Community over competition

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 A Sofar Sounds concert at Joe Bean last August. (Photo by Emily Hessney Lynch)

Rochester has a thriving coffee scene, with dozens of well-loved coffee shops offering something for everyone across our city. But on the surface, it may be hard to see what makes coffee in Rochester so special. It turns out, the community behind the coffee is just as excellent and unique as the coffee itself.

“The coffee community is strong, and collaborative,” says Nicholas Grunert of Fuego Coffee. Adds Rory Van Grol, owner of Ugly Duck Coffee: “This coffee community truly cares about each other.”

Emily Hessney Lynch

When Fuego Coffee and Joe Bean Roasters experienced occasional problems with their roasters, other shops were happy to assist.

“Coffee roasters can depreciate quickly,” Grunert says. “For the past few months we have had some mechanical issues come up where we can’t roast for a week or two, but other roasters have actually let us use theirs. That is amazing and we are so thankful.”

Joe Bean experienced a similar season of roasting troubles, during which “many of our fellow coffee roasters offered assistance—specifically, Sam Bender at Peaks Coffee, Tony Colon at Fuego, and Wade Reed at Fifth Frame,” says Joe Bean co-owner Kathy Turiano.

From the outside, one might assume that these coffee shops are all competitors, and that a malfunctioning roaster at one establishment would be an advantage to the others. But that’s simply not how Rochester’s coffee professionals see things.

“We want everyone to succeed and raise each other up; there is no way one coffee shop or company can serve all of the people in Rochester,” Van Grol says. “Places are for different people, people connect with different people/places; that’s why there are different coffee shops for different people, different moods, different coffees.”

As the director of I Heart ROC, I often hear people emphasize that our city values community over competition; clearly in the coffee community, this rings especially true. As a result, the quality of both the product and the customer service rises across the board, benefiting all of Rochester’s coffee shop customers.

Sapphire Courchaine, who runs the coffee program at Locals Only, says, “I learned a lot from my mentors starting out, and now I’ve become the mentor. I try to teach acceptance, mindfulness, and not to take anything too seriously.” She’s found the community so supportive that when her cat was sick, her coffee peers chipped in on GoFundMe and encouraged their friends to donate as well. 

For Fuego Coffee’s Grunert, the high quality of Rochester’s coffee shops pushes everyone to do better.

“I am new to Rochester, but since being here I have noticed really high-quality people who value impact. To survive here you need to maintain a certain level of quality, and with increased ‘competition’ it encourages us all to do better and grow better. I love visiting other cafes and learning about where their coffee comes from, what local artist they are supporting on their walls, and thanking them for being here. If the community aspect did not exist here, I think the quality of the cafes would not be the same.”

This mindset of community over competition isn’t something that happens by accident. 

“Community over competition is an intentional decision—it is not something that naturally occurs; it is something agreed upon and then walked out,” says Joe Bean’s Turiano. “Having been a part of many discussions over the years … I know that it was always and still is a value that many in the local coffee community hold very dear and continue to uphold.”

As Courchaine of Locals Only puts it: “A true coffee community is one that is diverse and serves the needs of all; it’s about hospitality and community.” Rather than prioritizing individuals’ success, it’s all about raising up the community and each other.

Rochester’s coffee scene showcases a refreshing approach to business, placing an emphasis on community and relationship-building. The mutually supportive culture is built on a foundation of respect and gratitude for one another, pushing each other to excel for the good of the community. Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from these coffee professionals, finding the good in our competitors, saying thank you, and raising each other up. 

Emily Hessney Lynch is director of I Heart ROC, a collection of interviews and stories by Rochesterians, and founder of Serve Me the Sky Digital, a social media consulting business.

2 thoughts on “Community over competition

  1. Heartening to have community over competition! I support coffee shops, such as Coffee Connection and Abundance Co-op, because their coffee not only is delicious but also it is fairly traded. Coffee Connection states: All our coffee is fair trade, organically-grown, and sustainably-farmed, protecting the environment as well as providing better lives for the farmers and their families. Equal Exchange coffee, sold by the co-op, states: “All of our Fair Trade coffee beans are sourced directly from small-scale farmers as part of a more equitable and sustainable alternative supply chain.”I would be interested to know how many of the coffee shops you mention serve fairly-traded coffee? Thank you!

  2. In the 1970s and 1980s, when I worked a lot with the local printing community (Case Hoyt, Monroe Repro, PMI, etc), I learned that printers would help each other out. One example I remember is when a printer’s air conditioning died in the summer, another printer took the printed paper in so it could dry and the job could be delivered on time. Love the community support. Good to hear it is still alive.

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