”

There’s so much good stuff in this conversation, from what it means to recalibrate your business during a pandemic to how to set values and intentions for your work. What always fascinates me in observing partnerships like Crystal and Toni’s is how adept they are at empowering one another, and how through that continued support—which takes the form of pushing each other, identifying the other’s strengths, and supporting each other during tough times—they’ve been able to fully execute their vision.

That approach isn’t just limited to their own working relationship. They’re also deeply connected with the folks they source coffee from, and are incredibly close with their customers and fans. And each bag of coffee you buy from On The Go Jo supports local social initiatives, which change every month.

As you listen to their story, I’d encourage you to reflect on the people who make up your own community. Maybe you have a business or creative partner, or even just someone you work closely with. We don’t often take time to think about how these relationships impact us in daily life and make us better, but I hope this conversation helps you make space for the people who truly build you up. Here are Crystal and Toni.

Ashley: So I'm here with On The Go Jo, and I was hoping that both of you could introduce yourselves to our audience.

Crystal: Sure. So I am Crystal Graham, and I am one of the co-founders of On The Go Jo.

Toni: And I am Toni Dale. And I’m also a co-founder of On The Go Jo.

Ashley: How did you two meet?

Toni: Crystal and I met at college—at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. We had a mutual friend, and it's very funny because Crystal always says that when she initially met me, she thought I was annoying and that my voice was too high-pitched and she was kind of giving me the side-eye like, “Who was this girl?”

But I was like—almost 20 years later, we are still friends.

Crystal: Yes, yes, yes. The first time [we met] it was just this high-pitched, high-energy, and I was a very mellow and chill girl in overalls. And I was just like, “Who is this girl? And why is she so loud?” But yeah, we have been friends for almost 20 years—through a lot of good and bad and ups and downs, but we're here and we're excited to talk to you today.

Ashley: I'm so thrilled to talk to both of you, and I want to step back a little bit and talk about your first memories of coffee. Do you think you can recount a particularly visceral moment with coffee or maybe the first time you were like, “Oh wow! Coffee can taste really good?”

Crystal: I know for me, I was about 11. My mom used to take me on a lot of her meetings. I just remember—I think I snuck [a sip of coffee] the first time and I used to see people put a bunch of cream and sugar, so of course it was diluted, but I just remember liking it, which I know a lot of kids don't usually like it the first time around. So I think for me, I kind of always associated coffee with adulthood and business and community. But yeah, about 11 years old was my first sip.

Toni: I think I had to be in grammar school for sure, in my grandparents' kitchen. They would always prepare their brewed coffee the night before so that when they get up, they would just press it on and have their cup together in the morning. And I remember they would put eggshells in the basket and I always wondered why. They said that it made it more smooth.

So I of course wanted to try it, and I did not like it, but I remember that was just their routine in the morning. I feel like that reminds me of home a little bit.

Ashley: I love when people share stories about coffee in their lives, especially during childhood, because I feel like coffee is one of the only things that people have these childhood memories of that they take into adulthood—and then perhaps start a business like you folks did. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your lives before you decided, “We're going to do coffee, we're going to start this business together.”

Crystal: So like, that's gonna make us sound old. (Laughs)

Before this, I've actually moved around quite a bit. After the University of Illinois I actually went to Atlanta to attend Clark Atlanta University—so shout out to all my HBCU grads. I switched majors from communication to education, and I finally found my thing, which was—which is—marketing. So after Atlanta, I moved to New York and had—have—a pretty successful marketing career before coffee.

Toni: I finished school at the University of Illinois—Crystal left me and went to Atlanta. My background is in sales. So I have been that telemarketer, straight out of college, asking people for their social security number on a one-call close. That person asking for alumni contributions. It was tough directly out of college, trying to get a job that I didn't hate going to every day. I've done medical sales. And I do sales for On The Go Jo. And that has been my career since 2005.

Ashley: What made you decide to start a business together?

Toni: It was very random, I would say.

My husband and I were on vacation. We just had to get away. So Michigan is kind of in the backyard and we were at this really cute little eclectic community coffee shop. And I remember doing a Marco Polo or something random with Quiana and Crystal and I'm like, “Why can't we have something nice like this? The community needs it. It will be amazing. We should open up a coffee shop.”

Ashley: And what did you think when you heard that idea?

Crystal: I'm an entrepreneur at heart, so right away, I was like, “Yup. Okay. What do we need to do?”

I'm a big researcher. So like, right away, I feel like we got on it. It wasn't something we sat on. It was immediately [us] on Google researching, “What's the cost?”

We quickly learned that it is very expensive at the time—more than we thought. I think first you have these big ideas and then you don't really see how much is an espresso machine. How much is the build-out? How much is all of this?

And we really wanted to fund it ourselves. We didn't want to go the loan route. And then one day I was just walking home from work and it just came to me that we should have a pop-up—like a pop-up cart or something to that effect. I had never seen it before, but it literally just came to me. And then I Marco Polo-ed the girls back and said, “I got it. We should have a cart where we just pop up at different events. Toni, you like events. And I like this and we can do events at random places—at bookstores, at weddings.” And then that's kind of how the mobile coffee cart idea started.

Ashley: Do you remember that first event you did together?

Toni & Crystal: Oh, yes.

Ashley: Tell me about it.

Toni: It was 800 people at a wedding, the first…

Crystal: No, that wasn't our first event.

Toni: You know what? We did a festival in Cantigny Park. I think that was the very first event that we did was in Naperville at Cantigny Park.

And I remember we had so much stuff. We didn't know how to scale down initially. Now we do an event and we really just have one little to-go-ready bin that we bring with us. But I just remember having an exorbitant amount of things. It was just ridiculous, now that I look back on it. Essentially you're bringing your cafe to a location with you, so you have to have things, but that particular event was beyond! We had maybe three cars worth of stuff at that time, and we didn't have a van and it was just, it was ridiculous how much stuff we had.

Crystal: I still kinda like having a lot of stuff because I don't like doing store runs or Instacart mid-event.

Toni: But no! Now we know what we're supposed to have at the event—just like that checklist and it's good to go. But that first event was overboard for sure.

Ashley: You wanted to make sure you had everything.

Crystal: That’s true. We did have a small launch event in Toni's backyard. And we kind of like to remember that that was our actual first first event, even though it was for family and friends. It was a lot of work and that's where we learned to [decide] who's going to do what, because sometimes if you don't map everything to who's going to own it, you can all just run around in chaos. And I think that day was the day where we were like, “Okay, we just gotta make sure we know who's doing what.”

But I like that we have this little backyard story [of how] we started out because Toni just recently said, “From the backyard to Bloomingdale's” and we're claiming that. We're going to be from the backyard to someone's shelves soon. We're going to claim that. So that was our very, very first event.

Toni: That's true.

Ashley: I love that phrase, “From the backyard to Bloomingdale's.” I just wrote that down.

Something that you said in that answer that I really liked as well—and you even started the conversation with what specific roles each of you has at On The Go Jo—is that you were able to really delineate positions. Like, “You're doing this, you're doing that,” because as you mentioned, if you don't delineate who's doing what, it can kind of devolve into chaos. So I was wondering: You folks are friends, but being business partners with someone is very different from being their friend. I was wondering what was that process like of learning an entirely new relationship with somebody?

Toni: It's a work-in-progress. I think we're still learning, because we are evolving as women and friends and business owners, that I think it is ongoing. I really can't say we have to figure it out, because that would not be the truth, but we are continuously working towards a goal and we're a team. So we know that everyone has the best interest [of the business].

Crystal is the most organized person that I feel like I know. So she definitely keeps on task, like organized Google Docs … she’s like [the person who keeps us] organized. So I think that has helped us structure for sure.

Crystal: Yeah. I mean, Toni and I met when we were in college, so we are totally different people than when we were in college. So I think it's learning who each other are as adults now. Now, we're mothers, we're wives, we're totally different people. So I think as we're growing, we're learning each other more as friends and as business owners. But I think now, even though it's still a learning process and we're still learning each other and ourselves as well, I think we pretty much know each other's strengths, and we're able to play off of that.

Like Toni, I know she's a morning person. If I asked her to do something late at night it's maybe a little quirky. I'm a night person. I'm a night owl, I can get things done at night. I'm the marketer, the brand person, and Toni’s gonna sell it. So I think it was more so learning each other’s skills from a partnership level, because we had never entered in that space before, but I think the friendship is kind of what keeps us grounded.

There have been many times where I'm like, “I would not be doing this or staying up this late if it wasn't for me knowing that at the end of the day, these are my friends. I know I gotta have Toni's back, so I'm going to do it.” So I think that kind of strengthens us in a way as well.

Ashley: I love partnerships just because I think that they force you to really learn someone's skillset outside of traditional ways that we think about partnerships, right? We think about partnerships as our spouses or significant others. But when we think about the friendships that we form and how they evolve and change … I don't know? I just find those things to be really exciting. So seeing that you folks have known each other for so long and have had different phases of your friendship evolve and change, I think is really fascinating.

So let's talk about the name, which I'm going to cut out obviously, but I already flubbed it up at the very beginning. It's one of those ones where if you say it five times fast, I feel like it'll be [a tongue-twister], but On The Go Jo has an origin story. So can you talk a little bit about the name and where it came from?

Toni: With the fact that we were mobile, we had a couple of names that we got family and friends to vote on. At the end of the day, we kind of felt like, “That's it. On The Go Jo? Yeah!” It goes with a theme, it's a brand story. And we went with it.

Crystal: Toni definitely came up with a name. I remember we had like “Rise and Grind” and some other ones that we all felt were strong. And then we got to the last three and I do remember Toni being really strong about On The Go Jo. And I was like, “Okay…” What sealed it for me, and we kept going back and forth, was taking the “e” off. I remember she did not want to take the “e” off.

Toni: Crystal, I feel like she has such a bad memory, but then she remembers all the stuff that I don't remember. I promise you, I don't remember not wanting to take the “e” off. (Laughs)

Crystal: You didn't want to take the “e” off! And of course, I'm this researcher, right away, I'm going to Google and I'm like, “Well, ‘Joe’ means ‘an average man.’ We are not average, and we are not men. We want to be more than average.” That's why I was like, “Let's take off the ‘e’ and then the ‘Jo’ represents a female voice as well. So that's how we took the “e” off of the “Joe.”

Toni: And I think that came into our catchphrase too. Like, “Not your average cup of joe.”

Crystal: Exactly.

Ashley: It's funny how those things can fall into place. You make one decision and then it's like, “Oh wait, all of this makes sense now.”

Toni: Yeah. That is true. Now my memory is coming back! (Laughs)

Ashley: If I'm doing my job as an interviewer, then that's good that you're remembering things. It's always fun to hear stories that people were like, “Oh, I didn't think of that,” or like, “Oh, that's right!” I actually had one of those sense memories yesterday because I was telling my mom about a true crime podcast that I like, and she was like, “Yeah, of course you like true crime, we watched ‘Dateline’ all the time.” And I was like, “Oh yeah!”

So tell me a little bit about the idea of leaving off that “e,” because it does represent a lot of your brand identity as women and as a coffee company that focuses on women producers.

Toni: I think that was really the start. And that's what I just love about Crystal so much. Because—(to Crystal) no seriously—because she is thinking ahead, an idea that she might come up with six months down the line, it just weaves into our brand story and the women-produced, women-roasted, all of that symbolizes On The Go Jo, and taking that “e” off is a part of the brand story.

Crystal: That's true. A lot of things we were just led … part of it is definitely a marketing background, but a lot of it we were led to do. And that's why I just feel like this has always been like—this is just our destiny. I feel like how we met, how things just kind of come together, we were just kind of led to do this.

Of course, before it was just like, yeah, we're women, we are females. We don't want to have a typical cup of joe. And if anyone's ever seen our mobile coffee cart events, we really step out of the box with coffee. Of course, we sell your traditional black coffee, but we have honey lavender lattes, we have On Cloud Nine, which is a cotton candy coffee. We have 24 karat gold [coffees]. So that's kind of where that not-traditional cup of joe came from.

But then as we started researching and really hearing more about female farmers and how they're doing a lot of the work … and on our quest to find more [information], we would see that a lot of women in some countries can't own land or have a hard time owning land.

So it was just like, “Wow, we really need to focus and bring more female coffee producers to the limelight. Why aren't they highlighted more? Why haven’t we heard more about their stories?”

A lot of times you're just drinking a cup of coffee and you don't think that much. I mean, I can't say the first time I had a cup of coffee, even as an adult, that I thought about, “I wonder who got these beans and who roasted them and what is the work that went behind it.” I'm just enjoying it from a consumer level. But as we learned more about this industry and did a deeper dive, it is so many amazing women who make things happen behind the scenes, and why not highlight them? Of course it limits us because there’s not a ton—not as much as it would be male ownership—but why not highlight the amazing work that these women producers are doing?

And it's a lot of women importers as well. When we got on the call with you, Ashley, we talked about the amazing work that Phyllis Johnson is doing. And that was the first person I can say that I looked to as a mentor. Just watching from the sidelines, just being on Instagram and seeing the way she inspires people and the way she started her business. So she was the first person that I reached out to as an importer. I said, “Phyllis, do you have any women coffee producers that we can work with?” And of course, she had someone, and someone that we started working with that we have now, which is our Burundian coffee.

Ashley: I think that that's a good point. Something that you just described is this idea of women throughout the supply chain—and not just working with women farmers, which is incredibly important work, but thinking about the importer, is that a women-owned business, the purveyors that you work with … So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you made these decisions. At what point did it go from, “We're three women who own this business,” to, “Oh, that message of women empowerment and sharing the stories of women really translates throughout our entire business.”

Crystal: I think it was because we couldn't find a lot. When I was researching, it wasn't readily available about women farmers. I didn't even think that—we're here in the United States—I didn't even think that it would be an issue for someone to own land or that there are certain jobs that women can't do and in certain countries.

The more I researched and learned, the more important it was to highlight. We work with various different importers, not just women importers. Phyllis is definitely one, but we definitely only focus on women coffee producers. And I can't really say initially it was … it was definitely more so our mission because we are female. But I don't think we realize how difficult and hard it would be until we got into it. And I think for me, that made it even more important.

There were definitely times we were like, “Oh man, this coffee tastes great, but it's from a male producer,” and not to say that we don't support men, because we do, we have a lot of mentors who are men. It was because it's not seen as much, and because women are not highlighted as much in coffee.

It was more of a, “Why not? Why not empower women through coffee?” And then I think the roasting part just took on another arm of it. Toni definitely has more experience on the roasting side. I pretty much do all of our sourcing and working with our importers and getting our female-produced coffees. And then Toni handles the roasting side and had some experiences with that as well.

Ashley: How do you make decisions about the coffees that you source, Crystal? Obviously, you talk about women coffee producers, but when you're sitting and cupping or looking at different coffee profiles, how are you making decisions about what you put on your menu?

Crystal: I love a good story. So a lot of times I do a deep dive into their story. I want to hear more about the women coffee producers, so I'll either talk to the importer about them, Instagram, Google, just find out as much as I can because a lot of these women are doing great work in their country.

They are sending women to school, putting daycares on the farm so that the women can work and take care of their children at the same time. I like to focus on the story, but then I just kind of present it to the team. A lot of times I don't tell them so that it doesn't skew when they're tasting. But I always, in the back of my head, will say, “Oh, I hope they liked this Burundi,” or, “I hope they like this Brazil because I know the story of that woman.”

Toni, I would say, is our cupper. We all taste it, but Toni can pick out the flavors and say, “Oh, I taste this blueberry. I taste this chocolate.” I am still a work-in-progress there. I'm like, “I just tasted good coffee.” But she is our go-to cupper and she selects—she's the final voice with our coffees.

Ashley: We kind of transitioned from Crystal sourcing and looking into all the different coffees that you're thinking about bringing in, and then it goes to Toni, who makes the final decisions and roasts the coffee. So I was wondering, Toni, if you could talk a little bit about how you approach that process—what are you trying to look for in each coffee when you’re thinking about roast profiles and how each coffee is going to be served to customers?

Toni: I think that there are a few different tiers. One aspect of it is how do I respond to it? The aroma, the flavor profile, the taste—does it excite me? And then I take it on a journey. We have so many mentors, as Crystal mentioned, that I try to do a couple of blind tastings, see what they think, get some input from family and friends as well. So I do a couple of different stages and hopefully, it leads me back to my favorites, but I hope that people like different things as well.

Fortunately, we have had so many options of just really delicious coffees that have such amazing stories behind them as well that it's made the job a little bit easier—time-consuming, but I'm happy with the few coffees that we've selected thus far. We've gone through maybe 20, 21 different coffees to get us to the three that we have currently that we're offering.

Crystal: Definitely over 30.

We started this journey last year. I would get green beans and I bought a little roaster, a home roaster, and then I would roast it and then I would send it to Toni and Quiana. But then we restarted this year.

The pandemic really allowed us to focus in on the coffee line. We had a really great year with the mobile coffee cart last year, as much as we were trying to get the coffee line off the ground, we had a ton of events. And this year allowed us to really hone in on the coffee business, on the retail coffee line, and sample some more, revisit … I think we tried Phyllis' coffee last year. We tried the Burundi from her last year. So we had to revisit a few, but we've tried a ton. It's crazy. Yeah.

Ashley: I was about to say I'm glad that you talked about COVID, because as you mentioned, you had to pivot your business because you can't really do as many in-person events. But it seems like instead of languishing, you folks are thriving because you've been able to focus on a completely different aspect of your business. So I was wondering what that looks like?

Toni: No, absolutely. We had to cancel weddings and different things to stay aligned with the restrictions and keep our staff safe and just comply. But it's giving us the opportunity … I've been busy! We've been extremely busy! Not necessarily doing events, but we've been working with the packaging, the labels. We also have simple syrups and different products—just executing them from the beginning to now seeing them online is amazing because we know how much time has gone in during the stay-at-home orders. We've been on it, just really trying to execute and launch.

Ashley: I mean, for me looking at how coronavirus has affected coffee shops, it's almost like you either pivot or you perish, which is a bit of a grim way to look at it. But it's interesting to see folks who say, “Okay, this is an opportunity to do something else,” or, “This is an opportunity to focus on a part of our business that we've always wanted to focus on that we maybe didn't have time to do.” And as you mentioned, you folks are busy! You're selling coffee online and you're able to focus more on that aspect of your business. And I was wondering: Was that part of the plan, or have you learned anything new about yourselves being able to focus on a completely different aspect?

Crystal: I wouldn't say start over. I would say the only reason I don't call our retail line a pivot is because it was already in the works last year, but I think the stay-at-home orders and this time has afforded us more time to focus on it.

Our mobile coffee cart business is still our baby, and we look at them like they're together, but they're separate entities as well. So, I mean, I just literally woke up to a text message this morning from someone saying, “Hey, is the mobile coffee card still available? We're having a tree-lighting ceremony in Washington Park.” So right after this, I'm literally gonna talk to someone about that. We have someone that we've been working with in the past, who has residents, so we've been pitching virtual offerings. Maybe we can't serve customer to customer, but we can have that experience virtually now.

So I would say that's been more of the way that we've pivoted our mobile coffee cart, is thinking of virtual offerings, thinking of how do we package a barista in a box? How do we deliver our experience safely?

But the retail line is so new and so different. And that's why I don't call it a pivot, because it's a completely new baby. It has different needs. It's stepping into new territory—e-commerce—because with our mobile coffee cart, we're only in Chicago right now. So we have built relationships with event planners and caterers, and now with e-commerce, this is all over the world.

It's not that one-to-one where we can call an event planner and go and sit and have a cup of coffee with them and build that relationship, and they're going to have multiple brides throughout the year. This is every single day trying to find new customers, trying to get people to go to the website, trying to tell people our story and why it's important to support women-produced and women-roasted and our women-owned coffee line. So it's a completely different strategy and movement. Of course they're sisters, but they are completely different.

This time has definitely allowed us to just focus on this baby, but then also see what's next. What do we do? How do we reinvent ourselves if this does continue to go on for another year, God forbid?

Ashley: That's a good point that I didn't even think about—you did events and you have these relationships with event planners and a lot of it's very local. You do local events because you're based in Chicago, you have a cart here, but having an online business and focusing more on, “Okay, we're online, we need to ship coffee more. We need to build relationships with customers.”

I imagine that last part, building relationships with customers, isn't new, obviously, because you're selling coffee out of your mobile cart or you're doing events, but I imagine it's probably a different relationship with customers, right? You have people who maybe are repeat buyers, or you have people who you maybe are not going to see in person. And I wonder what the response has been like on that end. Because I imagine it has to be different.

Crystal: Definitely. I think we treat it the same way. A lot of people love us because of our customer service with the mobile coffee cart. When you are talking to someone with our card and you're working with sales, you're working with Toni, you're working with the owner of the company. So far, I mean, we'll see once we grow larger, but so far we have been able to talk directly to customers.

We have a coffee club and each month customers get coffee, you know, freshly roasted coffee to their door—I've been taking that same approach. We have a number where you can text us. So I will literally talk to our customers and say, “How was your coffee?” And then they'll text me back and say, “Oh my God, I woke up and I'm smelling the brews and you already know how good it is.”

So I'm taking that same approach with our customer service for our retail line, where we want people to feel like we're right there with you. Of course we can't have a cup of coffee with you. We want to, but we're right there with you. You're not getting an automated service. You're getting real people.

We want to build relationships with people. We want to hear how they liked the coffee, see them unboxing their box. Every time we see one of those, it just warms my heart. I can't get enough of seeing that black tissue paper open. Then I see the bag underneath it—I'll never get tired of that. I feel like we're building that same experience with our retail line. Of course, hopefully we grow really, really big. We may not be able to do that, but for now we want to have that one-to-one interaction with our customer. That's important to us.

Ashley: So I'm in Chicago, you folks are in Chicago. I'm so thrilled to see more folks opening coffee shops in Chicago because as we were talking about before we recorded, for a long time, there weren't really a ton of options for great coffee in Chicago, especially owned by small businesses—which is wild because Chicago is the third biggest city in the nation. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what it means to be a Chicago business.

Toni: I would say the first thing that popped into my mind was community. Yes, we're all selling coffee and we want customers, but I don't feel the sense of competition that you might feel in other industries.

I can maybe count on one hand the number of people that I've reached out to that may not have returned my call. People are ready and willing to give you resources, information, direct you to a path. That has been so warm and welcoming. And we do the same thing. Someone from Atlanta reached out about their mobile coffee cart, wanting to be mentored—we're going to give that same advice and those same resources that we've received because we've been embraced by different coffee shops, our mentors, people who are doing this every day. They have skin in the game, maybe 10, 20, 30 years of experience that they're willing to share their experiences with us. So I would say Chicago coffee equals community.

Ashley: That's awesome. And I think that makes me very excited to be part of this coffee community. Because I know for a long time, I felt a little bit out to sea and I think in the last year or so, many people have shown up for the Chicago coffee community and it makes me excited to be part of it.

Toni: Right. Because sometimes you don't know what you don't know—that's where it's helpful to have these various mentors to just ask questions. And not even just in Chicago—I have a mentor in California that I can call and ask questions and they are willing to give me time and Zoom and really be there. So it's really been so much love and we've been embraced, and it's awesome.

Ashley: So I want to try something a little bit wonky. It might not work. (Laughs)

But because you both are here, and like I said, I love partnerships. I really love thinking about how people relate to one another. And there was this thing on the New York Times a couple of years ago called “The 36 Questions To Fall in Love.” And it's not just an experiment for people who are in romantic relationships, but it's a set of questions that people use to foster closeness.

I think one of the questions was, “Say something nice about your partner,” or “Say something nice about the person next to you.” And I was wondering if you don't mind, if both of you would be able to do that for each other.

Crystal & Toni: Yeah. I think we do that all the time.

Ashley: I'm excited. I'm excited to be part of this!

Toni: I would say what I love about Crystal is that she is always saying thank you and pointing out things that you did right. I have to feed off her. She does the marketing, she does the branding. She has the final say when it comes to—we know our roles and we know our lanes—so in that sense, I can say you've done an excellent job with XYZ, and it's just a part of our weekly—like it's just a part of who we are with regards to those positive affirmations.

We kind of know each other's love language a little bit. Mine is more action. Hers is more words of affirmation and things like that. So we give and take because that's how we feel good with regards to what we're doing for the business. Because sometimes we can feel beat up just with all the things that we have going on. And when you say, “You're a good partner. Oh my gosh, you've knocked this out of the park.” That's helping me, you're giving me life right now. And I think vice versa.

Crystal: I would say with Toni, I know she's gonna execute. I know I can count on her to execute. Even if she doesn't know how to do it, she's gonna figure it out and she's going to try to figure it out and she's not gonna stop until she figures it out.

And I think I'm really big on that, just in life, let's just figure it out. My school's motto is, “I'll find a way or make one.” And I live by that. I will make a way, I do not care if someone says, “I don't know how to do it,” or, “I can't do this.” That just motivates me to do more.

I love the fact that she figures things out and she gets it done. I know I can rely on her. And that's a big thing for me, is knowing that I can rely on someone. So yeah, that's what I love about her.

Toni: There's a lot. I'm not being funny. There are so many things as a business partner that I just am so in awe of Crystal—seriously, her creativity, this girl is like a think tank!

She just cranks out ideas that I've seen come to life. It's beautiful to see. I mean, she's going to get it done. I would have quit so many times if it wasn't for her, like legit—it has been a lot at times, because we handle everything from A to Z with the business, but I think, “Okay, I have to get it done. I can't let Crystal down,” and we execute it. But I feel her all the time. If it wasn't for you, girl, I would have quit many days. And that's the truth.

Ashley: Is there anything that you want our listeners to know about On The Go Jo that we didn't talk about?

Crystal: We're behind the scenes, we're doing a lot. I had someone who DMed with me yesterday and said, “Do you guys make your own coffees?” And I was like, “Yeah, where would we get them from?” And I think sometimes if you don't understand what goes on behind coffee, you may just think someone is just scooping up some beans and throwing them in a bag. And that is not the case.

You know if you're in coffee, you know what goes behind it, what goes behind the scenes. But we are researching coffees. We're building relationships with importers, we're sourcing, we're tasting, we're doing the bag designs, we are packaging, we are shipping. We are truly behind the scenes working, and we hope to grow to where we have a ton of people that can help us with this.

But I think it's important that we are touching everything. I was watching Shark Tank last night, and I heard Lori [Greiner] say that she was actually glad that she touched every aspect of her business because then when she was able to put people in place, she was able to put the right people in place.

A lot of times, you've gotta say you don't know what you don't know, and I'm glad that we've been on this journey of learning and that we've been able to learn from some amazing mentors and we're still learning. So I would say a lot of times people, because we're not at the forefront of the business, you don't see us a lot. You may not understand that it's because we have our head down and we're in the thick of things and we are working.

So I would say I want people to know that we are truly passionate about what we put out there. We will go back and forth for months on packaging and how thin a line on the lips should be a part of the person on the bag and how the gold should stand out and how the beans are roasting in a profile—taking it down 1%, taking it up 1%. We are really passionate about what we put out there and we know the impact of it.

One of our farmers, Angele Ciza, who is a farmer from Burundi, she said, “When you're drinking a cup of coffee from Burundi, you are developing the women of Burundi. And when you develop the women of Burundi, you're developing all Burundians,” and understanding that impact—when I drink that now, it is so much bigger and deeper than these girls who just came up with this idea to have a coffee line. It is impacting people way beyond Chicago, way beyond the United States and understanding that impact, I think you'll understand what we're trying to do a bit more.

Ashley: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. This has been an absolutely incredible conversation. So I thank you so much for joining me.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Header photo photography by J Lauryn Photography and styling by Golden Style Consulting.

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