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Bite-sized stories of failure and success. Failure bites. It’s painful, discouraging and embarrassing. Just the idea of failure, whether it’s a big messy fail or a small setback, can be hard to digest. It’s time to change the way we think about failure. Yes, failure may be all of those negative things, but failure is also a very important part of learning and growing. Behind every great success story is a long series of failures and challenges that were also learning experiences. Join host Dr. Kristin Brynteson as she talks with successful people about failure, growth and success to inspire you and take the bite out of failure.

Failure Bites - Recipe for Success with Jeff Foster

Visit Common Grounds - https://www.commongroundsdekalb.com/

KB: Welcome to the Failure Bites Podcast. I am your host Kristin Brynteson, helping you take the bite out of Failure one story at a time. What is the recipe for success? Is it a pinch of inspiration and a dash of know-how? Or a heaping spoonful of grit mixed with a generous helping of teamwork. There are as many recipes for success as there are for a good cup of coffee. Nobody knows that better than our guest, Jeff Foster, Owner of Common Grounds Coffee in DeKalb, Il. Listen as shares his search for the recipe for success and a good cup of coffee.

KB: So, I'm here today in Common Grounds with owner Jeff Foster. Hi, Jeff, how are you doing today? 

JF: I'm doing all right. Thanks for stopping by. 

KB: So, I came in today and the place was hopping. So, my guess is, you don't have a failure story to tell us 

JF: You would think so. Right. I mean, every day here is different. I think part of this type of business in particular, but I would say business in general, I've worked for a lot of small businesses, every day is not a success story.

And most weeks on, and you have to, I think get into a mindset of the road ahead in order to be successful, you have to kind of see beyond temporary setbacks. I mean, we faced two major setbacks since the business opened. And I put, I put a, uh, you know, asterisk on the word business because this wasn't started as a business.

The idea wasn't to do business, but to do community. And, uh, that's probably, if there's an anchor that keeps me focused on, you know, why I get up at 6:30 every day to come in here and make coffee, it's probably that anchor. 

KB: So, tell me what are like, is there a specific challenge that really sticks in your head as kind of that pivotal moment or a failure that you had to deal with that you overcame that is kind of part of why you are, where you are today? Or tell me a bit about some of the challenges that you faced. 

JF: Well, the first challenge would be finding the right location. It was very difficult. A lot of, even, even though there were a lot of properties that were available, the best properties are, you know, really kept close to someone's chest. You know, they, they, there's a lot of family attachment, I think, to some of the locations, you know, and getting to know people and finding out what, what do you need in order to purchase or to rent this property, you know, that's lying vacant, you know? And I think even though we’ve somewhat overcome that, it's still a hurdle. Our current location is much better than where we used to be. There's much more involvement from the owner of the property, but it's still inadequate in many ways to, to meet our full vision of what Common Grounds should be.

Uh, so, um, overcoming it for me was I think a, um, uh, learning to be patient. Um, you know, my mom used to say crawl before you walk. You know, uh, don't put too many eggs in one basket… that… she's old school. So, um, we put a lot of eggs in, in the old location and I learned that we didn't have to be everything.

We didn't have to do everything. We just had to do a few things right. And people would stick with us. I don't think I was always aware that I, that I was doing something people wanted. 

KB: I think that's interesting. With small business owners is we kind of, cause this as said I've been there too. And you try to be everything to everybody and by diversifying you almost overstretch yourself.

JF: Yeah. 

KB: And you don't find your niche or the one thing you're good at that people will come and come…

JF: Find their way. 

KB: Exactly. 

JF: Yeah. Um, and it, you know, we used to, when I was putting the business plan together… and it was a mission plan, also the word organic was a big part of it because, you know, grass roots, organic… If, if we can't meet the heart of the community, that we really won't find community, um, in the heart of the community is a lot of what goes on in downtown. A lot of the history, a lot of the people who are connected to this, these properties. Um, so I became part of the business community and I think, you know, stumbling, you know, in, in that effort, there were people who, who still will wonder, you know, why are you here?

What do you want? You know, kind of standoffish. And over time, we've become close neighbors, you know, there’s trust. So, though, so when I talk about the property being a hurdle, finding a location, I'm really talking about also the people who, who are already invested in downtown. 

KB: Yeah. Cause if you're going to be a part of the downtown, you've got to, you've got to connect with the other downtown businesses.

JF: Yeah. And it's still a challenge, but, um, I think people are aware now who own businesses in downtown, property in downtown, they recognize a Common Grounds is a big help. We're not, we're not at all taking away. We're adding to the community. 

KB: If you like would give a piece of advice to somebody who's thinking about kind of taking something they're passionate about and turning that into a business or becoming a part of a community… What would be your big piece of advice that based on your own experiences? 

JF: So my do over my time travel would be location. Location. Location is, is definitely the right maxim. And I think I would have been a little more patient with getting the things in place that I need before putting a lot of work into a location that we probably won't be able to, to, to, to prosper in… That first location could have been us.

It was a stepping stone. It could have been even more of a stepping stone. It could have been less messy, less troublesome. If we had planned it ahead a little bit better, I would have purchased things differently. I would have invested in things differently. Um, one of the big hurdles for us over there was a lot of plumbing work.

A lot of, uh, we had to put in a full bathroom, we had to, uh, create walls and take away walls. And, um, and this is just a start-up, you know, and now I know better. I know, wait a minute. Um, there's, there's properties where, you know, and there's ways to get things without coming out of pocket the way we did the first year.

Being part of, so, so we started out the history for us is we started out, um, with a mission agency through the Free Methodist Church. So, the Free Methodist Church history is really a lot of abolition and social justice action, but their, their members tend to be white members. And so, one of the directors who was in town, I was working at the time in Evanston.

And, and we, we, we, he became an acquaintance, and we'd started talking about things that could make, um, cities better. And, and, and I, and I mentioned, well, you know, some people are living in big cities, they are living maybe in smaller cities and become more ingrained in a smaller population. There's no reason to everyone has to be acted millions and millions people in one level city.

Right. And he thought that was a pretty neat idea is that, you know, um, it has to start one person at a time. You know, you don't pack a bus full of folks and say, yeah, come on out to DeKalb. No. How about a few people take a risk, do something meaningful and, and create opportunities for more people to come. So that was kind of the initial idea.

And of course, being connected to a church that was a faith-based effort in mind. Which meant, um, for them we would do, um, more services versus what we're doing now, which is more incidental action, uh, encouragement. Um, we do a lot of things behind the scenes that, um, are church-like without religion attached to it.

You know, one of those examples would be when we have people coming regularly, um, for, for, uh, a paint and sip night, you know? So, so art and um, music. And we were doing these things before the pandemic and they were, you know, an expression of community. And you could even say congregation because you would come to paint, but you’d end up meeting someone you didn't know and talking about things, and maybe you want to talk about.

And, um, and you know, that to me is, is, is, is what churches should focus on more than, you know, finding members and conversion and all that stuff. So, yeah. We evolved into a situation where the coffee sh--wanting to be a place where anyone can get inspired meant that there was very little restriction, very little judgment.

Um, we're here open to, you know, with open arms to say, Hey, you're, you're welcome here. 

KB: It sounds like you started with a passion and like many of us who start businesses or do volunteer work… the passion is great, but you also need a plan. 

JF: Yes. Yes. Yep, exactly. So, I didn't see the forest for the trees. I didn't see all the tax-related issues that I would have to deal with the, you know, hiring and in trying to figure out how to do inventory and transaction systems that I have to, you know, work on and, you know, and then learning from a technical standpoint, how to make good coffee.

It didn't happen overnight, but I had a lot of passion for it. And that, you know, my creative side kicked in. I mean, I'm a lifelong artist, painter, graphic designer. So, putting something in front of me, you know, I guess I would say I had a Jordan moment in terms of, uh, the person I hired to run the coffee bar is not able to stay, you know?

And so, I'm going to have to step in now and be not just the owner or the director, but the man behind the bar. So that was my Jordan moment. And the reason I call it that is, if you think about Michael Jordan, he talks a lot about how people didn't expect him to be successful. In fact, some of the people closest to him told him you're no good at that.

You shouldn't be doing that. You should let someone else do that. And that's the kind of things that were said to me early on. And I don't like to be told what I can't do. Um, I'm that kind of person, I put extra effort behind figuring out ways to do things that, you know, you can open up a book on how to make coffee.

You can watch a million YouTube videos, but at the end of the day, to do the things that we do here, that, that people write about how much they enjoy Common Grounds… It takes an extra level of care, an extra, an extra sense of making things better than people would expect them to be, and that's, that's not easy to pull off.

It's not just put a little bit of this and a little bit of that and send them on their way. 

KB: And that's a whole ‘nother lesson that you learned through the, you know, the experiences. 

JF: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 

KB: Well, I want to thank you for taking the time. This was really great to hear your story and chat with you a little bit about kind of, as you reflect on, on your business, and I'm glad that you're just a quick walk away from my office. So, thank you so much for your time.

JF: Thank you, I appreciate it.

KB: The recipe for success is complicated and different for everyone. For Jeff, he started with a great base – an idea, passion and purpose. But he soon found out that he also needed a good amount of planning and lot of patience. When he mixed that together in the right location and topped it off with a sprinkle of inspiration and friendly conversation, he found a recipe that worked! Don’t be afraid to experiment with your ingredients until you find your own recipe for success. Follow the link in the notes to learn more about Common Grounds. And if you are in DeKalb be sure to drop in to give one of Jeff’s coffee recipes a try. Thanks for Listening to Failure Bites. Subscribe for the latest failure to success stories. And be sure to leave a review to let us know if our recipe works!

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