Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ryan Castelaz, Founder of Discourse Coffee LLC., located in Milwaukee, WI, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I'm the Founder and Creative Director of Discourse Coffee Workshop and The Counter Day Bar. Discourse is an avant-garde re-imagination of the American coffee tradition, and The Counter is a non-alcoholic craft cocktail bar serving 3, 5, and 7-course cocktail tasting menus alongside a la carte N/A cocktails, beers, and wines. Our guests are coffee, tea, and cocktail lovers who value thoughtfully prepared drinks from incredible producers and passionate baristas and bartenders.
Tell us about yourself
I spent the first 2/3 of my life pursuing a career as a professional opera singer. While studying opera performance in Florence, Italy, I fell in love with espresso culture and the simple ritual of stopping at my favorite coffee counter each morning, slapping a Euro coin on the bar, and knocking back my shot. I loved the moment of connection, the opportunity to slow down, and how it sped me up!
When I returned home to Wisconsin, I fell down a years-long rabbit hole of coffee obsession, culminating in a signed lease for our first space in Sister Bay. Our first shop was hard to find, tucked into the lower level of an old shopping complex with next to no street signage, and played counter to the traditional volume-based coffee business model. We met this challenge by developing a methodology for narrative drink making: creating coffee and tea drinks that sought to tell our stories and the stories of the land we shared.
Seven years, three stores, and one book later, I continue to cherish the opportunity to create meaningful things with people I love. Truthfully, we're just a bunch of goofs putting things into cups, but to see the impact what we do has on our guests is an enduring honor and privilege.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment as a business owner is learning how to trust. While this may seem like an unconventional answer, our company only began to truly grow when I was able to loosen the reins and trust others, like my incredible business partners Sean Liu and Olivia Molter, Jenna Karsten, Dan Soboleski, and Zoe Lomenzo, my tremendous management team. The same principle applies to the production of my book, The New Art of Coffee: From Morning Cup to Caffeine Cocktail, which was a product of trust from start to finish.
I feel many of us, as business owners, believe that no one else can care about our business as much as we do, so we must do everything ourselves, even when we don't excel in the area in question. We refuse to trust anyone with "our baby." When I opened myself to trusting those around me, allowing them to handle the areas of the company where I was less naturally inclined so I could focus on my strengths, the company began to see stratospheric growth, scaling from 2 to 15 team members in just 12 months. None of my biggest accomplishments would have been possible without trust, and the team we've built together is, without a fraction of a doubt, the thing I'm most proud of.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Maintaining motivation through adversity can be an incredibly daunting task. You will stumble and fall as a business owner. You will run into roadblocks and adversity. At times, you will feel isolated, misunderstood, overworked, and supremely underpaid. There is no such thing as an entrepreneurship journey without turbulence. In fact, it's navigating the turbulence, not avoiding it, that creates tremendous entrepreneurs. You must have an unshakeable love for your vision and a relentless desire to bring it into the world, no matter what it takes.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Be extremely clear about your vision, and ensure that it resonates through every guest and employee touch point. It is this clarity that allows your team and your guests to unify behind your brand and become lifelong loyalists.
- Hire people you can trust to cover for your weaknesses as soon as finances allow. It's okay if it takes the company from profitable to break even; the right hire will make money back at 2x the rate.
- While having a part or full-time job outside of your business is a great way to stay fiscally afloat at the beginning stages of your new endeavor, know that you will never be able to achieve to growth you desire with one foot in the pool and one foot out. In order to achieve explosive growth in your business, do like the ancient Greeks: burn the boats.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.