Mark is a non-specialist, a man who has lived in different places and learnt from experience in different trades and his extensive sports background. In eighth grade, Mark broke the 13-year national record for highest jump. His record stood for 25 years.
“Don’t ask the world what it needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that.”
First thing you should know about Mark, owner of Hub Coffee is he is concerned not merely with the practice, but with the philosophy of coffee. Looking beyond the details of what makes a good cup of coffee, he seeks for general principles from his varied background and historically curious eyes and uses it to apply in his growing coffee business.
He would not claim to know what all these principles are, but he is groping towards them, convinced from the outset that they exist.
When I met Mark, he asked if we can meet at his roasting facility rather than his coffee shop. Knowing very little about the process of coffee (Arabica!) I was a bit sheepish with my questions. Turns out we did not even talk about coffee until the last part of our interview.
They were in the middle of a “coffee for soldiers” project. A simple and thoughtful way to give one bag of coffee to soldiers oversees for every bag they sold here in Reno. They were at a few hundred pounds shipped by the time I got there.
“Build on strength” may be elementary, and is based, of course, on army tactics. But it leads on to other conclusions, some of them far from obvious, and other perhaps still to be defined – a rightness which goes beyond mere success.
I asked Mark about his ideas when he started his first coffee shop at Cheney avenue, “we wanted to put the best parts of the coffee making process in the best ‘angles’ – to be easily seen. The coffee bar is intentionally lower so that people can see what they’re doing behind the counter.” says Mark, “I think people should be able to see how their coffee is being made.”
Mark is a non-specialist, a man who has lived in different places and learnt from experience in different trades and his extensive sports background. In eighth grade, Mark broke the 13-year national record for highest jump. His record stood for 25 years. (He can also insert his whole elbow when he dunks a basketball in a hoop). He is now an avid long distance cyclist.
Having a wide knowledge of the world and of business working for Western NV supply for a lot of years – “the founding owners of that company helped me become who I am today”.
But what he brings to a business is not so much his knowledge as his ignorance as he seeks to approach any new problem with an open mind and child-like innocence. His is the Socratic method–the art of asking the simple and devastating question: “What are we trying to do?” – to be followed by that other question: “Why?”.
It is often the function of the visionary to wipe the board clean and start afresh as one who has never seen a business before. Mark’s motivation has always been to bring a product that was opposite of what people expected…..“Swim upstream” was a constant theme in our talk.
The first thing he wanted to do was to put out coffee products that did not have many flavors, if any – and,“no syrup or pink or blue sugars.” He wanted to bring out a product as unaltered from its natural state.
If you have read this far, you may start to get a picture of Mark as a overly-complex, coffee roasting, caffeine-scientist who scorns Will Ferrell’s fart jokes. Make no mistake: he’s an ordinary, positive guy roaming the streets of Reno. He just happens to love what he does and is very good at it. Building a community and making Reno a better place is a motivating factor for Mark, and not surprisingly, this is what got him a Whole Foods stamp of approval.
He went to a class to learn how to operate (and fix) a specific espresso machine that Whole Foods happened to also own. It was a pretty complex machine and no one at Whole Foods knew how to fix it when it started to have problems.
They heard about a guy in town who could operate and troubleshoot the machine. Mark was called in. Repeatedly. And like the trooper he is, Mark was on top of it and showed up on time every single time they needed help. “’Better to say nothing than get it done. Not going to sit there and brag.” Whole Foods did not know Mark had a coffee shop or roasted his own coffee beans. He now supplies eighty pounds of coffee every week to Whole Foods.
From starting with three employees, Hub Coffee now employs fifteen. Their popularity has been growing locally and nationally as they have been featured in New York Times, Imbibe and Fresh Up magazine. They also supply to a few well known grocery chains in town – a clever business move that a few local businesses could surely learn from. I asked him how he got all these positive accolades and distribution, he says that he didn’t do any serious marketing and instead, “they came to us.”
Build a remarkable product and be involved in your community seems to be Mark’s version of Marketing 2.0. But what is he most proud of so far? I asked, “Employees receive fair wages and they seem to be happy working at Hub.”
My favorite story of the day came from Franklin. A budding employee who has a gift for roasting and preparing the beans to enjoyment of many. He was hitchhiking around the country when he stumbled upon Reno… And Mark through Hub Coffee’s roasting facility at 4′th street. After watching Mark and his crew from afar, he finally got the confidence to give a small bottle of coffee he roasted as a “resume sample” and asked if he can work for him. Three months of sweeping the floors later, Mark “didn’t have a choice but to hire him.”
“Why Reno?” I asked as we were about to end our meeting. This question lingered in my head halfway in the interview. It’s not hard to see that Mark could have excelled in more lucrative businesses working in a bigger city – suit, mid six-figure salary and all. But he gently gave me a squinted look that simply told me, “why not?”.
In a country where big business like Goldman Sachs and how high you go in its ladder is generally revered probably more than any profession. It fills my heart with simple joy to find top-notch talent like Mark and the whole Hub team walking around town doing what they love to do, making money, as they make people happy, while they prepare your cup of coffee. This is what makes Reno, and or any place for that matter, meaningful to live in.
He did give me an answer to my question… Through a sweet glance on his beautiful daughter as she helped him prepare for the next work day. Only then did I fully understand.
727 Riverside Dr. Reno, NV 89503